USU alumna's portrait unveiled in D.C.
Published: Friday, October 26, 2007
Updated: Monday, August 9, 2010 14:08
A portrait of May Swenson, USU poet, was recently unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, a distinction shared by Brigham Young and Robert Leroy Parker, also known as Butch Cassidy, among other Utahns.
"The diversity of her work is really extraordinary because she writes both for adults and children," said Joyce Kinkead, English professor. "The breadth of her poetic level is quite incredible and she is regarded as a significant 20th century American poet."
"Within the community of established poets, she is revered," says Michael Spooner, director of Utah State University Press, which has published three books about Swenson and is preparing a collection of essays about her work. Spooner, English professor,Paul Crumbley,and several graduate students are involved in the May Swenson Project to make the Cache Valley native better known.
Michael Spooner, director of Utah State University Press, English professor Paul Crumbley and several English graduate students are involved in the May Swenson Project in order to make the Cache Valley native better known, said Kinkead.
USU has been sponsoring an annual poetry contest in Swenson's name, conducted a symposium last year, established a May Swenson Room in the English department of the Ray B. West building and also a study room on the fourth floor of the Merrill-Cazier Library.
Swenson's supporters also have asked the City of Logan to erect a sign at the southern entrance to the northern Utah city, denoting it as May Swenson's birthplace, Kinkead said. Swenson graduated from USU in 1934, and died of a heart attack at age 76. When she had died she had published 11 volumes of poetry and had been awarded many top cultural honors, such as the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship worth $380,000, Crumbley said. Swenson was also was a chancellor for the Academy of American Poets and was granted an honorary doctorate in 1987 from USU.
"One of the most remarkable aspects of Swenson's 900-poem legacy is its breadth," Crumbley said. "She wrote about nature, space travel and science, often employing humor and irony. Her poetry, though often poignant, was light rather than dark," he said.
Having her portrait in the National Portrait Gallery can only help bring Swenson more respect, Crumbley said. The 1960 portrait, in pastels on paper, is by artist Beauford Delaney, a friend of Swenson's, Kinkead said. The National Portrait Gallery's website cited buying the portrait from the poet's literary estate in May of 2005.
Swenson was the 21st Utahn in the gallery, either as a portrait subject or artist.