I first met Harold at a dinner party at R.W.B. (Dick) and Nancy Lewis’s home twenty-six years ago. The Lewis family would become dear friends, but I had only known Dick for a few months. We had met at the University of South Carolina for a celebration of James Dickey’s 70th birthday. It was a star-studded event. George Plimpton served as the master of ceremonies. Dick, Richard Howard, and William Styron were the headline speakers. I was scheduled to be on a panel of scholars discussing Jim’s writing, but less than two weeks before the event Styron became ill and cancelled. Matthew Broccoli—Dickey’s literary executor and the event’s main organizer—called and asked me to step in. I had a book on Dickey about to see daylight, so Matt knew I had material at hand. I was a longhaired assistant professor and nervous. Styron’s name was on the program but Dr. Nobody stepped up to the podium. Dick Lewis had mercy on me, took me everywhere with him all weekend, and invited me to Yale.
I’m often pleased to see ALSCW members’ poetry, fiction, and criticism featured and reviewed when I open the New York Review of Books¸ the London Review of Books, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, or other publications. In the June 22nd issue of the NYRB, for instance, there are poems by Rosanna Warren and Jane Hirschfield. Books by Edward Hirsch and Marjorie Perloff are reviewed. I’m equally pleased to learn of the steady stream of awards our members receive. Ernest Hilbert was the winner of the 2017 Poets’ Prize; Jean Valentine won the 2017 Bolligen Prize; Ryan Wilson took the Donald Justice Prize; Al Basile, Luther Dickinson, and Mike Mattison received nominations in multiple categories for the Blues Music Awards. Kelly Cherry was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from her alma mater, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. And there’s the steady stream of books, articles, major lectures, teaching awards, and other contributions to literature and the arts that come to my attention.
For more than two decades a panoply of poets, musicians, and critics have helped me with a course I teach on poetry and music every other spring. A course staple over sixteen years was a trip from Washington DC, where I teach and live, to the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, where the Allman Brothers Band held a three-week run of sold out concerts each March. The band would play three-hour shows, and afterwards about one hundred students would stay in the theater and gather for a session on the creative process. Band members and writers whom I’d invited (I take advantage of my friends) would discuss questions I’d sent them in advance and answer students’ questions.