Last Wednesday, the PSU English department gave away almost$7,000 as part of the fortieth annual Nina Mae Kellogg awards andtreated their audience to a presentation by Pulitzer Prize-winningpoet Stephen Dunn.
English professor Michael J. Clark had the honor of presentingthe awards and introducing their recipients to those in attendancein the Smith Memorial Student Union. Quirky self-descriptionsincluded those of an author who chronicled his career back tolearning to print, tackling the cursive style then authoring aseries of bad checks in high school. Dunn, highly praised egoistsand plenty of third-person accounts kept the audience giggling andapplauding through the ceremony.
Clark was gushing as he introduced Dunn, who had been histeacher 27 years prior at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey,saying, “Dunn is a person dedicated to the study and creation ofbeautiful literature; someone who uncovers the mysteries ofeveryday life, revealing them to the rest of us and one of the mostimportant people in his life.”
In response, Dunn dedicated his reading of “Competition,” one ofthe sixteen poems he recited, to Clark. As he reminisced how he hadmet Clark on the basketball court years ago, the poem’ssignificance unfolded: “You know instantly who you do and don’twant to be friends with, who you want to hang out with throughcompetition.”
Dunn’s “Different Hours” won several awards including thePulitzer Prize for literature. His celebrated book explores time”not only in one’s life, but also of the larger historical andphilosophical life beyond the personal.”
Earlier, in the English department library, Dunn talked abouthis beginnings as a poet. After college, he quit his corporate jobin New York to move to Spain. There, he wrote what he called “anovel. A bad novel,” which caused him to dabble in the use oflanguage.
He also discussed the changes in his writing patterns over theyears, “I used to wake up early and write every day. Now, I tend togenerate poems all year and spend the time at the writers’ colonieschurning them out.”
When asked what students should be reading, Dunn said hewouldn’t prescribe one author. Rather, he advised the attendees toread something that is exciting and that speaks to the conditionsthat matter to the reader. He did, however, list a few of hisfavorites: Wallace Stevens, Yeats, Robert Frost, Hemingway andLouise Glick.
Dunn has retired from his thirty-year teaching career and hasplans to begin his next writing venture – a family memoir usingfictive elements to fill the gaps – this week. He will still beinvolved in writing workshops, as they have played a large part inhis profession.