NEIL MYERS joined the Purdue English Department in 1960 as a “scholar writer,” and when the Creative Writing MA program began in the late eighties, became a committed regular there too. Retired in 1995, & moved to California. Passions include family, dharma, & revisiting Stevens, Miloscz, Amichai et al, cover to cover.
What can you tell us about the founding of Sycamore Review?
It’s been quite a while, but I recall — very roughly — how, during Creative Writing’s early years, it seemed a good idea to have a literary magazine, partly to give students experience in selecting and publishing contemporary writing. Our department head, Leon Gottfried, readily agreed to finance one, alongside Modern Fiction Studies, which the department had sponsored for many years. CW faculty were to be advisors, with maintenance and editorial decisions the responsibility of our graduate students — who accepted the challenge energetically, and in a short time began producing issues of real complexity and strength.
Marianne Boruch, Bill Stuckey. Patricia Henley, and I helped set the basic parameters for all this, but our students — I particularly remember Henry Hughes and Linda Haynes — did tireless work in structuring, naming, and actually producing it. As a result, Sycamore Review soon became central to the Creative Writing Program’s functioning.
The first few issues featured some incredibly big names: Mary Oliver, Gordon Lish, Charles Bukowski, and so many others. How were you able to get already-established authors to submit their work to a brand new literary journal?
Big names: I’m really vague about how this actually happened — all I know is that it did. Someone contacted a few major figures, some of them responded. Voila!
In 1987 Marianne Boruch arrived to direct the Graduate Creative Writing Program that you and William J. Stuckey founded. What can you tell us about that first year of Purdue’s Graduate Creative Writing Program?
Things began a bit slowly, then in Marianne’s second year, quickly caught fire. Her leadership, backed by Patricia and Bill, was crucial. We were a small, informal but wholly committed group. On every level we trusted our students. Building the program and watching them grow with it was a real delight.
Can you share one of your favorite memories of Purdue’s Creative Writing Program or of Sycamore Review?
My warmest memories of my years at Purdue involved working in this terrific program, especially alongside Marianne Boruch. A privilege.
My last year of teaching, at my request the program brought Denise Levertov as Visiting Instructor for a short time. She was an unforgettable presence in our workshops — powerful, mysterious, unbending. I still find the memory of that week utterly haunting.