Originally Posted: September 16, 2016
Every day he taught a class at Southern Methodist University, Willard Spiegelman wore a bow tie and a jacket. Every day in every class he taught, students were expect to write. For 45 years, it was this way.
On a Friday afternoon in early September, Spiegelman wears just khakis and a button down shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows. He’s spent the past few months packing up his office, giving away volumes of poetry to students and colleagues from his bookshelves, preparing for his move to Manhattan, where he will spend his retirement. For decades he’s split his time between Dallas and the East Coast, where his partner of many years resides.
But before he goes, he’s making appearances to celebrate a new collection of essays, Senior Moments (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24), which reflects on the life that made him an icon on campus and respected nationally for his wit and insight.
A native of Philadelphia, Spiegelman arrived in Dallas via undergraduate studies at Williams College and doctorate work at Harvard University. He says his original selling point to academia was as an English Romanticist who built much of his career on poets like Keats and Shelley. Poetry, which became his vocation, was his second love. In childhood, he says, he “took to books.”
Spiegelman grew up in a suburban Jewish household without a lot of books. Education and learning, while valued, were not necessarily tied to the liberal arts. His father grew up in the Depression and studied to become a physician. His mother stocked the house with Reader’s Digest Condensed Books , but as Spiegelman writes in the first essay from Senior Moments, the house was a place of raucous conversation, not silent reflection. READ MORE
Fondren Library will be closed this Saturday, September 17th for Game Day. Regular hours will resume Sunday September 18th at Noon. READ MORE
Originally Posted: September 2, 2016
At this point in my life, after more than 40 years as a journalist and writer, I just want to be with people, and that includes authors, who can teach me something or make me laugh.
Willard Spiegelman, Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University, does both.
At first, I thought the author of a book titled Senior Moments: Looking Back, Looking Ahead would be an academic geezer calling up pedantic allusions as he remembers the days of wine and roses and rages against the dying of the light.
Well, it’s true that Spiegelman, who’s interested in Greek and Latin, has written dozens of scholarly papers and recorded lectures on “How to Read and Understand Poetry” for the Great Courses series, can sling around arcane, arty allusions.
After all, he was editor in chief of the august literary quarterly Southwest Review for more than 30 years and has been a regular contributor to the Leisure & Arts pages of the The Wall Street Journal for more than a quarter-century.
But stick with him, for he’s an agreeable, wise and witty companion — edifying, fun and fearless as he proffers lessons in happiness and aging learned during his long, distinguished career.
In the preface to this essay collection and memoir based on his 71 years on the planet, he gets right to it: “Life has not been a dress rehearsal,” he says. “It is what we have, and all that we will have had.”
Since he’s a nonreligious nonbeliever, an orthodox afterlife based on reward and punishment seems implausible. Instead, he believes, we come into the world alone and exit the same way to confront the final, eternal silence.
“The fun, all the pleasure and adventure, lies in between,” he says, then describes what delights him (talking, books and looking at art) and kvetches about what irks him (noise in restaurants, museums and libraries, which is why he never goes anywhere without earphones).
The Philly native, who has an erudite, candid, conversational style, got his talking chops from his loud, noisy Jewish extended family and from his mother, who, he says, “had a mouth on her.”
She had strong opinions and wasn’t timid about sharing them. And neither is the author as he muses on the subject of “Talk,” ending with his move to Texas, where both language and everything else at first seemed foreign to him.
His essay “Dallas” could have just as easily been titled “Stranger in a Strange Land” as Spiegelman recalls his arrival at Love Field on “a broiling, torpid, sweat-inducing day (there is no other kind in North Texas from June through September) in August 1971.”
Although, he says, it occurred to him to rush back to the tarmac to try to reboard the plane for its return trip to Boston, he gamely stuck it out and acclimated to life in Texas, if never as a Texan.
And while his ruminations on the city make author Larry McMurtry, who has had a longtime public aversion to Dallas, look like a booster, they’re honest, lyrical and funny.
As a Yankee, he missed lilacs, horse chestnut trees, poplars and ginkgoes but appreciates our wisteria and catalpa. And while, he says, Texas food won’t qualify for anyone’s low-fat, low-carb, low-sodium diet, he adores chicken-fried steak.
Spiegelman bemoans the absence here of wild nature, pedestrian life and four distinct seasons. He can’t get over the way everything warrants a standing ovation with “whoops, barks and hollers,” sport is a religion, and finding a native in Dallas is as difficult as finding a good bagel.
In his essay “Japan,” he explains why he never felt “so unmoored, unconnected yet exhilarated, and so fully myself” as in the Land of the Rising Sun. And why, upon returning home to Dallas, he decided after four decades to move to New York.
And it’s in “Manhattan” that the poet in Spiegelman soars. He has seen as much of the city’s five boroughs as he can, averaging 6 pedestrian miles a day, and his 11-hour, 20-mile walking gastronomic-and-spirits tour of Manhattan from tip to toe with friends is a joy.
The essay on “Books,” listing two of his favorite contemporary authors as Shirley Hazzard and James Salter as well as old favorites like Austen, Cather, Dickens, George Eliot, Forster and Woolf, is a blissful must for all bibliophiles.
True, Spiegelman can be a bit of a snob and sometimes a little too cute referring to Marilyn Monroe as “a great twentieth-century intellectual,” but this engaging book is a gift for adults of all ages, especially AARP’s.
