May 30, 2007
Writers N. Scott Momaday, Lucille Clifton, Nancy Huddleston Packer to speak to incoming freshmen; public invited
By Cynthia Haven
Three exceptional and unconventional books about very different American lives will be mailed to incoming Stanford students as part of this year's "Three Books" program. The authors are scheduled to appear together on a Sept. 19 panel at New Student Orientation.
English Professor Kenneth Fields, a poet whose recent collection Classic Rough News was published in 2005, selected this year's books.
The Way to Rainy Mountain, a short book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday, is told in three voices, comparing historical commentary, Kiowa oral tradition and personal reminiscence.
Wallace Stegner, founder of Stanford's Creative Writing Program, wrote: "I know nothing quite like this book, and nothing of the Indian that is at once so authentic and so moving." The New York Times commented: "Written with great dignity, the book has something about it of the timeless, of that long view down which the Kiowa look to their myth-shrouded beginnings."
Momaday received his PhD in English from Stanford in 1963 under the guidance of poet and critic Yvor Winters. (Fields also was a student of Winters.)
Jealous-Hearted Me, by Nancy Huddleston Packer, is a collection of hilarious and heart-breaking stories about greed, midlife restlessness, sibling rivalry, aging and misplaced pride in an Alabama family. The stories stand alone yet together read like a novel.
Packer, the Melvin and Bill Lane Professor in the Humanities, Emerita, and professor emerita of English, was director of Stanford's Creative Writing Program for four years.
Finally, Lucille Clifton's Pulitzer Prize-nominated Good Woman describes a world of "dissolving tradition," Fields said. The book, a volume of poetry interrupted by a memoir, is infused with the family's memory of Clifton's great-great grandmother Caroline, a woman who was "born free in Africa" in 1822 and "died free in America" in 1910, and who urged her family, "Get what you want, you from Dahomey women." Clifton is this year's recipient of the Poetry Foundation's prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. She received a National Book Award in 1999.
The selections' voices, which range from "a Southern woman to an African woman to a Kiowa man," will give students "more than a glimpse of how to work from family material."
"I remember coming here as a grad student. I was pretty much unaware what I already had was material I could use," Fields recalled. In those days, there was little sense that students' experiences "outside of traditional academic archive is useable."
What sets Stanford's freshman summer-reading program apart from those of many other universities is that three books, rather that one, are selected, and that Stanford brings the authors to campus for a moderated conversation. The program is now in its fourth year.
The Sept. 19 event is scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium. Due to the size of the freshman class, a simulcast will be held in a nearby auditorium for the general public.