Skip to main content
Skip to main content

English Professor Elizabeth Arnold Dies at 65

April 15, 2024 College of Arts and Humanities | English

Black and white photo of Elizabeth Arnold with "In Memoriam" superimposed in light blue text

Arnold was a poet of national and international acclaim and a beloved teacher and colleague.

By Chloe Kim

Elizabeth Arnold, professor of English and a poet of national and international acclaim, died on February 24 after a long illness. She joined the faculty in the Department of English in 2001 and taught in the creative writing MFA program, where she was a beloved teacher, mentor and colleague.

Arnold is the author of six books of poetry: “Wave House,” “Skeleton Coast,” “Life,” “Effacement,” “Civilization” and “The Reef.” She regularly published critical essays, reviews and interviews and her poems appeared in prominent journals such as The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Chicago Review, Harper’s, TriQuarterly, Slate, Poetry Magazine and The Nation.

Arnold's poetry was notable for its modernist technique, and widely praised for its sophistication. In a review of Arnold’s work in B O D Y magazine, poet Kathryn Maris wrote, “she sings courageously—and her voice is beautiful.”

Arnold was “intrepid, brilliant, passionate, adventurous, inventive, unafraid, inquisitive, quirky, encouraging, warm, loyal. A visionary. One of the best listeners on the planet—as a poet, colleague and friend,” said MFA program coordinator Lindsay Bernal MFA ’07, who is Arnold’s former student and longtime friend and colleague. The two met in 2004 when Bernal was an MFA student in the program, and developed a close personal and professional relationship over the next two decades.

“We trusted each other with our poems, even our earliest, most disastrous drafts, and I was so lucky to have had the chance to work with Liz on every book she published since ‘Civilization.’ That creative collaboration and friendship since 2007 has been one of the greatest joys and honors of my post-MFA life,” Bernal said.

English Professor Joshua Weiner, who first became friends with Arnold in the early 1990s, called her his “sister in the art of poetry.” Weiner joined the department in 2001, the same year as Arnold, and shared an office with her during their first few years. Their joint office hours for students fostered “collective advising and fast-paced discussions about poets and poems,” Weiner said.

As professor, Arnold directed numerous English honors theses, undergraduate independent studies and MFA theses, and regularly served on doctoral dissertation committees. Her reputation among students was “legendary,” Weiner said. “Liz listened to students' drafts with an uncanny intensity of attention at the level of the syllable; she could hear things in their work that they did not yet have the ears to hear themselves.”

Bernal added: “Liz had a singular way of pushing us outside of our comfort zones, challenging us to write and read against the grain, to experiment with a regular meter or some other pattern that at first felt rigid but ultimately led to a creative discovery or breakthrough as we learned where to loosen it, where to adjust. She made the most difficult material approachable.”

Former student Charlie Clark MFA ’03 valued Arnold’s mentorship and thoughtfulness. “She would never have brought less than all of her attention to the matter at hand, whether it was exploring poetic form, scientific data, or the particular birdsong that might interrupt a chat,” he said.

Arnold’s mentorship so deeply influenced Clark that he wrote a poem dedicated to her, titled “Arnold,” which was published in the literary journal The Account. “It’s a fairly thorough representation of my appreciation for her ongoing impact on me,” Clark said.

Arnold received her Ph.D. in English in 1990 from the University of Chicago, where she researched the poet Mina Loy and discovered Loy’s previously lost and unpublished novel, “Insel,” which Arnold edited for Black Sparrow Press in 1991. Arnold’s work on Loy helped return Loy to public awareness and highlighted women’s artistic contributions to the field of modernism. Arnold went on to earn an MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College, and subsequently taught at the University of Montana, North Florida University and Warren Wilson College before joining UMD.

Arnold was a recipient of numerous prestigious fellowships, including MacDowell in 2014, Ucross Foundation in 2008, Bread Loaf Writers Conference in 1997, Yaddo in 1995, and others, including three Creative and Performing Arts Scholarship awards from Maryland in 2003, 2007 and 2015.

Arnold’s five books with Flood Editions, an independent poetry press, helped elevate the press as it became recognized internationally as a home for innovative writing throughout the Anglophone world, including New Zealand and Australia. 

Outside of her work as a poet and professor, Arnold was an avid gardener and baker who baked a dozen loaves of bread every week for a food co-op in Frostburg, Maryland. Arnold enjoyed watching “Grey’s Anatomy” and tennis and football games, and was a fan of football quarterback Patrick Mahomes. She was also a birding enthusiast whose last trip was a birding adventure through Panama. She loved her labradoodles Daisy, Olive and Clare and a feral cat named Kitten.

“She will be missed and remembered by all who knew her, and because her poems live in the present tense, she will become known to future readers,” Weiner said.

Photo by Mark Shafer.