blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2015  Vol. 14 No. 2
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back JOHN ULMSCHNEIDER  |  Levis Remembered

Welcome & Introduction

Good evening!

My name is John Ulmschneider, and I am the university librarian here at Virginia Commonwealth University. On behalf of the faculty, students, and staff of Virginia Commonwealth University, I extend to all of you our warmest welcome this evening to the eighteenth celebration of the Levis Reading Prize.

The Levis Prize is named in honor of the renowned poet Larry Levis, who taught here at VCU until his untimely passing in 1996. The Prize pays tribute to the wide-ranging and uncompromising and, to me, deeply moving poetry of Levis, his extraordinary mastery of craft, and the continued growth of his influence and recognition among writers and readers as one of America’s greatest poetic voices.

The Levis Prize is awarded through a rigorous process that my colleague David Wojahn will describe, and once you hear that, you will understand why we are so proud to have this year’s winner, Sandra Lim, with us tonight. I know we all look forward to hearing her read.

The VCU Libraries is proud to hold the papers of Larry Levis and the personal effects from his life, including his iconic boots and his leather jacket. They are really something to see. If you want to come see them, come to the Special Collections and you can take a look. We are also delighted this year to significantly step up our financial and logistical support for the Prize. In addition to a major boost for the size of the Prize, beginning in fall 2016, we will be able to provide a better and more permanent home for the Reading Prize ceremony in our soon-to-be-completed new library building just across campus. Next year, I promise all of you that we will enjoy food and drink, and wonderful conversation after the reading, out under the stars on top of our third-floor terrace, outside, facing Shafer Court. I really look forward to having everyone here and more join us in that new space.

Our new lecture hall is a fabulous new space for readings and events, but I have to say even though there is nothing like it here at VCU now, I do still have a request from me to all of you. And that is: We still need your help. We need your help to make this new space truly the very best space of its kind in Virginia for events like poetry readings and scholarly lectures and colloquia and the like. We expect to complete construction and to open the new library in January. So, students, you will be able to use it next semester; you’ll enjoy it. But we will by no means be finished in creating that new library. So, your donations are essential to help us fulfill the full promise of this fabulous space. We still have a lot left to do because state funds don’t cover everything. You can find brochures about the new building and how to help us, out front as you leave. Please, pick one up and consider making a pledge to help us with our new building.

The Levis Reading Prize itself is an important demonstration of how the support of donors can be transformative to creating a world-class university. The Prize is made possible by sponsorship from the VCU Department of English, the VCU Libraries, the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, and I know I saw Interim Dean Alison Baski here earlier today. Alison? Hi, thank you for being here. I see Alison everywhere. I don’t think Alison has a personal life – I see her everywhere. And, not least, we thank our friends from Barnes & Noble @ VCU bookstore and the extended family of Larry Levis.

Opening our program tonight is Greg Donovan, Professor of English here at VCU. Greg is the Senior Editor of the esteemed literary journal Blackbird, and he published his latest book of poems, Torn from the Sun, this past spring. Greg was a close friend and colleague of Larry Levis, and each year he shares with us some of his experiences with Larry to help us examine and reflect on and remember the life and work of Larry Levis, and invoke Larry’s spirit here, into this occasion that we have set aside to honor his memory.

Ladies and gentlemen, Greg Donovan.   

John Ulmschneider is a professor and the university librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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