Louis Rubin’s tenure at UNC lasted more than two decades, but in the realm of Southern literature, his colleagues say his legacy will live on forever.
“Oh goodness, he cast a long shadow,” said Randall Kenan, an English professor. “Not only over this department, but over Southern literary studies throughout the South. He was just that important.”
Rubin passed away Saturday — just three days shy of his 90th birthday — after battling kidney disease for several years.
Rubin co-started The Southern Literary Journal and Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a publishing company focused on propelling unpublished young writers.
Rubin was an established author, but Shannon Ravenel, his former student at Hollins University, said he always intended to help young talents overcome the difficulties of getting published. She is also the co-founder of Algonquin Books.
Southern writers Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, Jill McCorkle and Annie Dillard are just a few noted authors that Rubin mentored.
Though Rubin and Ravenel founded Algonquin Books in 1983, they had known each other since Ravenel’s registration day her sophomore year.
“He was the kind of guy, you never lost touch with him. He had hundreds of students and he kept in touch with most of them all of his life,” Ravenel said. “There were a whole bunch of us here in Chapel Hill getting ready to celebrate his birthday tomorrow.”
Lucinda MacKethan, a student of Rubin’s 50 years ago, said she went on to teach English at N.C. State University for 37 years, saying Rubin taught her everything she knows about Southern literature.
“Certainly his legacy as a publisher and a writer and a critic are important, but he showed hundreds of people how to be good teachers,” she said.
MacKethan said Rubin helped her discover her passion for African-American literature. She said Rubin played an instrumental role in UNC hiring its first tenured black professor, Blyden Jackson, a pioneer in the study of African-American literature.
Those close to him said beneath Rubin’s gruff, even curmudgeonly, exterior, there was a loving man with a unique sense of humor.
“Whatever you needed to talk to him about, he was there,” Ravenel said. “I think father figure is probably the best term. A funny father figure.”
MacKethan and Rubin shared a meal last Tuesday and she said he still chided her for doubting the quality of her poetry, joking that perhaps he should be the judge of that.
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