Arthur Efron

Published June 6, 2024

Arthur Efron, a faculty member in the Department of English for more than 40 years, died May 16. He was 92.

The measure of esteem colleagues felt for Efron can be best understood by the eloquence of their tributes: “A treasured, challenging and gentle teacher;" “A courageous critic of literature and culture;" “A life-long advocate for peace and a just society.”

“The world will be a less vivid place if Art is not active in it,” wrote Efron’s long-time friend and colleague Irving Massey, professor emeritus of English and comparative literature. “He set a standard that compelled everyone around him, whether consciously or otherwise, to be more and do more.”

Born in Chicago, Efron was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, where his love of reading and music began at an early age.

Following non-combat military service in Korea in 1954, he enrolled in the Department of English at the University of Washington, Seattle. His PhD dissertation on Miguel de Cervantes’ novel “Don Quixote” was published in 1971 as “Don Quixote and the Dulcineated World.”

During his graduate studies in Seattle, Efron began producing mimeograph copies of “Paunch,” a journal whose self-described interests included “the body in literature, problems in aesthetics, literature in relation to the authority — and criminality — of the modern state, reviews of new writing and some new poems.”

Over time, “Paunch” became a bound journal with handsome covers created by the artist Priscilla Bowen.

Efron joined the UB faculty in 1963, where he taught in the Department of English until his retirement in the late 1990s. 

Although his courses and publications covered a vast array of interests, the life of the human body and its fate in culture remained close to the heart of his teaching and writing. His many essays and books speak of the importance to him of the work of D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, the philosophers John Dewey and Stephen Pepper, the psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich, and the social anarchism of Alex Comfort and others.

The final, book-length issue of “Paunch,” Number 69-70, was issued in 1999 as a homage to Efron’s writing, teaching and friendship. The issue’s title — “The Live Creature” after a chapter in one of Efron’s favorite books, Dewey’s “Art As Experience” — describes the man exactly. On the book’s cover is the voice of D.H. Lawrence, another cherished writer: “Give us things that are alive and flexible, which won’t last too long and become an obstruction and a weariness.”

“Not many people knew that Art was an avid Shakespearean, as well,” said Barbara Bono, professor emeritus of English. “Not surprisingly, given his own delight in the body, he especially loved that other great paunch, not only Sancho Panza, but also Jack Falstaff. 

“He loved the anarchical — dare I say revolutionary — vein of ‘Hamlet​,’ and worked on a book about that play up until his death. He welcomed me as a new colleague, and made sure that David Kastan joined me, David Wilbern and himself in a mini-conference here at UB on Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV.’

“And he was magnificent at the Burchfield Penney in 2016,” Bono recalled, “reviewing the entire path-breaking run of his journal, ‘Paunch.’ As he aged, he kept himself healthy by walking the streets of our Parkside neighborhood in all weather. We’ll miss him.”

Neil Schmitz, professor emeritus of English, praised Efron for bringing “The Panzaic Principle,” a radical theory of the novel, to Buffalo just as UB was entering “its red hot experimental moment.”

“He founded an important critical journal, ‘Pauch,’ handmade, published out of his house, which took up the cause and meaning of Sancho Panza’s stomach in literature,” Schmitz said. “Art wrote brilliant books on Cervantes and Thomas Hardy, established a community of artists and writers, one that is still ongoing in Buffalo and elsewhere in the academic universe. 

“He has been, all these long years, our only practicing anarchist in the English department.”  

Dedicated to building a more peaceful, hospitable world, Efron was a former member of the Buffalo Peace Centre, a lifelong supporter of social justice organizations and a founding member of the Independent School of Buffalo.

He was also a season ticket holder of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, loved attending Shakespeare in Delaware Park and was an enthusiastic member of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

A memorial service for Efron will be held at 3 p.m. June 16 at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, 1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo.