Morristown, N.J. (March 19, 2015) – Gerald Stern and Ross Gay, both award-winning poets, have a deep, abiding affection for one another.
Speaking to students from CSE and Drew University, they bantered about the experiences from which they draw their inspiration for their writing. Stern, the first Poet Laureate in New Jersey, was Gay's professor at Sarah Lawrence College where Gay was pursuing his Masters of Fine Arts. They began with a teacher-student relationship, then a mentoring relationship, and now it is a 25-year old friendship in which they are able to finish each other's thoughts and laugh before the punch line is delivered.
The master class, readings and book signing were held in the Annunciation Center on the evening of March 17, 2015. Stern spoke of the fact that African-American poets were not in poetry anthologies in the early twentieth century and Gay noted that there has been a rise of African American and Hispanic poets becoming known in poetry and literary circles.
They also spoke of the generational interpretation of poetry – in which poems written a century ago tell a story but may not have the emotional impact to today's reader.
Stern is a first generation American of Ukrainian Jewish descent. He has won several awards for his work including the Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Wallace Stevens Award and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is currently the Poet in Residence at Drew University's M.F.A. in Poetry and Poetry in Translation.
Gay teaches at Indiana University and in Drew University's M.F.A. program in Poetry and Poetry in Translation. He is one of the founding editors of an online sports magazine and editor with chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press. Gay is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all justice and joy project.
Stern's advice to budding poets: "Read, read, read. Occasionally write. Then go back and read some more."