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W.D. Snodgrass receives doctor of humane letters

Poet W. D. Snodgrass

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7 p.m., May 28, 2005--W.D. Snodgrass, distinguished poet and former member of the University’s English department, received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at UD’s Department of English convocation ceremony, Saturday afternoon, May 28, in the Carpenter Sports Building.

The degree, which was given to Snodgrass by P. Coleman Townsend, a member of the Executive Committee of UD’s Board of Trustees, is the highest honor the University of Delaware bestows, and is given to individuals whose contributions to the public good warrant exceptional recognition.

“It is a distinct pleasure for me to represent the Board of Trustees at this convocation ceremony, where we recognize graduates of the Department of English and where we acknowledge an esteemed colleague and former member of the English faculty, Prof. W.D. Snodgrass, with the honorary degree,” Townsend said, after his introduction by Ann Ardis, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Citing Snodgrass’ many literary achievements, Townsend praised the poet and teacher for his contributions to both literature and the University.

“Inspired mentor, you are responsible for the emergence of American confessional poetry, and you have led an entire school of poets to examine their inner as well as outer worlds,” Townsend said. “Thomas Dillingham [the writer and reviewer] said of your work that it combines ‘private life and personal responses with the precise observation and description that make such poetry emotionally compelling and lasting.’

“Your former students [at UD] still speak of your dedication, not just to the written word, but to the spoken word. Your deep respect both for the craft of poetry and the less-honored craft of reading won converts to your written artŠwhen the spoken word is much in need of respect.”

Snodgrass, who was hooded by Ardis, took the podium to great applause.

“Thank you,” he said, addressing his audience of more than 1,000. “I am grateful to you all and feel I am uniquely able to receive this degree, because I was turned down for a doctoral degree by another University I used to work for.

“I would also especially like to thank my former colleagues,” Snodgrass said, addressing members of the English faculty. “I am very happy to see many of you here today.”

Snodgrass closed his acceptance remarks with two of his poems, “The Night Watchman’s Song” and “Acting Out the Lute.”

Snodgrass was born in Wilkinsburg, Pa., in 1926, and attended Geneva College until he was drafted into the Navy and sent to the Pacific during World War II.

After returning from duty, Snodgrass enrolled in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, which had been established in 1937 at the University of Iowa.

Snodgrass published his first poems in 1951, and continued to win notoriety for his work throughout the ’50s, publishing in such prestigious magazines as the Partisan Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review and The Hudson Review.

In 1959, with the publication of his anthology, Heart's Needle, Snodgrass had won the The Hudson Review Fellowship in Poetry and an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant. A few months after the release of Heart's Needle, he also received a citation from the Poetry Society of America, a grant from the National Institute of Arts and the 1960 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

In the 45 years since his auspicious debut, Snodgrass has produced an impressively diverse body of work, including After Experience, Remains, A Locked House, W.D.'s Midnight Carnival, The Death of Cock Robin, Each in His Season, The Fuhrer Bunker and several volumes of translations and essays. Through his career, he has received grants from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Ingram-Merrill Foundation.

Before his tenure at UD, Snodgrass also taught at Cornell, Rochester, Wayne State, Syracuse and Old Dominion universities.

He now writes full-time and divides his year between homes in New York and Mexico with his wife and fellow writer, Kathleen Snodgrass.

Article by Becca Hutchinson
Photo by Jon Cox

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