Last week, SMU provost and vice president Paul Ludden announced he was “suspending operations” for SMU Press. SMU Press is only the oldest university press in the state, a highly respected publisher of scholarship and literary fiction. It’s released the entire series of Arts & Letters Live’s Texas Bound short story collections, for pete’s sake. So understandably, an outcry has risen across the country from authors, editors and professors.
Ironically, at this moment, Jorie Graham is coming to commencement this week — to receive an honorary doctorate, no less, possibly the first poet ever to do so at SMU. The Pulitzer Prize- and MacArthur-grant-winning writer is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric at Harvard University (a position previously held by John Quincy Adams and Seamus Heaney although, presumably, not at the same time). Graham’s poetry has an amazing clarity of thought and phrasing — her poems can read like operations manuals for the world (“The Way Things Work,” “Notes on the Reality of the Self,” “What is Called Thinking”).
Luckily for the rest of us, during Graham’s visit, SMU will preserve the illusion that it wants to be a first-class, literate university. Or perhaps we should accept this entire sequence of events as evidence it merely seeks to get beyond print to retrieve the bardic tradition of spoken poetry. In any event, this Friday, the day before the morning commencement, there’ll be a reception for Graham in the DeGolyer Library at 2 p.m. and she will read her poetry there at 2:30 p.m.
The event is free and open to the public. Questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.