By Annie Daly '07
Every year, college students dread the notorious return to school from Thanksgiving break. Overstuffed from too much turkey and overwhelmed by the looming threat of exams, stressed-out students are excited only by that delicious piece of leftover pumpkin pie.
But this year is different.
After the break, English majors Michelle Stafford '07, Will Crain '08 and Betsy Mountenay '07 will be grinning ear to ear about something far sweeter: the two-day on-campus residency of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Rita Dove.
Jean Louise Stellfox '60 was so inspired by a visit by poet Robert Frost in 1959 that she left over $1 million to Dickinson College to establish the Harold and Ethel L. Stellfox Visiting Scholars and Writers Program. The program makes it possible each year for a major author to spend a few days on campus.
As the Stellfox distinguished writer, Dove will be on campus Nov. 27-28. She will read her poetry, deliver free lectures, visit classes, enjoy meals with students and faculty, and conduct a special question-and-answer session with Dickinson students and the community.
Stafford, Crain and Mountenay are thrilled at the opportunity to meet and learn from such an influential and well-known poet.
"Rita Dove said she didn't know writers were real people until she had actually met one," Mountenay explains. "I'm so glad that we will now get to have that experience, too."
The opportunity makes students anticipate Dove's arrival. "I feel so lucky that Dickinson is able to bring in a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet," Stafford says. "I'm excited to hear about Dove's incorporation of various aspects of herself into her poetry in an intimate environment. As an English major and creative-writing minor, I love learning about the art of communication through writing. She communicates the same voice throughout her work but, at the same time, she covers a variety of themes and does it all with so much grace."
Crain appreciates Dove's graceful poetry but is even more fascinated by the complexity of her work. "I love Dove's poetry because it's so accessible on first read," he says. "However, there's an extra depth that is not there at first glance. Her best poems have many complex layers."
A University of Virginia English Professor, Dove has been awarded many academic and literary honors throughout her career, most notably the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Thomas and Beulah, a collection of poems strung together like a novel to chronicle the lives of her grandparents.
She also was the first African-American and youngest poet laureate of the United States, from 1993-95, and just finished a two-year term as poet laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia. As if these accomplishments aren't enough, Dove has received other honors such as the Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service, alongside Anderson Cooper, who anchors CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, and former astronaut and senator John Glenn.
Though they appreciate the impending visit from such an accomplished poet, Dickinson students are quick to recognize their own English department professors, whose passion for poetry and connections in the literary world made Dove's visit possible.
"You can tell that Dickinson College is dedicated to bringing interesting writers when we get such renowned authors as Ian McEwan and Rita Dove," Mountenay explains. "These writers would not be here if it were not for the dedication of our professors, such as [Adrienne] Su, [Carol Ann] Johnston and [Lynn] Johnson." And for the generous bequest left by Jean Louise Stellfox to endow the residency.