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Lois Baker Janzer ’50

Poet, translator, and teacher, Lois was born in Oakland, California, and grew up in Seattle. Her interest in the world’s languages and cultures was cultivated in her working-class neighborhood, home to many immigrant families. As a teenager she worked as a cook and counselor at a Girl Scout summer camp near Hood Canal, and as a secretary for Alaska Steamship in San Francisco.

Majoring in literature at Reed, she worked on the campus literary magazine, and was particularly influenced by professors Lloyd Reynolds [English and art 1929–69] and Natalie Balakohin Dodge [Russian 1943–67]. She excelled in her coursework and made lifelong friends, with whom she shared madrigal and folk singing as well as ski trips in blue jeans and Army surplus skis. She wrote her thesis on the moral theme in the novels of Ivan Turgenev. She was briefly married to Bruce Cartozian ’50, and they lived for a few years in New York after graduation.

In 1954, she returned to Portland, where she met and married sculptor Manuel Izquierdo [art 1953-56], then an artist in residence at Reed. The couple hosted many artists and writers in their Southwest Portland home, including poets Philip Whalen ’51, Gary Snyder ’51, and Allen Ginsberg. Some years after divorcing Izquierdo, she married Dr. Norman Janzer, with whom she lived happily in Portland for more than 30 years until his death in 2003. They shared an enjoyment of travel, gardening, and music. Lois returned to Reed for her MAT, completing her practice teaching with an adult literacy program in Old Town before she began teaching at Portland Community College in 1969.

Over the course of her career she taught every course in the English department, from composition to Shakespeare. Lois worked hard to establish the teachers union at PCC, and collaborated with faculty in the skilled trades on a successful cross-disciplinary program, the Meaning of Work. After retiring from PCC in 1992, she taught ESL and technical writing classes for Tektronix. She became deeply interested in China, and taught English at universities in Harbin and Suzhou. She had an unusual facility for languages, having previously studied Latin, Welsh, Russian, German, and Italian. At the age of 59, she undertook Chinese, mastering it to the extent that in 1999 she was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts fellowship to translate the poems of 12th- century poet Fan Chengda.

Throughout her life she worked on her writing, publishing under her maiden name, Lois Baker. She was nominated for Oregon Book Awards for Man Covered with Bees and Tracers, and was awarded first prize in the Oregonian’s Ben Hur Lampman poetry contest. Her work appeared in many publications, including Calyx, Folio, Penthouse, Poetry, and the Seattle Review. TriMet’s Poetry in Motion program put two of her poems on the road, and she wrote a play for a Portland Dada show and contributed a parody sketch to an anthology, the Best of Bad Hemingway. She enjoyed tai chi, graphoanalysis, folklore, etymologies, and scouring garage sales for oriental rugs, books, and other treasures. With her friend Marvin Witt, she designed a small house in Manzanita, where she lived from 2004 to 2009. She will be remembered as a wholly original writer, imaginative teacher and independent scholar committed to the rights of labor, women, and minorities.

Her children, Katy Smith ’75, Markrid Izquierdo, Pablo Izquierdo, and Sara Izquierdo survive.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2016

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