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John L. Foster, professor of American literature at Roosevelt University from 1966 until his retirement in 1994, died on Jan. 25.
At Roosevelt, he served as chairman of the English Department and was active in university-wide administration, including the board of trustees.
Concurrent with his tenure at Roosevelt, Dr. Foster had a long association with the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. This relationship was formalized at his retirement when he became a research associate there.
Dr. Foster’s work focused on the structure of ancient Egyptian verse, and he published extensively in his field on varied topics such as the thought couplet and grammatical structures in literary texts. He also applied his training in literary theory to approach ancient Egyptian literature as literature, to discuss methods of translation, and to highlight the myriad details that enhance a reading of a literary text and enrich the reader’s appreciation.
He was a well-known translator of ancient Egyptian literature, and his more popular volumes were “Love Songs of the New Kingdom,” “Echoes of Egyptian Voices,” “Hymns, Prayers, and Songs,” “The Shipwrecked Sailor” and “Ancient Egyptian Literature: An Anthology.” These translations were recognized for their accessibility and craftsmanship, which may be the reason his were some of the first to appear in standard textbooks surveying the masterpieces of world literature.
Dr. Foster was a popular lecturer on the subject of ancient Egyptian literature, often reading from his translations. He was an active member of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities and the American Research Center in Egypt, whose journal, JARCE, he edited for some years.
Born to Robert E. and Dorothy R. (Lockwood) Foster in Chicago, on Nov. 11, 1930, Dr. Foster spent his early years in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he graduated from Creston High School. He received an A.B. from Kalamazoo College, magna cum laude, and subsequently attended Harvard University. He then served in the U.S. Army Security Agency, primarily in Germany. He returned to academia and received both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan.
He is survived by his wife, Gloria, and their three children: Ann, Kristen (David McDaniel), and Robert (Rebecca Bates), as well as grandson and namesake, John. He is also survived by his sister, Marjorie Foster Doorn (Lawrence), and brother, Richard (Shirley), both of Michigan, and their respective children.
A memorial service will be held at the First United Methodist Church, 516 Church St., at 2 p.m. on April 16. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in his name to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1155 E. 58th St., Chicago, IL 60637.