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Virginia James Tufte

A distinguished scholar of Renaissance poetry, John Milton and English grammar and syntax, Virginia Tufte was a gifted teacher and wise mentor who taught at USC Dornsife for a quarter of a century. To read her obituary, please see:

A distinguished scholar of Renaissance poetry, John Milton and English grammar and syntax, Tufte was a gifted teacher and wise mentor who taught at USC Dornsife for a quarter of a century. Since retiring, Virginia James Tufte published one book and about a dozen essays, and has written and produced a one-hour video-biography for educational television and classroom use.  Her newest book is Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style (Graphics Press, 2006).  Carolyn See describes it as “an extraordinary work of wit and scholarship” and Stanley Fish as “a delight from beginning to end.”  Tufte’s recent essays, several in collaboration with Professor Wendy Furman-Adams of Whittier College, are mainly on artists’ interpretations of John Milton’s poems.  The video-biography, about a distinguished American literary illustrator who lived from 1901 to 1996, is titled “Reaching for Paradise: The Life and Art of Carlotta Petrina” (La Femina Films, 1994).  In preparing the film, Tufte, Furman-Adams, and art historian Eunice Howe of USC interviewed Petrina at her home in Texas.  The film has appeared on a number of educational television stations, is archived in many university libraries, and is used in classes.  In 2010, Virginia Tufte’s work in progress is Pieces Embroidered by Memory, a memoir about her rural Nebraska childhood and experiences as a young woman reporter on the city staff of The Omaha World-Herald, including a day spent with Eleanor Roosevelt.  Tufte lives in the house she and her husband bought more than 50 years ago and takes a daily walk in the neighborhood.  She does not watch television except for figure skating.

Virginia Tufte, Distinguished Emerita Professor of English, retired from USC in 1989.  Her special fields were Renaissance poetry, Milton, the history and grammar of English, and literature by and about women.  She was one of the founders of several interdisciplinary programs including the Joint Educational Project, which has taken thousands of university students and faculty into neighborhood schools as tutors and in other roles.  One of the initiators of the Thematic Option, she helped guide its early development into USC’s highly-regarded Resident Honors program.  She was also a founder of the program for the Study of Women and Men in Society, predecessor of Gender Studies.  Honors include the Justin Dart Award for Academic Innovation, the University Associates Award for Outstanding Teaching, and the Raubenheimer Award for Innovative Teaching.  Among her books are The Poetry of Marriage: The Epithalamium in Europe and Its Development in England and Grammar as Style.  She edited High Wedlock Then Be Honoured and, with Barbara Myerhoff, Changing Images of the Family.  She holds an A.B. from the University of Nebraska, an M.A. from Arizona State University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles.  A native of Nebraska, she was married in Omaha in 1940 to Edward E. Tufte, long-time City Engineer and Director of Public Works for the City of Beverly Hills.  He died in 1999.  Their son is Edward Rolf Tufte, Yale professor emeritus, noted for his work in information design and as a sculptor.

“If you are caring for a disabled spouse, don’t assume that YOU know what that person would like.  I had been taking my husband, Ed, for a daily ride in his wheelchair, and I carefully chose beautiful, quiet residential streets with lovely yards, trees, and flowers.  One day I asked Ed, ‘What do you like best about your ride?’  He answered, ‘You.’  I insisted, ‘Besides me, what do you like best?’  And he said, ‘The cars.’  After that, I chose the busiest streets, full of hurrying traffic, concrete trucks, construction projects, a fire station, waiters setting up tables at a street restaurant, a studio with a dozen students giving haircuts, a pet shop with a pen full of homeless dogs, shirts blowing in the breeze at a church rummage sale, ambulances racing toward the parking lot of a hospital emergency room, sirens shrieking.  Life.”  Virginia Tufte, 2010

Virginia passed away in 2020.