In Memory of Ann Jennalie Cook Calhoun


Ann Jennalie Cook Calhoun

We are sad to report the death of our good friend Ann Jennalie Cook Calhoun.

Ann, Emeritus Professor of English at Vanderbilt and Visiting Professor at the University of the South, was in the vanguard of the movement that made women leaders in the world of Shakespeare studies.  You can get some idea of Ann’s love of Shakespeare and her talent for getting people to do things by the length and breadth of the organizations she led.  She was one of the founders of the International Shakespeare Association, the executive secretary of the Shakespeare Association of America, the only American on the board of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and a founding board member of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival.  

Her support of the American Shakespeare Center was evident not only in her regular attendance at the Blackfriars Conference but also in the numerous ways she helped us make connections.  She used her influence in the English Speaking Union to help promote our association with that organization (first prize for the student who wins the ESU’s national Shakespeare competition is scholarship to our theatre camp).  She used her connections with Nashville’s beautiful public library to bring our touring troupe.  She promoted us in every way she could.  When I asked her join the ASC board, she said, “Ralph, I’m on too many boards, but I’ll do even better for you: I’ll introduce you to Kim West.”  Kim, an expert in Shakespeare and Law is now on our board and is leading our effort to make the ASC a leader in Continuing Legal Education. 

Ann, a beloved teacher at Vanderbilt and the University of the South, was a respected scholar whose first book, The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare’s London, 1576-1642, was a study of a subject close to our own interests—the nature of Shakespeare’s audiences.  

Ann’s warm and gracious, Southern style no doubt helped her in the 1970s to open doors for women into the profession of Shakespeare, but beneath that manner lay, well, a warm and gracious human being who cared deeply about everyone she met and about Shakespeare.  

Her own personal love story might have interested the playwright.  After her husband passed away in 1992, she reconnected with her high school sweetheart, Gerry Calhoun, and two years later they were married.  Gerry’s health began to decline this year, and while Ann was caring for him, she herself was unexpectedly taken ill. Owing to serious complications from her surgery, she was transferred into the hospice care with Gerry.  They were holding hands when he died, and several hours later she too passed away.

I remember seeing them holding hands in the lords’ chairs at our productions, and once Ann confided in me, “Ralph, Gerry doesn’t really like Shakespeare, and I can’t get him to go with me to Shakespeare at other theatres, but he loves coming to the Blackfriars because the actors make the stories so clear.” I like to think that the Blackfriars was a part of their love story and that in some way we gave back to Ann, who gave so much to us.