Stafford, an associate professor, began his teaching career at Lewis & Clark in 1979. While he valued the field of literature, he felt passionate about creating a space to grow a community of writers. He founded the Northwest Writing Institute with others in 1986, and over the last 21 years, the NWI has developed a wide range of programs for people from all walks of life.
“Writing offers people a studio for seeking clarity of self,” Stafford said. “I have met people through the writing institute who have said they’ve been carrying stories inside themselves for years—burdened or frustrated without an outlet and the tools to put them down on paper. I believe people die a little at a time when stifled in this way.”
Stafford’s own story, one of literary leadership, has been largely intertwined with that of his father, William Stafford, a critically acclaimed poet who won the National Book Award in 1963, taught at Lewis & Clark for thirty years, and passed away in 1993.
“I was at an event recently and they opened with a poem by my father,” Kim Stafford recalled, “and I get emails all the time from people saying they’d found my father’s poetry in some remote village in India, Egypt, South Africa. My life often intersects with my father’s, but I don’t believe my father’s legacy diminishes what I do. I feel accompanied by him. He’s like a spiritual advisor.”
Like his father, Kim has traveled widely, but Oregon always calls him home.
“Oregon has been good to me,” Stafford said. “While I think a writer needs to have an international perspective, especially in these times, I want to take care of the place that has given me so much. Through writing, we can be stewards for this place.”
In addition to the Northwest Writing Institute, Stafford has co-founded the Oregon Folk Arts program, and the Fishtrap Writers’ Gathering in Wallowa County. He has been involved in artists-in-the-schools programs around the state, has served as a member of the Oregon Governor’s Task Force on Arts & Culture, received a Governor’s Arts Award, and been a consultant to the Oregon Arts Commission. Stafford has received two creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and one of his dozen published works, Having Everything Right, won a Western States Book Award in 1986.
As much as he advocates for the writing community in Oregon, it is clear that Stafford has created a strong support network for himself. “Kim helped me create Fishtrap,” said Rich Wandschneider, Executive Director of Fishtrap, “and over the years has been back to the Wallowas regularly to help us nurture Fishtrap and hundreds-maybe thousands-of writers and readers who come to us and him.”
Stafford stresses that the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award he received on December 2 belongs to the students who have participated in programs at the Northwest Writing Institute, as well as the teachers, mentors, and advocates who’ve helped develop and run the programs.
“I’m deeply honored that Literary Arts selected me for an award named for Holbrook, one of Oregon’s most respected writers,” Stafford said. “But this award really belongs to the thousands of students I’ve been fortunate enough to work with over the years, to the faculty I’ve worked with, and to the phenomenon that is the Northwest Writing Institute. I’m just the guy lucky enough to walk up and receive the award for us all.”