Passages: Vern Rutsala Celebration of Life
May 12, 2014
A Celebration of Life for Professor Emeritus Vern Rutsala will be held on the Lewis & Clark campus in Smith Hall on Saturday, May 17 at 4 p.m. A reception will follow.
Vern died on April 2 at age 80, just two weeks after the Oregon Book Awards honored him with the Charles Erskine Scott Wood Distinguished Writer Award in recognition of his “enduring, substantial literary career.” He was a prolific and distinguished poet whose public honors and renown were in stark contrast to his quiet demeanor. “Writing poetry or practicing any of the arts is an individualizing process,” he once said. “Those parts of yourself that the larger world has little use for, your inner life, that’s where poems come from.”
As a teacher, he fostered conditions for students to explore those realms of self. “I can’t teach someone to be creative. That impulse must come from within,” he explained. “I simply react, point out what’s strong, and help students evolve.
Born in McCall, Idaho, Vern moved to Portland with his family in the wake of the Depression. He graduated from Milwaukie High School and then went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Reed College in 1956 and an MFA from the University of Iowa in 1960. He came to Lewis & Clark in 1961 and continued to teach in the English Department until his retirement in 2004.
Over his lifetime, Vern published more than 700 poems in such venues as Atlantic Monthly, Times Literary Supplement, New Yorker, Midland, Poetry, Harper’s, American Poetry Review, Chicago Review, Mississippi Review, Nebraska Review, Seneca Review, and New Letters. He was the author of 16 books of poetry and his work has appeared in many anthologies.
He received a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, the Carolyn Kizer Poetry Prize (which he won twice), a Pushcart Prize, a Masters Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission, the Oregon Book Award, and many other significant honors and recognitions. In 2005, he was a finalist for the National Book Award for his volume The Moment’s Equation.
Illness prevented Vern from attending the recent Oregon Book Awards ceremony. In presenting his award at the Gerding Theater, President Glassner hailed him as “a proud laborer in the fields of literature and academia” and for “his extraordinary body of work, generosity of heart, commitment to truth, and clarity of voice.”