Emeritus Faculty Lecture

Richard F. “Pete” Peterson, center, with English broadcaster, writer and historian Sir David Attenborough, left, and the late Virginia “The Duchess” Marmaduke, a Southern Illinois native and groundbreaking Chicago journalist. Attenborough was the first distinguished writer to appear as part of the University Honors Series that began in January 1986. Peterson was acting director of the honors program in 1985-86. (Photo provided)

February 06, 2019

Emeritus faculty lecture will focus on university’s ‘Golden Age of Writers’

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, IL — Emeritus Professor Richard F. “Pete” Peterson will discuss the “lively and intellectually challenging time” that was a hallmark of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale English department during a lecture later this month on campus.

Peterson, a former department chair, will present “SIU’s Golden Age of Writers” at 5 p.m., Feb. 19, in the Communication Building Christian H. Moe Theater, 1100 Lincoln Dr., Carbondale. The lecture is an Emeritus Faculty Organization event.

Admission is free and the lecture is open to the public.

Faculty included numerous award-winning authors

The English department faculty in the decade of the 1990s was definitely a star-studded group.

Included among the faculty were:

  • Kent Haruf, a novelist, and National Book Award nominee for Fiction.
  • Juan Felipe Herrera, a 2012 California poet laureate and U.S. poet laureate in 2015.
  • Rodney Jones, a poet who earned a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Guggenheim Fellow and Illinois Poet Laureate finalist.
  • Lucia Perillo, poet, a MacArthur Fellow.
  • Richard Russo, novelist and screenwriter who earned a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

In addition, numerous award-winning authors gave readings on campus. The noted authors included:

  • John Barth, an American writer who won a National Book Award for Fiction in 1973.
  • Ellen Gilchrist, an American novelist who won a National Book Award in 1984.
  • Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet and playwright who earned the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Charles Johnson, a multi-degree SIU Carbondale alumnus who earned a National Book Award for Fiction in 1990. Johnson also received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters in 1995.
  • William Kennedy, an American writer and journalist who won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
  • Paul Muldoon, an Irish poet who won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Polish-American writer who earned the 1978 Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Jane Smiley, an American novelist who earned the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
  • Susan Sontag, American writer and filmmaker who earned a National Book Award in 2000.
  • Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian playwright and poet who earned the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Derek Walcott, a Saint Lucian poet and playwright and 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient.

A ‘fertile ground for the imagination’

Peterson, who was department chair from 1986 through 1995, retired from SIU Carbondale in 2001 and spent 32 years in the English department. In 2002, recounting how the university was able to attract the nation’s top writers, Peterson discussed the university’s tradition as a welcoming place for writers.

“You just hope you have a sufficient track record in recognizing talent that you can bring in the next Russo, or Haruf or Perillo – that once you have established yourself as a home for writers, other writers will recognize it,” he said. “But it does seem to me that this is a great place for writers. There’s something about SIUC that seems to be fertile ground for the imagination.”