The Department of Comparative Literature and Languages mourns the loss of Marguerite Waller, a dear friend and colleague, who died on March 11, 2020.
Marguerite Rowland Waller, feminist scholar of film and literature, dies at 71
Margie Waller, professor emerita of Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at the University of California – Riverside and a scholar of Dante, Petrarch, and modern Italian film, died March 11, 2020 after a brief courageous battle with cancer.
Dr. Waller was born March 16, 1948 in Nyack, New York, the second of five children of Martha Stifler Waller and George Macgregor Waller, professors at Butler University in Indianapolis, IN. After graduating as valedictorian from North Central High School, she earned her B.A. from Cornell in 1969. She then earned her Ph.D in Comparative Literature at Yale University and became Assistant Professor of English at Amherst College in 1974. In 1990, she moved to the University of California – Riverside where she taught in the Departments of Comparative Literature and Languages and Gender and Sexuality Studies until she retired in 2018. Her Fulbright Fellowship to study in Italy as a PhD student was followed by later Fulbright professorships in both France and Hungary. Through these experiences, she became a committed internationalist. She directed University of California’s Rome program in 2007-08.
Dr. Waller was an innovative scholar and teacher. At Amherst, she helped establish the Women and Gender Studies program once the college became co-ed. At both Amherst and UC-R, she designed new courses on feminist theory, human rights, peace studies, film and media studies, and critical theory. She was an admired teacher, inspiring undergraduate and graduate students toward influential careers in academia, film, law, and other fields. She led efforts to create UC-R’s interdisciplinary undergraduate major in Sustainability Studies. This was the first major of its kind in the nation. It reflects her deep concerns over environmental degradation and the roles economic, gender, and international inequalities play in this. Prof. Margaret Brose of UC-Santa Cruz summarized Dr. Waller’s professional life as “marked by adventurous, bold and exciting pursuits.”
To better understand films, Dr. Waller studied film making at New York University. Her book Petrarch’s Poetics and Literary History (1980) appeared the same year that she published an article comparing Rebel without a Cause with Star Wars. Film studies remained a focal interest, culminating in her 2020 book, The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Federico Fellini, coedited with Frank Burke and Marita Gubareva. This volume complements her earlier co-edited book, Federico Fellini: Contemporary Perspectives (2002).
Dr. Waller worked throughout her career to facilitate communication and collaboration among feminists. In the early 1990s, she joined the women’s art-making collective, Las Comadres, active in the San Diego/Tijuana border region. She also co-organized three international feminist conferences and convened a transnational feminist Resident Research Project at UC’s Humanities Research Institute. These resulted in three co-edited books: Frontline Feminisms: Women, War, and Resistance (2000), Dialogue and Difference: Feminisms Challenge Globalization (2005, translated into Turkish and Spanish), and The Wages of Empire: Neoliberal Policies, Resistance, and Women’s Poverty (2007), and a special issue of Social Identities (2006). Dr. Waller’s concerns for social justice led her to direct and produce a timely documentary on homelessness in Santa Monica (“Snapshots: Citizens without Shelter”). Her work often combined historical and contemporary lines of inquiry. Thus, her early interests in Italian literature emerged in later papers to connect Dante, decolonization, and feminism.
Dr. Waller returned to Cornell in 2019 to dedicate a memorial installed near Cornell’s Sage Chapel. It honors the eight students and one faculty member killed in a dormitory fire on April 5, 1967. Her and her roommate’s quick actions to fashion an escape rope saved the lives of several students and a faculty resident. She led a group of survivors to ensure that Cornell recognize and honor the lives lost. This case of suspected arson remains unsolved 50+ years later (see articles by Max Denning in Medium and N.R. Kleinfield in The New York Times).
Margie Waller is survived by her daughter Lea Waller, sisters Susan Cope and Elizabeth Zee (Los Angeles), brother Donald Waller (Madison, WI), and nieces M. Meredith Masters, Katherine Zee, Mia Zee, Luella Allen-Waller, and Cora Allen-Savietta, plus great-niece Lennox and great-nephew Lukas. Her parents and youngest brother, Richard, predeceased her. The family thanks the broader community for their love and support of Margie. Donations in her honor can go to support students in UC-R’s Sustainability Studies major, either online (https://donate.ucr.edu/waller) or via a check to the UCR Foundation, PO Box 112, Riverside, CA 92502-9879 (noting “GSST/Waller Memorial Gift”).
— Donald Waller, Kate Hartford, Margaret Ferguson