NEW YORK (AP) — Robert D. Richardson, a prize-winning historian known for his elegant and authoritative biographies of such leading American thinkers as William James and Ralph Waldo Emerson, has died.
His friend Arlo Haskell told The Associated Press that Richardson died last Tuesday after sustaining head injuries in a fall. Richardson, husband of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Annie Dillard, turned 86 just days before his death.
A native of Milwaukee, Richardson grew up in Massachusetts and had a close affinity with Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and other New England writers. The house in Medford was the former meeting place for the Transcendental Club, whose members included Thoreau and Margaret Fuller. Concord was home in the 19th century to Emerson and Thoreau among others.
Richardson won the Bancroft Prize in 2007 for “William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism,” which judges praised as “a virtual intellectual genealogy of American liberalism and, indeed, of American intellectual life in general, through and beyond the twentieth century.” In 1996, his “Emerson: The Mind On Fire” won the Francis Parkman Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist.
“Henry David Thoreau: A Life of the Mind” was published in 1986 and had a more personal impact on his life. The book’s fans included Dillard, who sent him a fan letter. The two eventually met, and after “two lunches and three handshakes” as Dillard later remembered it, they were married.
Richardson was married twice, most recently to Dillard, had two daughters from his first marriage and three stepdaughters with Dillard. He spent at least part of each year in Key West, Florida. From 2001-2009, he served on the board of the Key West Literary Seminar, for which Haskell serves as director.