Senior Moments ends with thoughtful meditations on “Art,” “Nostalgia” and “Quiet.” It does what a great teacher can do: motivate. He makes us want to walk around our city, read, savor the blessings of silence, slow-look at art and practice “the essential human art of conversation.” READ MORE
Plan your life
Willard Spiegelman has several Dallas events scheduled for Senior Moments:
Thursday, he’ll appear at 7:30 p.m. at the Wild Detectives, 314 W. Eighth St., along with Greg Brownderville, the new editor ofSouthwest Review.
Sept. 22, he’ll speak at 6:30 p.m. at the Nasher Sculpture Center, 2001 Flora St. Register at nashersculpturecenter.org by Sept. 15.
Oct. 26, he’ll appear at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 2719 Routh St. 6:30 p.m. reception; 7 p.m. presentation.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24)
Originally Posted: September 13, 2016
DALLAS (SMU) – SMU rose to its highest ranking among the nation’s universities in the 2017 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges, released online today.
Among 220 institutions classified as national universities, SMU ranks 56, up from 61 a year ago.
The new ranking again places SMU in the first tier of institutions in the guide’s “best national universities” category. In Texas, only Rice University ranks higher. SMU and the University of Texas-Austin were tied. Among private national universities, SMU ranks 39.
SMU’s increase was one of the five largest among the top 100 universities. Since 2008, SMU’s 11-point increase is one of the four largest among schools in the top 60.
For the rankings, U.S. News considers measures of academic quality, such as peer assessment scores and ratings by high school counselors, faculty resources, student selectivity, graduation rate performance, financial resources and alumni giving. SMU ranks 24 among all national universities in alumni giving at 25 percent.
In other ranking categories, SMU ranks 32 as one of the best national universities for veterans.
“It is gratifying for SMU to be recognized for its positive movement among the best national universities,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “The ranking is an example of the momentum of the Second Century Campaign and the University’s Centennial Celebration.
“We appreciate external recognition of our progress and believe it’s valid, but we also know that rankings do not portray the whole picture of an institution and its strengths. We encourage parents and students to visit the institutions they are considering for a firsthand look at the academic offerings, the campus environment and the surrounding community to best gauge a university.”
The rankings of 1,374 institutions, including national universities, liberal arts colleges, regional colleges and regional universities, are available now online and on newsstands Sept. 23. Find the “Best Colleges 2017” guidebook in stores Oct. 4. READ MORE
Location: Dedman Life Science Building, room 131
Come see Robert S. Levine of The University of Maryland present ‘Frederick Douglass in Fiction: From Harriet Beecher Stowe to John Updike and James McBride,’ as part of the English Department’s Gilbert Lecture Series. The event will start at 6pm on October 6th in The Dedman Life Science Building, Room 131. Hope to see you there!
Originally Posted: September 3, 2016
Willard Spiegelman commentary, writes about retiring to Manhattan
In his famous essay about New York, E. B. White distinguished among three cities and three types of New Yorkers. The first two — the city belonging to people born here, and that of commuters who work here by day and leave by night — were, he said, less compelling than the third, “the city of final destination” for those who come here in hope and nervousness.
Much has changed since 1948, when White’s essay, “Here Is New York,” appeared. More has remained the same. The sidewalks have retained their beauty and ugliness. The city still draws its influx of eager young people fresh from the farm, the small town and the university, in search of excitement, employment or love.
But it is not only young people who see Manhattan, as Nick Carraway did, as the symbol “in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.” It can also be the final destination (“final” in two ways) for people at the other end of the age spectrum. Since moving here part time in 2012 at age 67, I count myself among the senior eccentrics.
Most Americans with the urge to retire elsewhere go where children and grandchildren live. They flee from the North to the South or West in search of warmth, less expensive housing, lower taxes. They get rid of their snow shovels. They’ll never sand their driveways again.
Some of us do the opposite. Some of us suffer from reverse seasonal-affective disorder. We hate heat and welcome winter. If one can afford it (a big if), and tolerate serious downsizing, what could be more hospitable to an ambulatory senior citizen than Gotham?
Four years ago I bought a modest studio apartment, a combination hotel room and storage closet. When I move here full time, next year, if luck is on my side, I may even get a real one-bedroom.
For the past 45 years I have lived in Dallas: in other words, Automobile America, Real America. When I leave, I’ll give up my car. Here’s an unmanly, un-American confession: I’m looking forward to it. Driving closes the mind to everything except driving. Walking opens it. New York, especially Manhattan, leads all American cities in its population of carless drivers. I’ll use my feet, or take the subway, happily.
Retiring to Manhattan is an act of bravery. It also prepares you for the end. The anonymity of metropolitan life gets you ready for the anonymity of the grave. I find this comforting rather than macabre. READ MORE
Date: Thursday, September 8, 2016
Location: The Wild Detectives
314 W. Eighth Street Dallas, TX 75208
Time: 7:30pm to 9:30pm
Date: Thursday, September 22, 2016
Location: Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Willard Spiegelman has been the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University, and from 1984 – 2016 served as the editor of Southwest Review. Never known to be a man at a loss for words or opinions, his latest thoughts have been collected into his second book of essays, Senior Moments.
“If you are a living, breathing member of the human race, then Willard Spiegelman’s exemplary Senior Moments is for you. Aging is our universal condition: the only question is whether we approach our seniority kicking and screaming, or proceed with some degree of style and, let us hope, capacity for happiness. Spiegelman’s wise, witty, spirited essays show how we might work our way over to the style-and-happiness route, and are as good a guide for living well — at any age — that I know.” — Ben Fountain
At The Wild Detectives, Willard will read from his new book and be joined in conversation by Greg Brownderville, professor of poetry at SMU and the man stepping into Willard’s position as editor of Southwest Review.
Please join us for an evening celebrating Dallas writing, Dallas history, and with luck some Dallas gossip.