Carol Poster, long time member of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, died of colon cancer at the age of 65 on October 22, 2021. Because of health challenges, Carol had not been able to attend Society conferences for several years, but she continued with academic, literary, and commercial writing until her final days in hospice. Spanning many fields and genres, Carol published articles on classical rhetoric, its reception in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, epistolary forms, sermon theory, and Richard Whately. She collaborated with ISHR members on projects such as the foundation of Disputatio, a transdisciplinary journal that became the book series now distributed by Brepols, and on scholarly anthologies such as Letter-Writing Manuals from Antiquity to the Present, edited with Linda Mitchell.
Like many truly gifted people, Carol could be challenging – sometimes not answering emails or following through – but her collaborators and friends knew the value of patience: Carol’s loyalty to and care for us was unshakeable. All Carol’s close colleagues benefited from her enthusiasm for promising research projects and deep commitment to excellence. That (in addition to research in rhetoric) Carol also published books of poetry and essays on outdoor recreation, environmental issues, and computers shows that her active mind and productivity cannot be characterized in a few words. Neither can her life be summed up: she was a faithful Episcopalian, accomplished ballerina, fearless skier, avid video gamer and so much more.
As a professor, she spread her knowledge in a series of academic positions: after obtaining her PhD at the University of Missouri in 1994 under Martin Camargo’s guidance, she held professorships at University of Northern Iowa, Montana State, Florida State, and York University in Toronto. She completed her teaching career as Goss Distinguished Professor of Writing and Professor of English at Fort Hays State University. Carol’s command of a wide range of subjects never ceased to amaze students, and beyond her own classrooms, she inspired graduate students around the world with cutting-edge research and profound analyses. To students and colleagues alike, she was most generous in sharing recent findings and encouraging innovative work. After retiring in 2015, Carol took up residence outside of Tucson, where in addition to her writing projects she photographed the amusing behavior of nearby wildlife and gorgeous desert plants.
Although Carol approached her death philosophically and showed that she was “at peace,” ready (in Tennyson’s words) “to meet [her] pilot face to face,” it is difficult to believe that her animated spirit has departed from this world. ISHR has lost a member of vast expertise and an incomparable friend.
Carol always lived her life as if she expected it to be cut short. Her passion for scholarship was matched by her love of the natural world, whether enjoyed on skis, in a kayak, or on foot with camera in hand. With boundless energy she followed her curiosity wherever it led her, unconstrained by conventional expectations. As the "supervisor" of her doctoral work, my role was to remove obstacles to her doing what she was determined to do.
Freedom was the air she breathed, and she breathed it deeply.
Carol loved words, especially when used with precision and wit. She was an adept translator and close reader of worthy primary texts from Plato to video game scripts. We became friends in 1990 while attending a panel at the 4 C's: sitting together by chance, we both looked up quizzically at a translation of a Latin passage offered by the current speaker. "Someone doesn't read Latin," Carol said, and thus our close bond began. With her great enthusiasm for life, Carol made scholarship adventurous. We discussed John Gower while skiing and Richard Whately while loading up one of her many canoes. I owe the launching of my career in part to Carol's energy and ingenuity. She made me a partner in founding Disputatio (the interdisciplinary journal that became a book series at Brepols), and she was always encouraging others in new projects. When my husband and I visited Carol in Arizona after her terminal diagnosis, she inspired us with her hopeful and philosophical approach to death. She lived according to what she had learned and inspired others to learn so that they could best live.
It is with sorrow that I learned about the passing of Professor Carol Poster. Carol was profoundly kind to me, for she graciously invited me to contribute an essay on the reception of Aristotle’s Rhetoric in the Arabic commentary tradition left by al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes when she was co-editor of Disputatio. She also kindly invited me to join her on a number of panels that she herself organized in the US and the UK. She was a mentor and a friend to me, for she showed great enthusiasm for my work. In addition to her engaging contribution to the study of medieval rhetoric in the Western tradition, Carol also shared with me her passion for poetic translation and photography. I found that side in her extremely inspiring. I will miss Carol, but I will also treasure the memory of those great academic moments during which I had the honor to meet her.
Lahcen E. Ezzaher
I first met Carol Poster in person at a meeting of the CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication) where she was talking on classical rhetoric. I wondered if the person I was listening to was the same one who had written an article on Victorian women writers. I went up to her after her paper and asked if she were two persons in one and her department chair at the time, who was standing by, said “six persons in one.” And she was, from programmer to freelance writer to competitive skier to grant-winning academic to translator and more. From then on Carol was a conference friend whose incredible conversation ranged with wit from how to manage torn ligaments to understanding the translation intricacies of classical rhetorical vocabulary. She was incomparably more alive than most of us, more gifted in the Spirit, while she was down here.
Carol Poster, co-editor and ski friend, was not only a bright, talented scholar, she also had an extensive background in camping, hiking, photography, ballet, and skiing. Her wit knew no bounds, and we laughed many nights into the early morning hours. My first introduction to Carol was at the Rhetoric Society of America conference in Minneapolis in 1992. As she entered the Holiday Inn parking structure, the canoes on top of her car did not clear the entrance. From then on, Carol always had a story on her way to a conference: she drove through a dangerous flood with camping gear bobbing on top of her car, she forgot to replace the oil cap crossing the desert, or the map maker in Colorado switched east and west on the map.
Carol, I picture you somewhere right now doing what you love most: camping, skiing, or canoeing.
Linda C. Mitchell
Carol Poster's work was one of my first introductions into rhetorical scholarship from a philosophy background. Her work on Aristotle helped me to see how rhetoric could be used as philosophy and how philosophy can be used against rhetoric. Her essay on the 2016 U.S. election, while I never found a way to cite it, was one of my early motivations for my political feelings dissertation chapter.
We miss you. We miss your sharp mind and lively wit, your love of love of life, and endless fascination with all things rhetorical. We miss your erudition and your humility. May you rest in peace.
I met Carol at the ISHR conference in Edinburgh (1995). I remember her as a truly free spirit and a highly original scholar.
Marc van der Poel