Kingsley and Kate Tufts reading 2011, CGU shifts its strategy from external and community building to internal community building

April 29th, 2011

 Last night was the Kingsley and Kate Tufts reading at CGU.  Atsuro Riley and Chase Twichell both read amazingly, like a dream of poetry unfolding.  Alice Quinn and Robert Pinsky introduced them along with Linda Gregerson.

The Kingsley Tufts award is $100,000 and the Kate Tufts is $10,000.  Writers like B.H. Fairchild, Yusef Komunyakaa, Carl Phillips  and Linda Gregerson have won the Kingsley and the Kate has been won by Cate Marvin, Janice Harrington and Matthew Dickman.

Awards are controversial by nature; the bigger the award the more the potential controversy there can be.  Literary awards are controversial partly because other writers feel they should have won, or their friend Josephine, but also because judging literary work is so strenuous.  We bring to it our weighty past, knowledge and lack thereof, on symbols, language, transgressive behavior in both language and story, and how all that resonates with us at this moment.

One year I was on the nominating committee for the Nobel Prize, I nominated one of my favorite writers who I won’t name here but she’s Canadian, writes poetry and fiction and has written a couple of very important dystopian novels, one which could be considered a feminist dystopian novel.  My writer didn’t win but Doris Lessing, an equally deserving writer did win.  I was okay with that.  On the other hand, if the winner had been some idiot, I wouldn’t have liked it.  (On that note, some—including this blogger– would argue that Barack Obama should not have won the Nobel Peace Prize since he now has several wars going.  And more in the pipeline! Libya,Syria,Iran, but who’s counting?  Should a prize be a carrot to encourage you to do good work?  That’s what the Nobel committee must have decided.)

The Kingsley and Kate Tufts awards have certainly helped put my already famous and prestigious alma mater on the academic map.  What’s interesting is that CGU doesn’t have a creative writing program or an MFA program.  While I was there, I took some creative writing classes at Pomona which hires amazing creative writing faculty.  They have Claudia Rankine and Jonathan Lethem.

I was on the board of the School of Arts and Humanities for a while, but went off when I become one of the finalist judges for the awards.  That group was nimble, active and energetic and very interested in poetry and the arts.  CGU has a smashing art department that attracts brilliant young artists from all over the world and has a renowned faculty of working artists with such artists as Roland Reiss.

That board, to promote the Kingsley and Kate Tufts prizes and the university had a reading series throughout Los Angeles with Kingsley/Kate Tufts winners reading and our big reading event and dinner for the prizes moved around the city from the Omni Hotel and the Colburn downtown to the  Pasadena California Museum of Art inPasadena.

That strategy was to connect with the Southern Californialiterary community and to build consensus around the prize and both city wide and nation wide recognition of the university that presents it, so that when you think of a solid academic institution in the So Cal, CGU would be on your radar for your kid or for your financial support.

Now, that strategy has shifted and the city wide reading series has been cancelled and the reading for the winners is here on campus and includes students and a few people willing to make the long drive out toClaremont.  About 60 people attended last night’s reading.  I can absolutely understand such a strategy shift because this way, the reading for the winners really becomes a service to students who are able to hear these amazing poets reading.  Rather than using this to network in the community, it becomes a prize and reading that is internal and that feeds the community it shares.  The difference is that it creates stronger internal support rather than external support.  Universities have to make decisions around what works for their community.

My tendency as an arts administrator is to work externally and internally.  To make sure that I build community as well as working on the organization internally, but I understand the focus on both.

You can see that the U.S .policy is to focus most of our resources on protecting our oil interests and less on development of alternate sources of energy.  We could be developing new energy sources like they are in Australia and New Zealand where they know that planes can fly on biofuel.  It’s always very either/or with the government but for Red Hen, we try to do both.

It is my opinion that for an arts organization, you need to be doing the following:

  1. Make sure the public face of the organization says what you want it to say.  In other words, pay attention to branding.
  2. Capture all contact information possible with the public.
  3. Make sure that your internal organization works effectively and work is done in a timely manner.  The clock needs to be getting ticking and it needs its wheels greased.
  4. Always be ready for new ideas and always be involved in creating new ideas—get ready for biofuel.
  5. Once you shut a door, it’s harder to open it than you might think.  Keep your doors and windows open.  In the immortal words of Judy Grahn, “Love …comes to those who wait actively and keep their windows open.”

And for those of you who like Judy Grahn, Red Hen poet and winner of the Lambda Award for her book, Love Belongs to Those That Do the Feeling, here’s the rest of that poem.

“Love Rode 1500 Miles on a Greyhound Bus”

Love rode 1500 miles on a grey
hound bus & climbed in my window
one night to surprise
both of us.
the pleasure of that sleepy
shock has lasted a decade
now or more because she is
always still doing it and I am
always still pleased. I do indeed like
aggressive women
who come half a continent
just for me; I am not saying that patience
is virtuous, Love
like anybody else, comes to those who
wait actively
and leave their windows open.
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