Bigwig writers to share life and work

Grace Paley, Robert Creeley and John Edgar Wideman will come to campus this semester as part of the Kelly Writers House Fellows project.

The focus of their visit will be an undergraduate seminar, Contemporary American Writing, taught by Al Filreis, Class of 1942 Professor of English and faculty director of Writers House.

“We will be reading the work of the writers, and then students will have a two-day experience with the writers,” Filreis explained.

Each visit will begin with a three-hour seminar in which students can talk to the writers about their work and the state of contemporary writing, followed by a public reading in the evening and an intimate dinner. The next day, Filreis will conduct an interview with the writers that will be Webcast live from Writers House.

“They’re all from different genres,” Filreis said. Paley is known as a short story writer; Wideman as a memoirist and novelist; and Creeley as a poet. “What they have in common is not only that they’re very eminent, but they’re out on the edges of the experimental. The emphasis of Writers House is on new and experimental kinds of writing.”

The Fellows project was started at the behest of Paul Kelly (C’62, WG’64), a University Trustee and benefactor of Writers House. “I thought it was important because the academy, in the broad sense, is a place that should bring together students, teachers and practitioners of the art,” Kelly said. “This is an attempt to show we appreciate excellence and to bring in people who can inspire students.”

Creeley, for one, accepted enthusiastically. He cited as influencing his decision his friendship with writers at Penn and in Philadelphia, the “generous” fee and “the setting — an intense, specific company of students concentrated upon the common factors of present writing is very attractive. ... [The students] will not be simply ‘vessels waiting to be filled.’”

Creeley continued, “At 73, I do not often teach usual courses now of any kind,” but says that he looks forward to teaching young writers, as opposed to older writers who might be set in their ways. “The dilemma is always as Williams suggests in his phrase, ‘minds like beds, always made up.’”


Originally published on January 20, 2000