Daniel A. Harris, a poet, professor emeritus of English and Jewish Studies at Rutgers University, and local activist died on Dec. 26. He was 77.
Harris earned degrees from Yale University and taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado before coming to Rutgers University in 1979. Devoted to the improvement of undergraduate education, he was honored with Rutgers University’s award for excellence in teaching in 1992. A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim, Mellon, and Newberry Library foundations, he focused his attentions on modern and Victorian British poetry, with books on Yeats, Tennyson, and Hopkins.
Harris was the great-great-grandson of Rabbi David Einhorn, the founder of radical Reform Judaism in the United States. In his later years at Rutgers University, Harris taught Jewish poetry written in English as the original language of composition. Writing about Emma Lazarus, Isaac Rosenberg, and Grace Aguilar, he also founded JEWISH VOICES: 200 YEARS OF POETRY IN ENGLISH, an educational program for synagogues and other Jewish cultural sites, through which he gave courses on Jewish poetry at over 300 locations in the tri-state area.
Following his retirement in 2002 after decades spent teaching poetry, Harris published three volumes of his own poems (Loose Parlance, 2008; Random Unisons, 2013; Accents, 2018).
A resident of Princeton since 1985, Harris became an active environmentalist after retiring from academia. With his wife, Jane Buttars, he founded Save Princeton Ridge, which succeeded in limiting development on the Princeton Ridge in Princeton and in contributing to the creation of the Princeton Ridge Preserve. For this effort he and his wife were honored with a Sustainable Princeton Award in 2012. He was one of the organizers of the citizen group that opposed the AvalonBay apartment development at the old Princeton Hospital site. He also participated in a local and statewide campaign to ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags. He was honored with an award from the New Jersey Environmental Lobby in 2013 for his efforts.
In 2015 and 2016, Harris was privileged to belong to the core group that pushed to have the historically black Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood in Princeton designated as the town’s twentieth historic district in 2016. In 2018, he led a movement to establish Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct. 2 to recognize and honor the native peoples who first occupied Princeton and the United States. The resolution instituting the day in Princeton was adopted by the Princeton Council in 2019.
Harris is survived by his beloved wife of 34 years, the musician Jane Buttars. A celebration of life service will be held at 3 p.m. on Jan. 26 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton. Contributions in lieu of flowers may be made to any of the following: the America Civil Liberties Union (New York), Amnesty International USA (New York), the Southern Poverty Law Center (Montgomery, Alabama), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (New York NY), or the American Indian College Fund (Denver, Colorado).