I owe more to Anne Monius than a person has a right to, and as I read the remembrances from her students and colleagues, I find myself facing—perhaps we are all facing—a conundrum.
How could one person have tirelessly championed so many people in the ardent way that Anne did?
In 2002, when Anne first started teaching at HDS, I found myself in Cambridge far away from my home institution (Emory University) with a dissertation to write. Despite the rigors of adjusting to a new teaching position, Anne generously offered to meet with me weekly. During those meetings, she coaxed me out of my bad writing habits, lauded my productive ideas while gently challenging the not so productive ones, and handed me the books and articles that became the theoretical underpinnings of my whole project.
Later, she helped me get my first teaching job. She also published my monograph in her Texts and Translations series, and she participated in all my AAR panels. She was a sympathetic listener and a loyal friend.
We both shared a love of South Asian literature and aesthetics, but Anne was a historian at heart, so we tussled over my ahistorical tendency to privilege the agency of a literary text over a historical audience. But for a person as intellectually rigorous and fierce as Anne was, she was remarkably flexible in her thinking, and we always found ourselves agreeing with one another in the end. That was what was so remarkable about her. That and how generous and big-hearted she was.
As I struggle to articulate what Anne cared most about in her teaching and writing career, I turn to one of her favorite stories from a fourth-century Tamil poetic narrative called The Lady of the Anklet.
In this story, a grain merchant rushes in to tell his friend, the prince, about the awesome events he just witnessed: A young woman—her husband unjustly killed by the king of Maturai—tore off her breast, flung it at the city, burned the city to the ground, and then ascended to heaven as a goddess to be reunited with her slain beloved. The astonished but wise prince replies, “We shall compose a poem … to establish these truths” suggesting as Anne herself wrote “that it is only in poetic narrative form that such wondrous events can become humanly comprehensible.” She continued, “Narrative can do things—humanly very important things—that other forms of discourse cannot. Narrative meaning imparts narrative wisdom.”
As Anne became less a mentor to me and more a dear friend, I watched as she tirelessly added more and more to her already heavy teaching and advising load, always there to catch a student who might fall through the cracks, always there to read a book manuscript or a dissertation or a thesis, always there to write recommendation letters.
She was superhuman in her willingness and ability to champion the intellectual lives of others. And there were so many of us.
I began to bank on her superhuman quality, perhaps we all did. I know that this is why I was blindsided by the news of her passing. Wasn’t there an argument to be made that there were still too many students for her to nurture for her to be taken from us? I half expected her to make that argument herself. We all know that she would have made a very convincing one.
—by Emily Hudson
Emily received her PhD from Emory University in 2006. Professor Monius was on Emily’s dissertation committee and was, in her own words, “the most important mentor to me.”