Colby has recently learned that Suellen Diaconoff, professor of French, emerita, passed away Feb. 12, 2020, of heart disease at her home in Santa Fe, N.M. She was 79. During the 20 years she taught at Colby, she was a constant advocate for the humanities who also broadened the French major to include the larger Francophone diaspora.

Professor of French, Emerita, Suellen Diaconoff, 1996

“Suellen had remarkable strength of character punctuated by humility, persistence, courage, and compassion,” said Adrianna Paliyenko, the Charles A. Dana Professor of French. “She was an incisive thinker who worked tirelessly on behalf of the humanities, and especially her department, always with the future in mind.”

Diaconoff was the principal author of a Title VI grant from the Department of Education titled “Focus on Women in Francophone Africa and the Caribbean.” From 1999 to 2001, Diaconoff led an interdisciplinary team that used the grant to redesign the curriculum so that the French major included the Francophone world in all its diversity, said Paliyenko. “This project remains the cornerstone of our more inclusive, transdisciplinary program in French and Francophone studies, which continues to evolve.” 

Diaconoff graduated from Willamette University in 1962 and later earned master’s and doctorate degrees in French at Indiana University, concentrating on 18th-century France. She taught at Tufts, North Carolina State, and Case Western Reserve universities before coming to Colby in 1986. She taught here until 2006, serving as chair of the Department of French for several years.

Her published work includes numerous articles, reviews, and papers. Her critical books include Eros and Power in Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Through the Reading Glass: Women, Books, and Sex in the French Enlightenment. Diaconoff expanded her field of study to include the literature and culture of Morocco, which she studied onsite, resulting in the book The Myth of the Silent Woman: Moroccan Women Writers.

A lover of hiking and photography, she combined those interests in The Boomer’s Guide to Hiking in Maine: From Woodsy Rambles to Dozens of Peaks, which she coauthored with her husband, Peter Diaconoff. Even though they hiked in national parks across the country, the Maine sections of the Appalachian Trail held a special place in their hearts.

Diaconoff is survived by two daughters, Cara and Nicole, who remember their mother’s love of cooking, travel, and literature. 

“In Suellen, I had a kind, wise, and devoted mentor,” said Paliyenko. “I will always cherish her sound advice on finding a balance between life and work each and every day.”