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Publication of my first book and my father's death


The Society of Fellows at Harvard
Donald Hall Poet
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At Harvard, there's something called the Society of Fellows. It was started in the early '30s at Harvard. It's quite... it's quite like certain fellowships in England, and I gather some in France as well, where young men, and now it is young women as well, are given three years of absolutely free time.  That is, you don't teach and you don't take courses formally, and you follow what you can do, and it is a Society of Fellows, as it... with certain fellowships at All Souls, you can be elected to do almost anything.  And as a Society of Fellows often they found candidates who where combining disciplines in ways that a particular department wouldn't handle.  When I... my first... there was... a kind of high table every Monday night, at the Society of Fellows, and the first night I was there, I turned to the man on my left, a saturnine young fellow, and I said, you know, 'What are you in [more or less], what's your field?' And he said, 'Mathematical linguistics'. And I said, 'I'd never heard of that'.  And there was a good reason why I'd never heard of it... that was Noam Chomsky.  I had never heard of Noam Chomsky, but everyone has been hearing about him ever since, and he had invented the field. It was a remarkable bunch, I had... when I was an undergraduate, I had known Richard Wilbur, the poet, who was a bit older than me, and he had been a junior fellow, and that's what gave me the notion that that would be a wonderful thing to do.  Three years to read and write, nothing else - you didn't have to go to the dinners even. The dinners were great fun to go to... oh I had dinner with Vladimir Nabokov one night, and I had... Mr Eliot came once a year, every spring, and the guests were remarkable. There were senior fellows - 10 - mostly professors, who elected junior fellows who were in residence, perhaps, 20 or so, so there was 30 there, but then people would bring guests. Edmund Wilson came to dinner twice a year, but it wasn't just the literary ones... I met the scientists too.  And one night when I was about 27, I introduced two Nobel Laureates to each other. I knew one of them because he was a senior fellow - Ed Purcell - a physicist, and then the other was Linus Pauling - a chemist who was visiting - so I introduced them... it was very heady stuff. The other junior fellows were often remarkable - Marvin Minsky of MIT and artificial intelligence was in my group, but there were others who've gone on in physics, and logic, and mathematics, musicology.  While I was there, the same year I was there, another poet was elected, John Hollander, and he and I have stayed in touch ever since. It was a marvelous time - three years - I worked mostly at home. I could have an office if I wanted one, to work in, but I did have that three years of absolutely unfettered time. I worked on poetry every day, mostly on poetry. I made gestures toward writing about the prosody of modern verse, but I never got very far with it.

The 14th US Poet Laureate Donald Hall (1928-2018) was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1951 and a BLitt, from Oxford in 1953. He published many essays and anthologies of both poetry and prose including String too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm, White Apples and the Taste of Stone, Without: Poems, and Ox-Cart Man, a children's book which won the Caldecott Medal. Hall was editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry, literary editor of Isis, editor of New Poems, and poetry editor of The Paris Review. He won many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Robert Frost Medal. At the end of his first Oxford year, he also won the university's Newdigate Prize, awarded for his poem Exile.

Listeners: Kendel Currier

Kendel Currier started working for Donald Hall in August of 1994 as his correspondence typist. Later she took on his manuscript typing as well, and in October of 1998 moved 100 meters down the road from Donald and became his personal assistant, adding many various new tasks to her work. As well as working for Donald for the last 10 and-a-half years, Donald Hall and Kendel Currier share a set of great (or for Kendel great-great) grandparents, making them distant cousins and part of a similar New Hampshire heritage.

Tags: Harvard University, England, France, All Souls, MIT, Noam Chomsky, Richard Wilbur, Vladimir Nabokov, TS Eliot, Edmund Wilson, Ed Purcell, Linus Pauling, Marvin Minsky, John Hollander

Duration: 3 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008