Marilyn Kallett’s plans to major in history ended during a French poetry course taught by Georgette Vabre Pradal. “I had no resistance to her passion for literature, her love for the sounds of poetry,” says Kallett, A68, who is now a poet and English professor at the University of Tennessee. “I went into a swoon and I don’t think I’ve come out.”
Pradal, who died last August in Rye, New York, at the age of ninety-one, didn’t just teach at Tufts for twenty-four years, say former students and colleagues. She inspired.
Pradal came to Tufts in 1962 “carrying the vision of a poet and the tradition of southwestern France,” notes the faculty resolution on her retirement in 1986. During World War II, her family helped hide refugees from the Vichy police and German Gestapo, an experience that “confirmed Georgette as une femme revoltee” and shaped her poetry.
In 1945, Pradal and her husband, Gabriel, moved to the United States to teach at Ohio State. After her husband’s death in 1958, Pradal taught at Wellesley College before coming to Tufts. She published several books, one of which won Le Grand Prix des Muses, a major French literary prize, in 1978. She was also a driving force behind several enhancements to the Department of Romance Languages, including the development and teaching of a sequence of courses in French poetry, narrative, and theater. She was among the first in the nation to teach African-Caribbean Francophone literature as part of the French canon, says associate professor of French and former department chairman Vincent Pollina. “She was also an animating spirit behind the Ph.D. program in French. She put the department on the map in a way that bespoke quality from the very beginning.”
Former students recall how Pradal seemed always to be on stage. “She dressed very nicely, with her hair up,” recalls Tom Barefoot, A68, who told her he saw no such need to dress up. “Professor Pradal explained to me that in the supermarket of ideas, students will come to look at the various products on display and they will choose based on the nice appearance of the bottle or box. She wanted to have her ideas attractively packaged so that people would choose to look inside and see what ideas she had to offer.”
Barefoot, who runs a technology company and recently cofounded an effort called Gross National Happiness USA, now tries “to be attractively dressed. I still imagine myself in that supermarket of ideas.”