Former campus instructor, poet Chana Bloch dies at 77

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Chana Bloch, a poet, professor, translator and scholar closely affiliated with UC Berkeley, died May 19 after a four-year battle with cancer. She was 77.

She remained closely affiliated with the campus for many years as a graduate student, a Hebrew instructor in the 1970s and a guest lecturer for both professor of Near Eastern studies Ariel Bloch and professor of Hebrew, Yiddish and comparative literature Chana Kronfeld, according to the Berkeley Center for Jewish Studies website.

Bloch worked closely with Kronfeld on various translations, including an Israeli translation project for the book “Open Closed Open” by the poet Yehuda Amichai, according to a campus press release. Together, their work received multiple awards, including the PEN Translation Prize.

Bloch earned her bachelor of arts from Cornell University, received her master’s in English and Judaic studies from Brandeis University and a doctorate in English from UC Berkeley, according to her website. In addition, her work has also been published in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, the Nation, and the New Republic, as well as many literary journals.

Her sixth and final poetry book, “The Moon is Almost Full” is set for release this September. The book, Bloch’s longstanding colleague Robert Alter said, contains life-affirming poems, themes on her mortality and poems about her family.

“It was her strongest book of poetry,” Alter, who received a volume from Bloch before her death, said.

According to the press release, Bloch’s poems were debuted at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and Jorge Liderman’s “The Song of Songs” — for which she provided an English translation— was performed by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus.

Bloch also taught creative writing at Mills College for more than 30 years. According to former colleague Ajuan Mance, an English professor at Mills College, the college’s English department holds a lot of respect for Bloch’s work.

“Chana was a very beloved member of the Mills College community, and her teaching, poetry and scholarship — as well as her warm heart and wonderful sense of humor  have impacted generations of students and colleagues,” said Bloch’s former colleague Cynthia Scheinberg in an email. “She will be truly missed.”

Scheinberg added that Bloch served as a role model, teacher, feminist, activist and artist.

“One thing I always liked about Chana was that she always looked you in the eye, always curiously holding your gaze,” said former colleague and Mills College English professor Thomas Strychacz. “She always treated people as treasures.”

Mance said the faculty had been corresponding over email about Bloch’s health and received an update when she passed. The department hopes to hold a memorial in the fall when faculty and students return.

Contact Connie Meza at [email protected]

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article attributed a statement about “The Moon is Almost Full” to Bloch’s website. In fact, this statement should be attributed to Robert Alter.