In Memoriam: Agate Nesaule, 1938-2022

Agate Nesaule, the Latvian-born writer who taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for 33 years, died on June 29 at Meriter Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. She was 84 years old.

Her memoir A Woman in Amber: Healing the Trauma of War and Exile (Soho Press, 1995) was the winner of the 1996 American Book Award. The book recounts Nesaule’s and her family’s exile in WWII from their native Latvia to several camps in Germany, where they experienced atrocities from both Nazis and Russians.

After the war, the family emigrated to Indianapolis. After graduation from high school, Nesaule went to Indiana University on a four-year Latin scholarship awarded by the Indiana Junior Classical League to the top student in a state-wide competition. While there she studied to be a medical doctor. Demoralized by the rampant sexism of that time in science classes, she switched her major to English and Latin and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She later earned a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dr. Nesule joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 1963. “Back in the 1960s, there were plenty of jobs for English professors but it was very difficult to find a faculty that would hire both a husband and a wife,” she later said. “We decided to move to the first place where we could both work. My husband and I were the first married couple to teach in the same department. Then, later, we also became the first divorced couple to teach in the same department.”

At the university, she was a co-founder of the women’s studies department and won many teaching awards. After retiring from the university in 1996, Dr. Nesule concentrated on her writing career producing a number of works including the novels In Love with Jerzy Kosinski (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009) and Lost Midsummers: A Novel of Women’s Friendship in Exile (2019).

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