We mourn the passing of Umberto Eco, a rare polymath of a man and a marvelous, witty, inventive author. Among his many honors, Mr. Eco received the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement in 2005 (along with Roger Angell). An image from the evening remains indelible for the surprise—the gift—that he offered. Making his way to the podium at the Four Seasons Restaurant, Umberto Eco fumbled a small sheaf of dingy, yellowing note cards from his jacket pocket. Culling through them, he read aloud, offering snippets of literary theory, of poetry, of criticism. “These,” he said, “are notes I took from the Kenyon Review as a student in the 1950s and 60s. The audience roared its delight.
A scholar and theoretician of semiotics—a field that interrogates culture through its signs and symbols—Mr. Eco was also a writer who crossed boundaries of all sorts—language and genre, mystery and literature, popular culture and high seriousness.
His most popular and perhaps enduring novel was the first of seven, The Name of the Rose, published in Europe in 1980. Ultimately, it sold 10 million copies and appeared in some 30 languages, as well as being translated into a popular film.
We were proud to honor Umberto Eco in 2005 and now, on his passing, we again offer a salute to his many lasting literary achievements.