Sarah Lawrence Mourns the Passing Daniel Kaiser, Faculty Emeritus of Literature

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Sarah Lawrence College Provost Kanwal Singh sent the below letter to the Sarah Lawrence community, sharing the news of Danny Kaiser's passing:

Dear Sarah Lawrence Community,

I write with a very heavy heart to share that Daniel (Danny) Kaiser, Faculty Emeritus of Literature, died of pneumonia in California on May 12.

Danny started teaching at the college in 1967 and retired just five years ago. For a short period of time in 1969 he was the Director of Graduate Studies. Several issues of the student newspaper (then called the Emanon) from Danny’s early years at the College focused on his political activism. He was one of 29 faculty who signed a petition for peace during the Vietnam War and, along with Grace Paley and Eva Kollisch, he offered draft counseling during the 1970 National Student Strike.

Danny was infamous for his remarkable ability to quote reams of literature from memory, for his quick and scalpel-like wit, and for his exacting expectations of students. Literature faculty member Fred Smoler, who began as Danny’s student and later became his colleague and close friend, tells of a number of Danny myths that circulated among students: that he was really Thomas Pynchon; that he had a 2,000 (or 3,000, or 4,000) page manuscript on Ulysses that he kept adding to; that he could recite Paradise Lost in its entirety from memory. He also remembers a group of students cheering one of their peers who triumphantly waved a paper in the air shouting, “Mr. Kaiser found my paper adequate!” Hard won praise, but so satisfying.

Colleague Melissa Frazier, Associate Dean of the College and Russian Language and Literature faculty, remembers speaking with Danny shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union when many institutions were closing Slavic studies programs, worried about disappearing enrollments. Danny was undaunted, believing that the way to attract students was to fully engage them in important thinking. As Melissa says, “Danny was never scared of serious ideas, he believed in them.” 

Danny had many colleagues at the College who miss him dearly. He and I had numerous, wide-ranging conversations at the lunch table, but he stole my heart one particular day when, in the course of chatting about this and that, he suddenly said, “Well, Kanwal, algebra is obviously quite useful for a lot of things, but calculus! That’s where you find real poetry.”

Kanwal Singh

Provost and Dean of Faculty


About Sarah Lawrence College

Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, coeducational liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. Sarah Lawrence is known for its pioneering approach to education, rich history of impassioned intellectual and civic engagement, and vibrant, successful alumni. In close proximity to the unparalleled offerings of New York City, the historic campus is home to an intellectually curious and diverse community.