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The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

Maria Henson

Holdridge on the loss of Seamus Heaney

The great Irish poet and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney was laid to rest Monday. When news alerts announced Heaney’s death on Friday, they prompted me to turn to that treasured resource at Wake Forest: the Wake Forest University Press, the premier publisher of Irish poetry in North America.

Famed Irish poet Seamus Heaney

Famed Irish poet Seamus Heaney

Jefferson Holdridge serves as director and editor of the press and teaches Irish literature as an associate professor of English. I wondered whether Holdridge, who had studied in Dublin, had known Heaney. He wrote me over the weekend:

“My first memories of Heaney were of studying him in the late ’70s, not long after he began writing in fact.  I have loved his work from that period on. I was given his second book Door into the Dark during my first stay in Ireland in the early ’80s.  And I saw him read there in the mid-’80s a number of times.  Each time I was struck by his sonorous voice and even more so by the care he took to answer questions from the audience.  Once I remember an older woman asking him what he thought of all the primroses that were no longer.  He stumbled for a moment and then went into a beautiful rendering of the importance of Irish landscape.

Our paths crossed many times since those early years, but one of my most vivid memories is of seeing him read at the Abbey Theater, which was sold out for a launch of his much later book Electric Light (2001).  Imagine that — a poet selling out a theater.

My most recent memory is of him commemorating the poet Dennis O’Driscoll, who died unexpectedly and prematurely this past year.  Heaney was deeply moved by this sad event as I am by his death.”

Jefferson Holdridge heads the Wake Forest University Press

Jefferson Holdridge heads the Wake Forest University Press

Holdridge’s words served as tribute to an artist revered the world over. I found myself reading his poetry  and the remembrances of those who loved him. I recalled sitting with him at a bar in Cambridge, Mass., and hearing what Holdridge aptly calls that sonorous voice. It was the year before he would receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 ”for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.”

At the requiem mass on Monday, his son told mourners in the Dublin church that his mother received her husband’s dying words in a text message in Latin. “Noli timere” – don’t be afraid.

The Guardian newspaper noted that Heaney told generations of aspiring writers: “Do not be afraid” in taking up the pen, and implored politicians of all stripes “‘do not be afraid’ in choosing the path of peace and eventually ending the Troubles by putting down the gun.”

A world of Wake Forest connections

If you’re like me, you get a kick out of how Wake Foresters can pop up anywhere in the world and find easy-going, common ground.

A few weeks ago I heard from Blythe Riggan, who had just finished her first year at Wake Forest and was writing from Kigali, Rwanda. Participating in the Institute for Public Engagement’s summer nonprofit immersion program, Riggan was traveling with Mary Martin Niepold (’65), a senior lecturer in journalism and founder of The Nyanya Project, which helps African grandmothers support their AIDS-orphaned grandchildren.

Mary Martin Niepold ('65) with Kenyan grandmothers on an earlier trip

Mary Martin Niepold (’65) with Kenyan grandmothers on an earlier trip

As you’ll see from Riggan’s blog post, Wake Forest was not her first choice of universities. Reynolda campus was all-too familiar terrain for this Lexington, N.C., young woman who dressed as a Wake Forest cheerleader for Halloween when she was little. Black and gold seemed old hat. But her first year was more than she could have hoped for, and, as she wrote from Rwanda, “Somehow everything fell into place and I am now in Africa having the experience of a lifetime.”

She and Niepold visited nyanyas (Swahili for “grandmothers”) in the slums of Kenya and the hillsides of Rwanda, assuring grandmothers they would not be forgotten and surveying them on their economic progress to track the nonprofit’s impact. One day, in Kigali, she wound up at a dinner table with Niepold and Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham (’06). I visited Craigwell-Graham last year in New York, where she was an associate at Shearman and Sterling LLP, a blue-chip law firm. I wrote about how her two-month stint doing pro bono work in Africa ignited a passion to figure out a way to return. In a few weeks, she had found the way. She left New York for Kigali, for a job in the Strategic Investment Unit of the Rwanda Development Board.

