Philip Edward Simmons '80

Doctor of Letters

Philip Simmons graduated from Amherst in 1980, a member of the College's first four-year coeducational class. A double major in physics and English, he went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree at Washington University in St. Louis and a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. As a professor of English at Lake Forest College in Illinois, he continued to be a writer, of both fiction and criticism, and most recently of memoir.

In reviewing his critical book on postmodern American writers, Simmons's former professor William Pritchard said: "Deep Surfaces combines theoretical acumen with first-rate practical criticism. . . . [Simmons] cares about literature for the way it moves him and he wants to share this pleasure with others."

In Simmons's most recent book, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, he confronts the very palpable evidence of his own mortality in a connected series of essays. Nine years ago, at age 35, the same year he moved to New Hampshire, he was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, formerly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease). He now does his writing and living with the considerable help of his wife Kathryn Field, his children Aaron and Amelia, and a caring community of people in his small town of Center Sandwich. As he has said, "It takes a village to care for me."

Learning to Fall had its origins in a series of talks Simmons gave at the North Shore Unitarian Church of Deerfield, Illinois. Calling on an eclectic mix of sources, from Marcus Aurelius to W.B. Yeats and the Sufi poets, it comes to some very unsentimental stopping places. Forget about "fixing" people, Simmons says. Try to love them and treat them kindly. "That goes for ourselves too. That goes for ourselves especially."

Read more about Philip Simmons in Amherst magazine.

Philip E. Simmons, 45, died Saturday, July 27, at his home in Center Sandwich, NH, with family and friends by his side. Read his obituary in the Boston Globe.

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