John P. Sisk, a Gonzaga University professor whose essays on American culture spanned 50 years, died Monday of cancer.
He was 83.
Perhaps better known in the literary circles of New York than Spokane, Sisk’s witty writings dissected the American way of life, ranging from baseball to sexuality, in more than 500 articles and books.
The unpretentious father of six, who never finished his doctorate degree yet became chairman of Gonzaga’s English Department, inspired thousands of students in his courses on Shakespeare, American Literature and English Romanticism.
“He was the most influential of all my teachers,” said the Rev. David Leigh, a former student who is chairman of the English Department at Seattle University. “One minute he’d be quoting Shakespeare, the next moment the National Enquirer or a scene from ‘The Terminator.’ Every sentence he spoke was filled with wit and irony.”
Memorial Mass for Sisk will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Aloysius Catholic Church. Hennessey-Smith Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Sisk, whose articles appeared in Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, The American Spectator and other periodicals, had an uncommon indifference toward fame and a disdain for fanaticism, said Franz Schneider, a retired English professor who worked with Sisk at Gonzaga.
“He was not interested in grand theories but illuminating the reality that we confront at the moment,” Schneider said. “He was a giant in many respects.”
Three books of Sisk’s essays have been published: “Person and Institution” (1970), “The Tyrannies of Virtue” (1990) and “Being Elsewhere” (1994).
The last book was spawned by a chance meeting with poet Jim McAuley in the parking lot of a Rosauers supermarket. McAuley, director of Eastern Washington University Press, asked Sisk if he had any ideas for a book.
“Two weeks later, he sent us a collection of essays,” McAuley said. “That became our second book.”
A native of Spokane, Sisk was born the son of a postal clerk. He was educated in Catholic schools and spent summers working cattle roundups in the Palouse.
He began teaching at Gonzaga in 1939, leaving from 1942 to 1946 to serve as a captain in the Air Force during World War II.
Sisk won the Carl Foreman Award in 1961 for his short novel “A Trial of Strength.” “The Man Who Counted,” an article published in Atlantic Monthly, recently was made into a movie starring Buck Henry and Shirley Knight.
Sisk was a consultant to the National Endowment for the Humanities and a member of the American Association of University Professors and the American Studies Association.
Survivors include his wife, Gwen; three sons, Eric, Gavin and Toney Sisk, all of Seattle; three daughters, Mary Sisk of Portland, and Teresa and Paule Sisk, both of Seattle; three brothers, Maurice Sisk and the Rev. Richard Sisk, both of Spokane, and James Sisk of Richland; a sister, Pat Ripple of Spokane; and six grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice of Spokane or the House of Charity.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Grayden Jones Staff writer Editorial assistant Tina Carey contributed to this report.
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