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reed magazine logoSeptember 2010

Eliot Circular Continued

Experimentalist Poet Creates Seven-Figure Scholarship

Leslie Scalapino

While being treated for pancreatic cancer this spring, award-winning experimentalist poet Leslie Scalapino ’66 created a scholarship that will be augmented by her estate to form a seven-figure endowment. Leslie passed away in May.

After creating the scholarship, she talked about her experiences at Reed in an interview with archivist Gay Walker ’69: “The notion that you are devoted to the development of your mind is almost a dedication of yourself to the world, to making a contribution. Developing your mind is the nature of being, basically . . . It’s something that’s deeply exciting.” She found that same excitement in poetry. “Being a poet is a way of life,” she said, “a complete dedication.”

Tom Fisher, assistant professor of English at Portland State University, says Leslie’s work “is exemplary of a central commitment of U.S. experimental poetry of the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s to disrupt and challenge conventions of reading and writing . . . Yet in most ways it is immediate and accessible. It is an attentive writing/recording of perception and appearance; a being with the world in language. To read her work with patience tests the traditional limits of reading and becomes an ‘experience.’”

book covers

Two of Leslie Scalapino’s many books, It’s go in horizontal and Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows.

“I [always] knew that I wanted to write,” Leslie said. But it was a course on modern poetry from Kenneth Hanson [English, 1954–86] that awakened her interest in poetry.

Leslie was also inspired by the way Reed offered many ways of looking at the same historical period. She enjoyed studying the intellectual history of the French Revolution in Hum 210 with professor John Tomsich [history, 1962–99], while tackling a play from the same period in a theatre class with Seth Ulman [theatre, 1959–73], while reading 18th-century poetry with Samuel Danon [French, 1962–2000].

At Tomsich’s suggestion, she pursued graduate studies in history, but was disappointed in the program’s narrower, more specialized approach to the discipline. Frustrated, she instead earned an MA in English from UC Berkeley and headed off to search for something more akin to her Reed experience. She also began writing in earnest. “It would be [as if] something would turn itself on, a mind thing that would say, ‘Now, I’ve got to do this. It’s happening now.’ So I’d just sit down, usually with my morning coffee. I’d just start out.”

Leslie befriended poets Philip Whalen ’51 and Gary Snyder ’51. She had traveled in Asia and lived in Japan as a child and was conversant in elements of Eastern thought that were not widely understood in America at the time. Writing on the beat poets, she said that a characteristic of all avant garde movements has been “to remove the barrier so that the spectator can no longer be separate from their present, from their being phenomena.” This same idea shows up in the title of one of Leslie’s books: The Animal is in the World like Water in Water, a collaboration with the artist Kiki Smith.

As an experimentalist poet, Leslie was freed from tying word to subject, able to choose phrases for sound and shape. But as a result, she was also sometimes misunderstood. She came back to Reed to present her mentor Ken Hanson with her first book. After reading it, “he looked at me as if I were stark raving mad,” she said with laughter.

Regardless, her work earned many accolades. Among others, her poem “way” received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, the Poetry Center Award from San Francisco State University, and the Lawrence Lipton Prize. Philip Whalen said of her, “Scalapino makes everything take place in real time, in the light and air and night where all of us live, everything happening at once.”

—Matt Kelly
To make a gift to the Leslie Scalapino Scholarship, visit

2010 Scholarship Harnesses the Power of Many

After reading the New York Times article last year that highlighted the growing demand for financial aid at Reed, seniors Emily Corso ’10, Michael Stapleton ’10, Gina Vorderstrasse ’10, and Ida Peric ’10 decided to take matters into their own hands.

They formed the Class of 2010 Scholarship Committee to promote Reed’s first student-funded scholarship effort. Their mission: to provide support to an entering student with financial need by harnessing the power of many to make a difference for one.

“We really wanted to establish a way for students to act on the issue rather than just discuss it,” said Michael. “For the first time, [current students] are directly involved in financially supporting a future Reedie, and I believe that speaks to the strength of our community.”

President Diver was so moved by their initiative that he pledged $5,000 of his own money to match the students’ gifts. “As a student and financial aid recipient,” said Gina, “I am very moved that Colin is so invested in Reed’s well-being.”

By the end of the fiscal year, 213 Reed students had contributed $6,707. Adding President Diver’s match yielded a total of $11,707 to support an incoming freshman in the fall.

“Reed is the only school I applied to,” said Gina, “and it is the only place I can imagine spending my undergraduate years. Next year, a freshman will be here because of the generosity of current Reed students. I hope this creates an awareness that lasts well into the future.”

—matt kelly

Reed Welcomes New Dean of Admission

Keith Todd

Photo by Stu Mellenberg

Reed College is pleased to welcome Keith Todd as the dean of admission. Keith brings to Reed a remarkably broad and deep range of experience in the field of highly selective undergraduate admission. He previously served as director of admission at Rice University, director of undergraduate admission at Northwestern University, executive director of the Institute of International Education in Houston, Texas, associate director of admission and financial aid at Rice, and admission officer at Stanford University. At Rice and Northwestern, Keith oversaw dramatic increases in the total number of applications, yield, and diversity of the student body, including impressive increases in the enrollment of international students and minority students. He is active in national admission organizations and has been a spokesperson on admission issues in the national media.

A first-generation college student himself, Keith received his BA summa cum laude from Southern Methodist University and completed his course work for a PhD in British literature at Stanford. He was a Fulbright fellow in 20th-century German literature at the Universität Augsburg, Germany.

“Keith impressed virtually everyone who interviewed him as a person who deeply understands and supports Reed’s distinctive academic mission and culture,” said President Colin Diver.

—Kevin Myers

reed magazine logoSeptember 2010