Ezra Tawil

Messages and Condolences

Professor Tawil sitting in his office with his feet on his desk and his dog in his lap.

The University of Rochester’s Department of English is remembering Ezra Tawil as a joyful spirit, beloved colleague, and extraordinary teacher and scholar.

As the director of graduate studies for the department, Professor Tawil had a magical ability to connect with students. His most recent book helped to define an “American style” of literature, but we are also remembering with fondness how much of a sense of style—and substance—he brought to his own writing and teaching.

His enthusiasm for learning and for life will forever be a part of his legacy.

University remembers Tawil as professor of substance and style

Share Your Thoughts

Send your tributes or memories of Ezra Tawil by emailing kathy.kingsley@rochester.edu. Please include your name, email, affiliation with the University and a public message. All information submitted will be posted on this page.

Memories and Tributes

“Ezra was an amazing friend and colleague. He was the most genuinely kind and hilarious person. The thing I find that I miss most is his laugh. He had the best laugh. He was wickedly funny. He and I had sons the same age and we had similar interests in shows, so we always had something fun to chat about - what our kids were up to, what kind of shows we were into and telling each other what the other needed to check out. I just started a show that he and I were both excited about and all I want is to chat with him about it. He was the best and will be forever missed by everyone who was lucky enough to know him.”

Carrie Morriss, English Department Graduate Administrator

“This man was so infectiously joyous. Not in the overt kind of happy go lucky way, but in the way that made you want to go to class and have a conversation with him. Always down to listen and discuss anything you had to say. I am truly heartbroken learning this news and I hope his family will find their peace with his loss. He was one of the only professors outside of the art department that made me feel heard and welcomed. Great man.”

Angelica Aranda '23

“Professor Tawil was my mentor for the Meliora Scholars program, and I will remember him for his kindness, humor, and unwavering support. Although I did not have the chance to spend much time with him, we had a few extremely influential conversations about my Meliora Scholars project, and he pointed me toward texts and ideas that have fundamentally shaped my academic interests since. ... He had a profound and lasting impact on every student who knew him, and he will be missed deeply.”

Mahnoor Raza '24

“When describing Professor Tawil, where do I begin? He was, without a doubt, one of the kindest people that I got the opportunity to learn under as an undergraduate at the University of Rochester; I remember during the Spring of 2020, his class was something of a refuge from the stress and turbulence of the times, his optimism and his compassion towards the students being endless. When things were difficult for me throughout my time as an undergrad, I knew that I could always reach out and talk to the professor, regardless of whether the issues were with my anxiety about coursework or about outside pressures. Professor Tawil was always willing to lend an ear, to crack a joke, and to offer advice. He would listen, regardless of how trivial the situation was, and he would always go that extra mile to make sure that the students that he taught knew that he was in their corner, that they were not alone. I feel like that gets to the core of who exactly Professor Tawil was: an exce llent professor and an even better person, one who left his mark on the lives of those who got the chance to work with him. I am utterly heartbroken to hear about the passing of Professor Tawil, may he rest in peace.”

Keegan Matthews, alumnus, '23

“There are those, whose warm light shines wherever they are. From the moment we met in the halls of Morey, Ezra’s most genuine welcome, told me he was someone who made genuine, authentic connections. Ezra Tawil was a colleague’s colleague; each time I saw him he was a bright light. Like most academics he was a curious gent—though, his asking about my work and my life never felt casual. He truly made me feel seen…every time. Something tells me that this was just his spirit. And truly, that type of beautiful spirit never dies. Grateful.”

Jeffrey Q. McCune, Jr., PhD, Chair, Faculty Programs and Departmental Initiatives, Department of Black Studies

“In addition to his incredible warmth, kindness, and curiosity, one thing that stood out to me was how he treated me as a capable colleague. As his TA, he often made it feel like we were co-teaching—he routinely asked for my advice on how class went, how students were succeeding or where they might need more support, and would simply hand me the reins and have me lead class whenever I asked or if he couldn't be in town. Having this rapport with Ezra changed the way I saw myself and infused me with an incredible boost of confidence in my abilities as an instructor, researcher, and writer. As I continued in the program, he made sure to keep tabs on me. When we all emerged after the pandemic and I now had a spirited toddler in tow, Ezra was positively delighted—he let my son pet his dog, Misha, and entertained him for a few minutes so I could chat with others. Ezra was incredibly gifted at bestowing these small acts of kindness each time you saw him, even if it was a brief passing in the hallway. The light and love that Ezra had for his students, the zeal he had for life and his work, was remarkably infectious—he changed everything around him for the better and he will be so incredibly missed.”

