It is with great sadness that we report that John Coleman, a long-time contributor to The New Criterion and a close friend of the editors, died on June 17. He was 67 and had been battling cancer for over a year.
We met John in the early 1990s at a monthly seminar on modernism sponsored jointly by The New Criterion and New York University, where John taught Spanish literature from forever (as he said) until his (early and eagerly sought) retirement in 1997.
From the start, it was clear that John was a man of rare wit, capacious learning, and eager if gently ironical curiosity. At those seminars, John displayed his easy mastery of literature--not just Spanish and Latin American literature, but the entire modernist tradition. He was an expert in Borges (whose work he translated, edited, and expounded), and had a deep grasp of Eliot, Henry James, Stevens, Santayana, and many other figures. But it soon became clear that John’s greatest passion was for music. He had an impressive command of the
classical repertory, and, we are told, an equally impressive command of jazz. Indeed, John did not discriminate among genres: only between good music and bad, the excellent and the false, sentimental, or poorly executed.
In order to distinguish himself from another writer named John Coleman, our John Coleman had always written under the name Alexander Coleman. He published on a wide variety of subjects literary and musical. For The New Criterion, he wrote delightfully erudite pieces on such neglected figures as the Portuguese novelist and man of letters Eï¿½a de Queirï¿½s, an abundance of music criticism, and incisive “fever-chart” reports on the cultural situation in the (generally balmy) places his inveterate travels took him. We include here a brief Coleman sampler that shows something of John’s range of interests.
John’s charm was as invigorating as his cooking was delicious. You knew you had entered the circle of his affections when he began addressing you as “Doctor” or “Maestro,” forms of address that his friends found irrepressibly infectious. John’s passing is a loss for our readers, who will no longer have the benefit of his engaging criticism. For us, the loss is deeper. It is hard to believe that we will no longer be welcoming him around our table, glass of wine in hand, pertinent anecdote on tongue’s tip. Farewell, Maestro. We shall miss you.
An Alexander Coleman sampler: