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William F. Sibley, Japanese Scholar, 1941-2009

University of Chicago professor William Ferguson Sibley, a scholar and translator of Japanese literature, died Thursday, May 7. He was 67 and had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer.

Sibley, Associate Professor Emeritus in East Asian Languages and Civilizations, is perhaps best known for his work, The Shiga Hero, said Edward Shaughnessy, the Creel Distinguished Service Professor of Early China and Chairman of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

A gifted translator, Sibley produced numerous translations of modern Japanese literature, especially those of short stories and essays. He translated several important selections of Japanese gay literature and correspondence. He was also a deft and inventive translator of 18th-19th-century prose, challenging for its verbal play and range of reference. Sibley’s translation of “On Farting,” a piece of mock erudition by physician, inventor, and writer Hiraga Gengai (1728-80), has helped make Vol. 9 of Select Papers from the Center of East Asian Studies of the University a best seller. It now circulates as part of an “episodic festschrift” for Howard Hibbet, with whom Sibley studied at Harvard.

During Sibley’s 22 years of teaching, he served as a mentor to scores of students working on all aspects of modern and early modern Japanese literature and culture. “However removed a particular student’s research focus from his own interests,” said his longtime colleague Norma Field, the Robert S. Ingersoll Distinguished Service Professor of Japanese Studies, “Sibley gave unstintingly of his time to read texts one-on-one with them and insisted, with frequent illustration by example, that even passages quoted casually in dissertations be translated with precision and grace.”

Sibley is survived by his sister, Jill S. Bixler, of Washington, D.C. ; and her two sons Joshua E. Bixler, and Matthew Bixler.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m., Saturday, June 6, at St. Paul the Redeemer, 4945 S. Dorchester Ave. Chicago. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Northwestern Memorial Foundation, Lung Cancer Research, 676 N. St. Clair, Suite 2050, Chicago, Ill. 60611.

See the full University press release here.

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