What the Stephen E. King Chair in Literature will bring to UMaine – Bangor Daily News

The million dollar gift to the University of Maine Foundation that will allow UMaine’s English department to establish the Stephen E. King Chair in Literature honors a great Maine alumnus and reminds us of the potential of philanthropy.

Since 2009, every child born in Maine has been eligible for a $500 Harold Alfond College Challenge grant for education beyond high school. Now generations of Maine students will be taught by the first endowed chair in UMaine’s English department because of the Harold Alfond Foundation.

Stephen King’s impact on American letters and our cultural imagination has been profound. In probing the dark recesses of our minds and creating indelible characters struggling nobly against terrible odds, King has helped millions confront demons and see the world in new ways. His fantastic imagination expands our sensibilities and heightens our perceptions. Through philanthropy, Stephen and Tabitha King’s impact in their home state of Maine, while quieter, perhaps, has been equally significant in improving the lives of Maine’s people.

By granting an endowed chair in literature in King’s name, the Alfond Foundation affirms the transformative power of arts and literature in all our lives and also the central role scholarship plays in a university’s contribution to its mission. Endowed chairs and professorships have a long and productive history in public and private higher education. Endowed professorships help stretch state funds and tuition dollars while targeting areas of interest and enhancing a university’s reputation. Bringing in a talented and passionate scholar will help the English department continue its mission to engage the bright minds of our students, who come from Maine, the region, the nation and the world.

King, an English major at UMaine from 1966-1970, has frequently acknowledged the crucial role that the university’s English professors of literature have played in his life. He has been particularly eloquent about the late Renaissance scholar Burt Hatlen’s shaping influence. In a 2008 BDN interview, King remarked that Hatlen “made people — and not just me — feel welcome in the company of writers and scholars, and let us know there was a place for us at the table.”

The English department is working hard to continue to welcome as many students as we can to Maine’s flagship land grant university. The department teaches thousands of students every year, including about 200 English majors and minors and 30 graduate students. Our faculty offer a rich curriculum in literary and writing studies, publish influential books and articles and participate in national and international forums. They also contribute to the UMaine Humanities Center, the university’s Honors College, the National Poetry Foundation, the Maine Council of English Language Arts, the Maine Humanities Council, the Maine Arts Commission and many cultural events in local communities. We are delighted to be able to hire an accomplished teacher and scholar to enrich this crucial service to Maine people. The hire of a literary scholar will energize our department and its commitment to the vitality and inspiration that literature provides.

Inspiration and knowledge matter. In his postscript to his 2006 novel “Lisey’s Story,” King seems to have predicted the potential of this award in his tribute to Hatlen: “Burt was the greatest English teacher I ever had. It was he who first showed me the way to the pool, which he called the ‘language-pool, the myth-pool, where we all go down to drink.’ That was in 1968. I have trod the path that leads there often in the years since, and I can think of no better place to spend one’s days; the water is still sweet, and the fish still swim.”

The Stephen E. King Chair in Literature will enable us to hire an inspiring teacher and accomplished scholar who will energize our commitment to leading eager students to the sweet waters of literary studies.

Laura Cowan is associate professor and chair of the English department at the University of Maine. Gregory Howard is assistant professor and graduate coordinator of the Masters Program in English at UMaine.

 

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