PEN America today joins the literary and academic communities in mourning the death of Edmund Keeley, the renowned scholar of modern Greek studies, novelist, poet and translator, who served as President of PEN America from 1992-1994 and was a champion for the work of translators in advancing literature.

“Through his work as a translator into English of the major Greek poets of the modern era, Edmund Keely was responsible for many people’s first encounters with their brilliance and he was instrumental at PEN in helping translators to think of themselves first and foremost as writers,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s CEO. “We in the PEN America family extend our profound sorrow and sympathy to his family, colleagues and friends. Edmund was widely respected and admired in the world of Phihellene scholarship and among modern Greek poets.”

Keeley, who died at age 94 on Feb. 23,  was best known for his groundbreaking translations, with Philip Sherrard, of the poems of C.P. Cavafy. He was also a translator of the poetry of George Seferia, a Nobel laureate and one of the most important Greek poets of the 20th century.

In a 2017 video interview for PEN America, Keeley described his leadership at PEN America humbly as “transitional” though his work brought about key change that established financial support for the organization from beyond writers as a primary source and a restructuring of the then 80-member executive committee into a smaller Board of Trustees. The son of a diplomat who grew up in Syria, Canada and Greece, Keeley was also deeply connected to the international work of PEN in supporting campaigns protecting the human rights of writers persecuted around the world.

A prolific writer, he was an essayist and poet and also published memoirs, travel journals, and historical novels. Keeley taught English and creative writing at Princeton, where he also created the Modern Greek Studies Association in 1968.

He was awarded multiple prizes for this work, for both fiction and translation, including in 2000 the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, the highest honor a translator can receive in the United States—a lifetime achievement award. 

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Suzanne Trimel, communications and media consultant, STrimel@PEN.org