Skip to main content

Newsroom

Steve Ross, Farewell

August 20, 2013 | By NEH staff

Dr. Stephen M. Ross, an internationally recognized scholar, author of three books on William Faulkner, and Director of the Office of Challenge Grants at the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) from February 1995 to January 2013, died August 21 in Philadelphia. He would have been 70 years old in November and suffered a stroke while returning from Italy. 

Dr. Ross was most recently acclaimed for his publication, with the late Noel Polk, of a "colorized" edition of Faulkner's masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner himself had proposed the "colorized version" after receiving readers' complaints about the difficulty of following a stream of consciousness sequence with shifting chronological levels. The Ross and Polk edition differentiated 14 time periods by color. The book, complete with a color-coded chart, was published in 2012 to acclaim in both the United States and Britian. Dr. Ross also wrote Fiction's Inexhaustible Voice, and Unflinching Gaze: Morrison and Faulkner Re-envisioned, with Carol Kolmerten and Judith Wittenberg.

Dr. Ross was the son of Dr. Julian Ross, Dean of the Faculty at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and Carol Ross.  He had lived in Catonsville, Maryland, since 1978.  After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Allegheny College in 1965, he earned a Ph.D. in English from Stanford University in 1971 and a JD degree from the University of Maryland Law School in 1982. He taught English at Purdue University and the U.S. Naval Academy. 

After joining NEH in 1987 and serving as the Deputy Director of Fellowships and Seminars, Dr. Ross was appointed director of the Office of Challenge Grants in 1995.  The Challenge Grant program leverages private giving, and has so far raised nearly $4 billion for the humanities.  While at the Endowment, he served as the chief negotiator for the Collective Bargaining Agreement between NEH and the American Federation of Government Employees. 

Dr. Carole Watson, the Acting Chairman of NEH, described Dr. Ross as the "embodiment of the NEH ethos; a person of high learning, deep scholarship, and professional acumen who handled administrative responsibilities with kindness and aplomb.  He was an irrepressible teacher and prolific writer who brought a generosity of spirit to all his undertakings."

He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Dr. Carol Kolmerten, a professor of English at Hood College and his children, Derica Ross Waller of Denver; Aidan Ross of Portland, Oregon; his step-daughter, Laura Kolmerten McAfee, of Catonsville; and four grandchildren, Riley McAfee Sherwin and Jacob Cole Sherwin of Catonsville and Juliana Waller and Devon Waller of Denver.