Observing the immediate rapport between Niepold and Craigwell-Graham, Blythe wrote, “As we sat under the cool shade of the tin roof of a local restaurant, Zaffran’s, I listened to these two highly intelligent women discuss the government situation of various African countries. My surroundings flooded over me and I thought, ‘Wow. How did you end up eating at an Indian restaurant with these two women in Rwanda? Can you believe that you are eating lunch in Rwanda with two Wake Forest alumni?’ … I continued to listen in awe as the two swapped stories and discussed the development of African countries. My next thought? ‘Wow. Did you ever think this was possible? Now, can you even imagine the future possibilities?’”

When I saw Blythe in Winston-Salem last week, she said she had no words for how deeply the trip had affected her. She planned to continue working with Niepold this summer and found herself drawn to elders now that she was home.

Blythe Riggan ('16) at Mary Martin Niepold's ('65) home last week

Blythe Riggan (’16) at Mary Martin Niepold’s (’65) home last week

I zipped off a note to Craigwell-Graham to ask about her impressions. Not only had she welcomed Blythe and Niepold, she’d also hosted other Wake Forest community members in May: Ajay Patel, a business professor who heads the Center for Enterprise Research and Education, and, separately, a group of Wake students traveling with Mary Gerardy, associate vice president and dean of campus life, and with Marianne Magjuka, director of campus life.

“Tracing back to the conversation I had with Maria Henson one year ago in a midtown restaurant, we were talking about the mission inherited by all Wake Forest students: Pro Humanitate,” she wrote. That’s why she was “hardly surprised” and “neglected to remark ‘what a coincidence’” to see all of these Wake Forest visitors.

Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham ('06) in her old life in Manhattan

Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham (’06) in her old life in Manhattan

“It’s no coincidence that a certain type of person would be attracted to Wake Forest,” Craigwell-Graham wrote. “Therefore (if I may be forgiven to make this logical leap just once), it’s no coincidence that some of those same people might end up in Rwanda. To meet, analyze, assist, learn — all different forms of action but aligned with the idea of service to mankind.”

Craigwell-Graham was pleased to see all the visitors and catch up on campus news, including whether Shag on the Mag still exists. (It does.) Most important, she wrote, the visits provided “clear and unequivocal reassurance” that she had attended the right college.

“Just one year ago I was stuck in a concrete jungle,” she wrote. “Now today I am in a place, Africa, Rwanda to be more specific, that is known for them and I couldn’t be more free.”

She was on the right track all along, she said. It was one more way she and Blythe share common ground on a planet that feels smaller every day as connections widen and strengthen. As Blythe would say: Imagine the possibilities.

 

 

Shane Harris (’98) moves to Foreign Policy

Words Awake! maestro and professor Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78) shared the news this week that Shane Harris (’98) has left his senior writer position at Washingtonian magazine to move to Foreign Policy magazine as a senior writer.

Shane Harris ('98), author, senior writer, analyst

Shane Harris (’98), author, senior writer, analyst

In a note to Phillips and friends, Harris wrote, “I wanted to let you know about an exciting new chapter in my career. … I’ll be a senior writer at Foreign Policy magazine, where I will cover intelligence and cyber security. And of course, in light of recent events, surveillance!”

Harris no doubt will be blogging and writing nonstop about Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked news of classified intelligence about domestic surveillance to The Guardian and The Washington Post. “Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency’s system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like,” Harris wrote on Monday in a blog post. “The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.”

Harris is the author of “The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State,” which The Economist named as one of the best books of 2010. He was a star panelist at the Words Awake! conference at Wake Forest in March 2012. Spy-120x100Congratulations to Shane on his new job, a timely posting for commenting on the latest in ‘watching.’

 

Remembering Will D. Campbell, a Wake Forester and renegade

Wake Forester Will D. Campbell died Monday at age 88 in Nashville. I first met him in the funny pages but didn’t know then he was a Demon Deacon. He was the inspiration behind the Rev. Will B. Dunn in “Kudzu,” the syndicated comic strip created by my late friend and fellow Charlotte Observer editorial board veteran Doug Marlette.

