Leslie E. Wolf ’73 died May 3, 2012.
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LESLIE E. WOLF ’73

Les was brilliant in so many ways, as a thinker, artist, writer, teacher, critic, conversationalist and friend. He was good-looking as well, often hilariously funny and an accomplished tennis player. When Les overdosed on drugs 28 years ago, he nearly died. Instead, after spending many weeks in a coma, he awoke to a new and very limited reality.

At Amherst Les majored in English and wrote his thesis on James Tate, one of his poetic heroes. After graduating magna cum laude he and his lifelong friend Virginia Campbell (Smith ’72) headed for Southern California. In 1975 he was accepted into the UC Irvine M.F.A. program in poetry, where he studied under Charles Wright and Jim McMichael, receiving his degree in 1977. Almost immediately, Les landed a job at the University of Redlands, where he taught writing to, among others, my future wife Lissa (Redlands ’79). He also introduced us.

Les was a prolific writer, and his work as a critic earned him the respect of major figures like Tate and John Ashbery. One of his many published works is an excellent essay on Ashbery in David Lehman’s anthology Beyond Amazement.

The poets and painters Les most admired were ones who took risks in their work, as he did in his own poetry and, with disastrous consequences, in his life. I’ll never forget our last conversation, about a dream of his in which a mouse was crawling over the trigger of a loaded revolver.

Les spent the remainder of his life in the care of his family, near Cleveland, sustained by Virginia’s frequent visits and steadfast friendship. He remembered the past, could speak, and had some use of his arms and hands. He couldn’t walk. The one time I visited him he was funny and gracious, as I remembered him.

—James D. Miller ’72

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Les was brilliant in so many ways, as a thinker, artist, writer, critic, conversationalist, and as a friend. He was good looking as well, often hilariously funny, and an accomplished tennis player. When Les overdosed on drugs 28 years ago he nearly died. Instead, after spending many weeks in a coma, he awoke to a new and very limited reality.

At Amherst he majored in English and wrote his thesis on James Tate, one of his poetic heroes. After graduating magna cum laude he and his lifelong friend Virginia Campbell (Smith ’72) headed for Southern California. In 1975 he was accepted into the UC Irvine MFA program in poetry, where he studied under Charles Wright and Jim McMichael, receiving his degree in 1977. Almost immediately, Les landed a job at the University of Redlands, where he taught writing to, among others, my future wife Lissa (Redlands ’79). He also introduced us.

Les was both confident and ambitious, and forged relationships with Tate and other major literary figures, including John Ashbery and David Lehman. One of his few published works is an excellent essay on Ashbery in Lehman’s anthology “Beyond Amazement.”  

The poets and painters Les most admired were ones who took risks in their work, as he did in his own poetry and, with disastrous consequences, in his life. Les quit his job at Redlands with the idea of writing full time and pursuing screenwriting. This seemed reckless, but I assumed Les had things under control. I’ll never forget our last conversation, about a dream of his in which a mouse was crawling over the trigger of a loaded revolver.

Les spent the remainder of his life in the care of his family, near Cleveland, sustained by Virginia’s frequent visits and steadfast friendship. He remembered the past, could speak, and had some use of his arms and hands. He couldn’t walk. The one time I visited him he was funny and gracious, as I remembered him.