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James F. Light of 47 Dogwood Drive, Ledgewood Hills, Nashua, died of a heart attack on April 15 in New Hampshire. He was 80. During his academic career, Mr. Light helped revive the works of satirist Nathanael West, with the first book length critical study of his work, _Nathanael West: An Interpretive Study_, (Northwestern Univ. Press, 1961). He was also the leading authority on John William deForest, the early American realist whose work he critiqued in _John William deForest_ (Twayne Pub., 1965), and he wrote extensively on J. D. Salinger, Robert Penn Warren and others. James F. Light was born in Memphis Nov. 5, 1921 to Lois Billings and Luther Light. Soon after moving to Chicago, during the Depression his parents divorced. Although his mother later remarried, Mr. Light remained an only child, a good student admitted on scholarship to the University of Chicago, where he completed a Master's degree in 1946. In Chicago he was part of the literary circle around Nelson Ahlgren and Jack Conroy, and published an influential story, ''Christmas Furlough,'' about a black WWII soldier's inability to get a bus seat home during his brief furlough. In 1948 Mr. Light married the former Rowena Neal while a professor in Louisville, Kentucky. After receiving a Ph.D from Syracuse University in 1951, he taught at Indiana State University for several years, culminating in a Fulbright Scholarship to Keele University in Britain in 1963-1964. He then moved to Connecticut with his second wife, formerly Amy Wolf (after Rowena's death), to become chairman of the English department at the University of Bridgeport. In 1972 he became dean and provost of Lehman College, part of the City University of New York, at a time when students, faculty, and college administrators were often at odds. A long-time champion of educational opportunity, Mr. Light also respected academic standards, and sought ways of balancing these goals through the college's open admissions policy. When budget cuts hit as part of New York City's fiscal crisis, his planning helped Lehman, alone among the CUNY campuses, avoid layoffs of tenured faculty. Mr. Light completed his career as vice president of the College of Arts and Sciences at Southern Illinois University and, after another Fulbright Scholarship, this time to New Zealand, retired to New Hampshire, from which he enjoyed the occasional junket to Las Vegas. He is survived by two sons and a daughter -- Sheldon, Matthew, and Jama -- from his first marriage. ''In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to: The Humanities Division and the Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, 1010 East 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637.''

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