Anna Balakian Passes Away

By GRACE GLUECK The New York Times

NEW YORK–Anna Balakian–former chairman of the department of comparative literature at New York University and an internationally recognized scholar in the fields of Symbolism and Surrealism–died Aug. 12 at Southampton Hospital on Long Island. She was 82 and lived in Old Westbury–NY.

The cause was congestive heart failure–said her daughter–Suzanne Nalbantian Reynolds.

A dynamic woman who said she had "never been able to draw a line between work and pleasure," Dr. Balakian was an early developer of the discipline of comparative literature. Proficient in French–German–Spanish and Armenian–she was a prolific author of scholarly essays and wrote several books in her field–among them "The Literary Origins of Surrealism" (1947)–a study of the founders of modern French poetry–and "Surrealism: The Road to the Absolute" (1959)–an exposition of Surrealist literature and art.

With her sister–Nona Balakian–a literary critic and an editor at The New York Times Book Review–she was part of a literary circle that included playwright William Saroyan and diarist Anais Nin. Nona Balakian died in 1991.

Anna Balakian was also interested in the problems of education–and at her death had completed a wide-ranging critique–still in man’script — of its status in the United States. In 1994 she published "The Snowflake on the Belfry: Dogma and Disquietude in the Critical Arena," a consideration of contemporary literary criticism and its warring factions.

She was born in Constantinople–now Istanbul–in 1915 to Armenian parents–moved with her family to Germany as a child and later lived on the Swiss-French border before coming to the United States at the age of 11.

She spoke and wrote in recent years against what she saw as tendencies toward separatism and divisiveness in a multicultural America. A prominent theme in these articles was "the vast international connections and kinships" that she viewed as binding together people of different nationalities.

Dr. Balakian earned a bachelor’s degree at Hunter College in 1936 and master’s and Ph.D. degrees at Columbia University in 1938 and 1943. While in graduate school–she taught French literature and language full time at Hunter College High School. Toward the end of World War II–she was appointed instructor and then assistant professor of French at Syracuse University. An accomplished violinist–she also played in the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra.

She was married in 1945 to Stepan Nalbantian–a fellow violinist and an electrical engineer–who died in 1984. Throughout her life–she retained her maiden name.

In 1953–Dr. Balakian began her career at New York University as an instructor in French–eventually moving into the field of comparative literature. As a full professor–she was chairman of the department from 1977 to 1985–when she retired as professor emerita.

She was also president of the American Comparative Literature Association from 1977 to 1980 and was active in the International Comparative Literature Association.

Besides her daughter–of Old Westbury and Sagaponack–NY–Dr. Balakian is survived by a son–Haig Nalbantian of New York City–and a granddaughter.


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