‘North Dakota Quarterly’ staff pays tribute to longtime editor

Merrifield Hall is not quite the same anymore. It's been almost a year since Robert W. Lewis, the former editor of the "North Dakota Quarterly" walked the hall, but his presence is still felt. Lewis led the literary journal for 31 years before hi...

A portrait of former North Dakota Quarterly Editor Robert W. Lewis sits next to the current issue of the literary publication in Lewis' office in Merrifield Hall. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald
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Merrifield Hall is not quite the same anymore.

It’s been almost a year since Robert W. Lewis, the former editor of the “North Dakota Quarterly” walked the hall, but his presence is still felt.

Lewis led the literary journal for 31 years before his passing last August.

So when it came time to try and honor the “gentle, friendly man,” the staff at the Quarterly did it the best way they knew how, with a tribute issue in the Summer/Fall 2014 edition of the “North Dakota Quarterly.”

“He was the ultimate teacher, mentor and friend,” said Kate Sweney, managing editor at the journal.


“The loss is very palpable here,” Sharon Carson, interim editor, said. “We miss him in Merrifield every day.”

The long-time editor of the “North Dakota Quarterly” began his work there in 1982.

Lewis was known as a Hemingway scholar, writing and editing numerous works written about the Nobel Prize winner. He was also a co-founder and two-time former president of the Hemingway Society, an organization that sought to further knowledge of Ernest Hemingway.

In 1969, Lewis joined UND to chair the English department. During his time at the university, Lewis was named a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor, the school’s highest faculty award. He began working at the “North Dakota Quarterly” in 1982 and was responsible for moving the journal from UND’s history department to the English department.

He retired from teaching in 2001, but remained editor at the “North Dakota Quarterly” until his death on Aug. 26, 2013, at the age of 82.

“He was a great man,” Sweney said. “I’d like him to be remembered as somebody who personified the idea of life-long learning, as well as being a very gentle, thoughtful person.”

Those who worked for him remember his sense of humor and how great of a man he was inside and outside of the office.

“I don’t think I ever left work, on a day where I accomplished a lot or not, when he didn’t say ‘thank you,’” Sweney said. “And that’s a very rare thing in a boss in my experience.”


After the outpouring of concern and condolences nationwide following Lewis’ death, the “North Dakota Quarterly” staff wanted to find an appropriate way to honor the man who headed the journal for 31 years.

“It took a while to put together,” Sweney said. “We wanted it to be a worthy tribute and to express our gratitude and our love for him.”

Planning the issue

The journal’s staff began planning a tribute issue shortly after his death, but the staff wanted the issue to be more than just a tribute to him, Carson said. Instead of only writing about him, they wanted to delve into the issues and ideas he cared about most.

The tribute is split into two sections: The first focusing on Lewis’ work related to Hemingway and the second containing a collection of tributes and articles pertaining to Lewis’ other passions, including American and world literature, his teachings at UND and progressive politics.

“His work always extended beyond himself, and we tried to reflect that in the issue,” Carson said.

When making the issue, both Carson and Sweney said despite knowing Lewis for decades, they both learned a lot about the man while compiling everything, such as how he wrote a Haiku every day.

Sweney said she saw a more effusive person in his private letters where he talked about his love of the Quarterly’s work. In person, she said, he was very laid back, only marking a piece of writing he liked with “VG,” or very good.


“He wasn’t one to say that something was ‘wonderful’ or ‘amazing,”’ she said. “So to see something like that was a side of Bob that I didn’t know.”

Both Carson and Sweney said the “North Dakota Quarterly” will go forward. They said the journal still has the support of the English department, the dean and are still fundraising for money.

Call Rupard at (701) 780-1122; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1122; or send email to

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