Rev. Will B. Dunn of "Kudzu"

Rev. Will B. Dunn of “Kudzu”

Marlette had the eccentric cartoon version of Campbell tell it like it was. In one strip, Rev. Dunn said, “Lord, I know we’re called to be fishers of men. But I want to throw ‘em all back.”

In a 1992 article, journalist David L. Langford described Campbell this way: “Here’s a whiskey-swilling, tobacco-spitting, guitar-picking Baptist preacher and truck farmer who is a widely respected writer, thinker, humorist and ex-officio chaplain to the Grand Ole Opry crowd. He doesn’t have a church — a steeple as he puts it — and doesn’t want one.”

Last year, during Words Awake!, Wake Forest honored an inaugural class of inductees to the Wake Forest Writers Hall of Fame. Campbell (’48, L.H.D. ’84) naturally was among the honorees. His “Brother to a Dragonfly” was a finalist for the 1978 National Book Award and named one of the 10 best religious books of the 1970s by Time. But our Wake Forest notable author was unable to attend the ceremony. His son, Webb (’81), returned on his behalf to a campus where his daughter, Kyle (’14), attends, to be joined this fall by brother and freshman Will D. Campbell II. We didn’t know then that the Rev. Campbell was struggling to recover from a stroke he suffered in 2011. What we did know and laud was his national, historic reputation as a voice of conscience in the South’s struggles against racism.

Campbell was born to Mississippi cotton farmers in 1924 and became an ordained Baptist minister at 17. He served in the Army during World War II and arrived at Wake Forest afterward, majoring in English. You can find no activities listed under his name in The Howler of 1948, but Campbell more than made up for that omission in his unparalleled life of social activism and advocacy for the marginalized.

Campbell's senior photo in The Howler

Campbell’s senior photo in The Howler

He attended Tulane University, earned his theology degree from Yale Divinity School, pastored a church in Louisiana, became an integrationist chaplain at Ole Miss and served as a field officer for the National Council of Churches. He was the only white person present at the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Wherever there were momentous events in the civil rights movement, Campbell typically had a role: counseling Freedom Riders; participating in boycotts and sit-ins; challenging the clergy to step up on behalf of society’s forgotten ones; helping escort the nine black students through angry mobs at Central High School in Little Rock.

In 1984, along with Eudora Welty, he came to Wake Forest to receive an honorary degree at Commencement. Wake Forest Magazine welcomed him “home to his college,” adding in an article that year: “In a pickup truck, carrying a Gibson guitar and whittling a cedar stick, and wearing a black plowman’s hat, Campbell preaches and sings and saves.” As The New York Times noted in Campbell’s obituary yesterday, his friends and followers called him “hilarious, profound, inspiring and apocalyptic” as he stomped around “uttering streams of sacred and profane commentary that found their way into books, articles, lectures and sermons.” In 2000 Bill Clinton awarded him the National Endowment for the Humanities medal. A PBS documentary, “God’s Will,” profiles his life.

This week Bill Leonard, the Divinity School’s founding dean, who holds the James and Marilyn Dunn Chair of Baptist Studies, offers a must-read remembrance of Campbell called “The Freedom of Will” at ABPnews.com. Leonard examines the paradox of a man who witnessed unspeakable “meanness” all around him in the turbulent South but who never gave up on grace.

He also recounts a fine Wake Forest anecdote: “Will once told me that he fully understood the name “Demon Deacons” for the Wake Forest University mascot. ‘Hell,’ he commented, ‘anybody who’s ever been in a Baptist church knows at least one demon deacon!’ Will could sanctify profanity like no one else.”

Kyle Webster's portrait of Campbell for Words Awake!

Kyle Webster’s portrait of Campbell for Words Awake!

Campbell was truly a distinguished alumnus, ahead of his time, and, through it all, as brave in the cities as in the backwoods.