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Hibbett began his studies of Japanese as a sophomore at Harvard College 1942 before working as a language specialist for the US Army in 1942-46. After graduating from Harvard College in 1947, he went on to receive his Ph.D., also from Harvard, in 1950. He taught at UCLA before returning to Harvard as a professor in 1958. He was Director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies from 1985 through 1988.
His publications include studies and translations of Edo and modern literature. He is particularly known for his translations of Tanizaki and works on Japanese language teaching.
- The Floating World in Japanese Fiction (1959)
- Seven Japanese tales (1963)
- Modern Japanese; a Basic Reader (1965)
- Contemporary Japanese Literature: an Anthology of Fiction, Film, and Other Writing since 1945 (1977)
- The Chrystanthemum and the Fish: Japanese Humor Since the Age of the Shoguns (2002)
- Quicksand by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. Review
- The Key; and Diary of a Mad Old Man by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki Review
- Seven Japanese Tales by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki