Looking back and moving ahead with SMU’s Willard Spiegelman

Dallas Morning News

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

Laugh and learn with Willard Spiegelman’s ‘Senior Moments: Looking Back, Looking Ahead’

Dallas Morning News

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.

Senior Moments

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Willard Spiegelman

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24)

Available Tuesday

SMU Department of English – Gilbert Lecture Series

Date: 10/06/2016
Location: Dedman Life Science Building, room 131
Time: 6pm

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!

For a Long Life, Retire to Manhattan- Commentary from Willard Spiegelman

Dallas Morning News

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

Senior Moments

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
Time:  6:30pm

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.



SMU alumnus Tim Seibles named Virginia’s poet laureate

Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

Originally Posted: August 23, 2016

Tim Seibles, professor of English at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, was named poet laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia by Governor Terry McAuliffe. Professor Seibles teaches in the master of fine arts in creative writing program at Old Dominion.

Professor Seibles joined the faculty at Old Dominion University in 1995. He was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2012 for his collection Fast Animal (Etruscan Press, 2012).

Professor Seibles is a graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He taught for 10 years in the Dallas public school system before earning a master of fine arts degree in creative writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. READ MORE

Kimbilio Literary Retreat: Writers flock to retreat for serenity, beauty of Taos and northern New Mexico


Originally Posted: August 1, 2016

kimbilio-writing-retreatDALLAS (SMU)When Lakiesha Carr decided she needed a quiet place and the support of her peers to finish her debut collection of short stories, she knew exactly where she wanted to go: The Kimbilio Retreat for African-American fiction writers at SMU-in-Taos, New Mexico.

“As a writer, it’s always great to have workshop opportunities, because you want as many eyes and insights as you can get for the work,” Carr says. “Kimbilio has a great legacy, even though it’s a young organization, of having tremendously talented and intelligent people coming there, and that in itself is a gift.”

Carr says she choose to attend Kimbilio because it’s hosted by SMU, her alma mater; because she’d heard great things about it from fellow writers; and because of the renowned beauty of northern New Mexico.

“A lot of the great retreats and MSA programs are often not just in remote areas, but places where natural life is preserved and honored,” Carr says. “I appreciate how much landscape scenery and the history of a place can inspire my creative process in particular, which I think is fairly common for a lot of writers.”

A former journalist with CNN and the New York Times, Carr says she decided to write a short story collection to tell stories with the kind of nuance that national media can’t muster.

Her debut collection will focus on the experiences of African American women going through change; whether it’s the change of flowering youth, the change of old age, or the change of becoming a mother in a community that often feels its youths are victimized by the police.

“There’s a story touching on the things we see in the news today, particularly with the police violence toward young black people, and the response of a mother who is raising two black boys and what fears, rational and irrational, it causes in her,” Carr says. “Each story is a woman experiencing something critical to her sense of self and sense of identity, and we see how that changes them or if they resist to what that change brings.” READ MORE


Black Writers Retreat to New Mexico

Black Enterprise

Originally Posted: July 19, 2016

Kimbilio, a community of writers and scholars committed to developing, empowering, and sustaining fiction authors from the African diaspora and their stories, hosts an annual retreat for writers of color to read, write, and learn from each other.

A project of the English Department and The Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences at Southern Methodist University (SMU), the Kimbilio Retreat is seven days in which selected fellows and faculty gather in the Carson National Forest to work and share, held each July on the Taos campus of SMU.

“Writing is a solitary, isolating process, but the writer herself cannot grow in an environment of marginalization and doubt. Race permeates the water of American life, but Kimblio allows black writers to float above it—if only for one week a year—and bask in the light of a rigorous, loving, literary community,” says Desiree Cooper, 2013 Kimbilio Fellow. “Kimbilio is a safe place for African American writers to ask hard questions of their art and of the cannon itself. It is a safe place to experiment and evolve, engage and argue, explore, and discover. Kimbilio is as necessary as fire.”

Former CNN and New York Times journalist and SMU alumna, Lakiesha Carr, joins the Kimbilio Retreat as a 2016 Fellow. “As a writer, it’s always great to have workshop opportunities, because you want as many eyes and insights as you can get for the work,” she says. “Kimbilio has a great legacy, even though it’s a young organization, of having tremendously talented and intelligent people coming there, and that in itself is a gift.”

You too can become a Kimbilio Fellow; Kimbilio is open to serious-minded, committed writers with a solid grounding in the fundamentals of fictional craft.

The application process to become a Fellow is open during the late winter and early spring of every year. Applicants submit a sample of their fiction writing and a short essay about why they are interested in becoming a Kimbilio Fellow. Applications are judged blindly by outside evaluators, who are themselves accomplished fiction writers.

Other Kimbilio projects include readings, presentations at professional conferences, and social media networking.

For more information visit kimbilio.com.