Friends of William Stafford Reading

Come out of the winter cold and celebrate with local poets and writers the birthday of Oregon’s most famous poet – and one of America’s most important 20th Century poets – in Sisters on Friday, January 18, 6:30pm at Paulina Springs Books. Story by Helen G. Schmidling

wstafforGuest poets have been invited to read from Stafford’s work, and share some of their own work that may have been inspired by him. This year’s roster includes Kit Stafford, Jarold Ramsey, Lorna Cahall and Marean Jordan. The public is then invited to share a memory of Stafford, or read a favorite Stafford poem.

William Stafford was born on January 17, 1914. A favorite professor at Lewis and Clark College, where he taught for 30 years, he remains one of America’s most celebrated poets. Known for his encouragement of other writers and for his advocacy of free expression in writing and speech, Stafford is the author of more than 50 books and a recipient of the National Book Award. He died in August 1993.

Kit Stafford is an artist, dancer, educator and poet. She is a teaching artist with the Americana Project at Sisters Middle School, who is especially known for her creativity and use of “found objects.” She is an integral part of My Own Two Hands and the Sisters Folk Festival. Kit also leads Arts Discovery, funded by her own efforts, which is a class for under-served and disadvantaged youth. She teaches the kids how to be leaders in their own lives. And of course, she is William Stafford’s daughter.

Jarold Ramsey grew up on a ranch north of Madras, earned degrees at the universities of Oregon and Washington, and for more than 30 years was a member of the English faculty at the University of Rochester in New York State, where he was a director of the Plutzik Poetry Series. He and his wife Dorothy moved back to the family ranch in 2000, In addition to scholarly books and essays on American Indian literature, Central Oregon history, Oregon folklore, Irish literature, modern American poetry, Jarold is the author of six books of poetry, including Love In An Earthquake, Hand-Shadows, The Bones of the Heart and Thinking Like A Canyon: New and Selected Poems 1973-2010. He’s received numerous writing fellowships and awards.

Lorna Cahall studied ancient history and art history at Saint John’s College and the University of Maryland. She worked for 15 years as a member of the British Open University Humanities faculty at the University of Maryland. She has written The Actor King, an adventure set in ancient Alexandria. After she left the University of Maryland, she taught many workshops on the Labyrinth, the Goddess, and Woman’s Studies. Her latest publication is Late in the Hammock of Night, a collection of poems that explore the unity of nature, dream and memory. Lorna currently lives in Bend with her husband Dick, daughter Lisa, grandson Everest and her two cats.

Marean Jordan taught writing and literature and worked with teachers on curriculum development and adolescent literacy before moving from Berkeley to Sisters. She lives in Sisters, where she writes poetry and songs, finding inspiration in the Northwest’s mountains, rivers and high desert.

Representing the Board of the Friends of William Stafford will be Dennis and Helen Schmidling of Sisters. Dennis is the chair of the board, and Helen serves as membership chair. Anyone who is interested in becoming a Friend of William Stafford may do so at the event, or by going to the website, Free refreshments will be provided, and commemorative broadside prints will be available for purchase, to benefit FWS.

This year, FWS is sponsoring more than 61 poetry readings and presentations not only in towns and cities throughout Oregon and Washington, but also in California, Texas, Nevada, Vermont, and New York City, Marrakesh, Morocco and Sapporo, Japan.

The venues for these popular “birthday parties,” known formally as the William Stafford Birthday Commemorative Readings, include libraries, bookstores, art galleries, college campuses, a national park, a hospital, even a prison – wherever poetry can be read to and heard by appreciative audiences.

More than 225 poets, musicians and speakers will participate in these programs, which were begun more than a dozen years ago by Oregon Poet Laureate and FWS Board Member organizer for these events, Paulann Petersen.

Different from most poetry readings, the “parties” usually feature four or five local poets, each of whom read a Stafford poem and one of their own written in the spirit of Stafford’s writing. Some events also include speakers who address topics related to Stafford and his work, short films or Stafford poetry-related musical pieces. After the featured participants’ presentations, the guests, members of the audience, are then invited to read a favorite Stafford poem or to tell a personal anecdote about the late Oregon poet laureate.

The Friends of William Stafford is a non-profit poetry-advocacy organization that, by keeping alive Stafford’s gift as a teacher devoted to all types of free expression, provides ongoing education in literature, particularly in poetry, in ways that will encourage and broaden the community of readers and writers. FWS also supports and helps to underwrite a variety of literary projects and events open to the public. FWS is also gearing up to celebrate the Stafford Centennial in 2014, and more information on special events will be given at the Jan. 18 event.

For its commitment to promote the reading, writing, and enjoyment of all literature, FWS received from the International Society of Philosophical Enquiry the 2001 Whiting Memorial Award for public service to the arts.  

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