Noted scholar Kyoko Iriye Selden dies in U.S.

by Hiroaki Sato

Special To The Japan Times

Kyoko Iriye Selden, a scholar and teacher at Cornell University, died in Ithaca, New York, on Sunday at the age of 76 after contracting pneumonia.

Born on Oct. 2, 1936, in Tokyo, Iriye graduated in 1959 with top honors from the English department of the University of Tokyo. She then went to Yale University on a Fulbright scholarship. Among her teachers there was Cleanth Brooks, the proponent of New Criticism. It was at Yale where she met Mark Selden, who later in life was to become a Marxist historian and sociologist, as well as her husband.

Iriye received a Ph.D. for studies on the Elizabethan text “Gismond of Salerne” (1965). Her studies in English literature bore fruit in her close annotation and explanation for Japanese readers of “The Spanish Tragedy” (1972), a play by Thomas Kyd.

She became a noted translator of Japanese literature into English and vice versa. Among her first English translations was “Japanese Women Writers: Twentieth Century Short Stories” (1982), which was followed recently by “More Stories by Japanese Women Writers” (2010). Among the books she translated into Japanese was Liza Dalby’s “Geisha” (1983).

Her most recent translation into English was “The Search for the Beautiful Woman: A Cultural History of Japanese and Chinese Beauty” (2012), written by Chinese scholar Cho Kyo (Zhang Jing), who was teaching in Japan.

With extensive reference to classical Japanese and Chinese literature, it was the kind of book only someone like Iriye, who was versed in both fields, could manage. She also translated into Japanese the English autobiography of Kyohei Inukai (1886-1954), a Japanese painter who won fame for his society portraits in U.S society. The autobiography was found after his death.

Iriye taught at Dean Junior College, Taipei (National Taiwan) Normal University, Tsuda College, and Washington University, before she began at Cornell University in 1987. As a senior lecturer at Cornell, she taught classical and modern Japanese literature, classical Chinese, and reading of handwritten classical texts. She won a distinguished teaching award in 1993.

An accomplished calligrapher who also played the piano, alto recorder, transverse flute and shakuhachi, Iriye regularly entertained students, scholars and artists with her husband. Her students often referred to her as their favorite teacher.

The daughter of Keishiro Iriye, a journalist and later professor of international law, she is survived by her husband, the editor of online magazine The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus; two daughters; a son; and a brother, a Harvard historian.

  • grimpoteuthis

    She seems by all measures to have been a wonderful teacher, scholar, writer, musician, artist and human being. I have her translation of Harukor but never knew much about her. I envy those lucky enough to have studied under her. RIP.