Kate Soules, PhD Candidate, Dept. of English

“Ezra was a wonderful colleague and a friendly, positive presence in every room he entered. He had a great ability to advance ideas and facilitate communication about complex issues with levity and grace. He will undoubtedly be sorely missed by everyone who had the privilege of working with him. ”

Brady Fletcher, Director of Debate

“I have always associated Ezra with warmth. As I remember him now, his smile and kind eyes appear first, followed by his laughter. Here is a small testament to his kindness: I had once mentioned—in passing—loving a particular brand of tea, and much to my delightful surprise, he got me a huge box of tea, of which I still have a pack left. Chats with him on the grass, Misha on the side, classes with him, Misha (again) sitting sphinxlike, all of it, I think, glows softly in memory, and holding on to that glow is comforting. Thank you, Ezra.”

Yash Chitraker, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English

“There are people who model the kind of academic you hope to be, and there are people who model the kind of person you hope to be – Ezra did both for me.

I would have never finished my dissertation without Ezra. The truth is, I likely would not have started it. I remember telling him, “I want to write a dissertation on texts about eighteenth-century sailors, but not use Melville.” His response was “why would anyone (but specifically you) want to do that? The best part is Melville!” He was right; and Ezra was usually right. He had a knack for helping you see things in your writing you couldn’t see yourself, and pushing you to be a better writer (and thinker) along the way.

Ezra was one of the smartest people I know, but more than that, he was just a wonderful person, and I feel lucky to have been at Rochester at the right time to work with him. He has been there for advice every step of my graduate career and for every twist and turn of my professional career after graduation. He has forever shaped the way I read texts, the way I make arguments, and the way I teach and mentor my own students. I am the person I am today because of Ezra, and I will always grateful to him for that.”

Lisa Vandenbossche, Ph.D. Lecturer, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Michigan

“Ezra was not only an exceptionally talented scholar and teacher, and a warm and wonderful colleague, but a truly caring person. At one time he helped me talk through a significant personal challenge, a conversation for which I will be always grateful.”

Jason Middleton, Associate Professor, Department of English

“Professor Tawil was accepting, kind, and warm in every way. He was a philosopher, a scholar, a mentor; he was a lover of books, of language, and of words. He loved art and magic, laughter and joy. He loved learning about his students and admired all of our strange hobbies and talents. I first met Professor Tawil (and his lovely dog, Misha) during the spring semester of my junior year—in his ENGL 100 class entitled "Great Books: A Brief History of Western Literature." From Homer to Montaigne to Woolf, he cultivated my deep appreciation for the western classics. He emphasized the roles of invention and diffusion in literature and stressed the importance of a literary culture and tradition. He made history come alive in class. He asked me all the what-ifs, pushed my thinking, and challenged my ideas. Professor Tawil taught me the very foundation of literature. His knowledge, wisdom, humility, and excitement for learning—I will always cherish. I am forever grateful to have been his student.”

Sandy Kuang '24

“Ezra and I taught The Idea of America course together for five years. We had a kind of "good cop/bad cop" thing going: he was definitely the good one, instructing me as well as our students not only about American culture but also about how to honor one another's beliefs and perspectives. As others have noted, he often started courses by asking everyone to share something special about themselves; he would volunteer his interest in magic tricks. Ezra, you WERE a magician--in the classroom, as a colleague, and as a friend.”

Joan Shelley Rubin, Dexter Perkins Professor, Department of History, and Ani and Mark Gabrellian Director Emerita of the Humanities Center, University of Rochester

“I met Ezra through Charles Brockden Brown Society and Society of Early Americanists conferences. His papers were always intellectually stimulating and he always contributed enthusiastically to panel discussions. Beyond that, I will always remember him as being a light-hearted colleague of the best sort and a person who made the world a better place. Thanks, Ezra.”

Mark Kamrath, University of Central Florida

“Ezra has the sense of wacky fun that goes along with studying and teaching literature (especially early American literature). I knew him through the Charles Brockden Brown society, where he always ramped up the spirit and fun and just plain weirdness that that group celebrates. He was also a really caring colleague. I will miss him. CBBS won't be the same without him, or the world, for that matter. Sending much love to his family. We all loved Ezra.”

Keri Holt, Utah State University

“We all have colleagues and friends who ground and guide us: Ezra was that person for me. ... I still remember the first time I introduced myself to him at the Society of Early Americanists conference in Bermuda (2009), just one year after I had graduated: I was intimidated by that reputation, but his whole face shone when he found out about our shared connection. He was immediately friendly, kind, encouraging, and funny. As a new college professor feeling very out of her depth, I found Ezra to be a revelation. He was one of those people who instantly felt like a dear friend. And that's what Ezra became. ... I loved the way his eyes lit up with humor - framed by that glorious shock of hair! - and mischief when we chatted. He was so self-effacing and modest, even though he was one of the brightest minds in our profession. His work was a pleasure. ... He was an extraordinary mentor, guiding me through the pitfalls of pre-tenure expectations and book production. He was always clear-sighted about work, recognizing that the needs of family and life should always come first, but so brilliant that his mind never stopped formulating truly ingenious insights into early American culture. His work was that rare combination of precise acuity and wholly convincing master narrative, and was always, always beautifully written. ... He touched my life profoundly and that I will remember him with great love and respect. I will miss him dearly. ”

Sian Silyn Roberts, Queens College, CUNY