She was a devoted teacher, a talented writer and an astute editor. She loved Renaissance literature, travel and dancing. In conversation, she sparkled with warmth and wit. Most of all, Amy Blumenthal is remembered at Kenyon for her sensitive, sympathetic heart: her gift for connecting with people.
Blumenthal died on Saturday, May 27, at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, with her husband, Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, and their daughter, Sophie, by her side. She was 61 and had been suffering from an illness that began early this year.
Blumenthal’s Kenyon career embraced both the classroom, where she taught English during two different periods, and the public-affairs realm, where national awards recognized her work on admissions literature as well as the alumni magazine. Since 2014, in addition to teaching as an assistant professor of English, she was a consulting editor at the Kenyon Review.
“The students loved Amy, through and through,” recalled Associate Professor of English Sarah Heidt ’97, who in 2013–14 co-directed the Kenyon-Exeter Program in England with Lobanov-Rostovsky, the National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Professor of English. “They knew her as a fiercely intelligent, widely read, ceaselessly curious, deeply loving woman, someone who demonstrated to them, in a thousand large and subtle ways, how much she cared about their learning and their whole lives.”
Blumenthal was a native of New York City, and throughout her life she enjoyed returning to the city to see plays, shows and museum exhibits and to reconnect with friends. The clamor and serendipitous encounters of New York were entwined with her coming of age as a young woman, and with her love of literature. In an essay for the Alumni Bulletin, she recalled immersing herself in Shakespeare on the subway, “where the rhythm of the rumbling express swooped the iambic pentameter into its race. When the hurtling train reached full speed, the lines thundered in my head and I could no longer say which was transporting me.”
Blumenthal pursued her college education in New York, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1983 at Barnard College, graduating magna cum laude with membership in Phi Beta Kappa. She went on to graduate work in English at Stanford University. There, she received her master’s degree in 1985 and completed coursework for a doctorate. It was at Stanford that she met Lobanov-Rostovsky, a student in the creative-writing Master of Arts program. The couple moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Lobanov-Rostovsky would earn his doctorate at Harvard University. They married in 1988. Sophie was born in 1990.
The family came to Kenyon in 1993. Lobanov-Rostovsky had been hired to teach English, and Blumenthal also joined the English faculty as a visiting instructor. In 2000, she moved to the College’s public affairs staff as an assistant director of publications. She later won promotion to director of admissions publications, a job that entailed the creation of an enormous range of materials, in print and online, that sought to convey Kenyon’s distinctive personality. At the same time, she wrote and edited for the Alumni Bulletin, as well as for Fortnightly, the faculty-staff newsletter.
“From her years on the faculty, Amy had a deep appreciation for the campus ethos,” recalled Tom Stamp ’73, then director of public affairs and currently the college historian. “That would become the source of her remarkable talent for producing admissions materials that masterfully portrayed Kenyon with its quirks intact.”
Those materials ranged from the admissions viewbook to the College’s often playful “Did You Know?” postcards. One mailing invoked the Harry Potter books, asking, “Still waiting for your owl?” For years, students mentioned that piece as having sealed their decision to apply to Kenyon, a place that clearly understood their own inner life. Blumenthal’s admissions work regularly won awards from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). As an editor for the Alumni Bulletin, and a writer whose articles included profiles of such luminaries as Laura Hillenbrand ’89 H’03 and Carl Djerassi ’43 H’58, Blumenthal was part of the team recognized by CASE, three times, for producing the best alumni magazine in the country.
“Amy had an amazing ability to connect with the students and alumni she interviewed,” said Patty Burns, director of new media. “She would usually stop by my office after an especially good interview, bursting with excitement.”
Often, those interviews bloomed into friendships. Colleagues and students marveled at her sympathetic spirit. “I would do an interview and craft a story,” said Dan Laskin, a former colleague in the Office of Public Affairs. “Amy would do an interview and craft a story — and make a friend.”
“That’s exactly how Amy made you feel when she spoke with you — that whatever you had to say was deeply important to her,” wrote Jenna Nobs ’15, who got to know Blumenthal on the Exeter Program. Abigail Roberts ’15 wrote: “Amy felt like a mother to so many of us in Exeter. I would wager that every single one of us had a moment where Amy effortlessly plucked us out of some dark crevasse. She had a way of knowing exactly when you needed a gentle word, or a confident rousing speech, or just a small comforting smile or shoulder pat.”
Blumenthal left the Public Affairs office, now known as the Office of Communications, in 2013 and began working part-time for the Kenyon Review. “With her warm smile and devilish wit, Amy was a joy to work with,” said David Lynn ’76 P’14, the journal’s editor. “As an editor, she had a remarkably deft touch, a gift for refining the pedestrian into a language taut and vibrant.”
She returned to teaching in 2014, offering advanced courses on Milton and Shakespeare as well as a popular section of English 103/104 called “Temptations.” Provost Joseph Klesner said that, beyond her contributions to the curriculum, he will miss running into her near Sunset Cottage and stopping to chat. “Family mattered a lot to Amy,” he said. “She always asked eagerly how my daughter was doing at Grinnell [College], where she had overlapped with Sophie.”
“She felt that she was best as a teacher sitting across her desk from just one or two students, so that she could really get to know them, to ask them about themselves and see what lit them on fire,” Lobanov-Rostovsky said. Her gift with people? “She really wanted to listen. It was an intellectual generosity and a generosity of spirit.”
A funeral service for Blumenthal was held Tuesday, May 30. The family is discussing possible plans for a memorial service at Kenyon.