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Karl Kroeber (1926–2009)

In the Native American communities in which I live off and on, it is a common observation that deaths–always deeply felt–often seem to occur in groups or clusters. This pattern seems characterized by my discovery just now that Karl Kroeber, another leading student of Native American verbal art, has just passed away. Professor Kroeber long taught at Columbia University, where his father, A. L. Kroeber, earned his doctorate in anthropology under Franz Boas. His sister, author Ursula K. Le Guin, is well known to many. His son Paul pursues his own studies of American Indian linguistics here at Indiana University, where he and I are both affiliated with the American Indian Studies Research Institute.

Karl Kroeber’s linked the Americanist tradition of Native American verbal art studies (in folklore, ethnopoetics, field linguistics, etc.) to the wider field of literature studies. Representative works include Artistry in Native American Myths (University of Nebraska Press, 1998) and Traditional Literatures of the American Indian: Texts and Interpretations (University of Nebraska Press, 1981). Like his mother Theodora, he (with his brother Clifton Kroeber) sought to make sense of the story of Ishi, with whom his family’s life entwined. (See: Ishi in Three Centuries, with Clifton Kroeber. University of Nebraska Press, 2003.)

Condolences go to the whole Kroeber family.

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