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Conarroe Lecture: Alchemist of the Written Word Wright '57

Charles Wright '57Davidson College invites the public to "An Evening with Charles Wright '57," Poet Laureate of the United States, Thursday, Feb. 26.
Wright will present Davidson's annual Joel Conarroe Lecture beginning at 8 p.m. in Duke Family Performance Hall. There is no charge to attend, but tickets are required. They are available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Alvarez College Union ticket office. Tickets also are available for a $3 convenience fee by calling the ticket office at 704-894-2135, or by reserving online.

Although he always wanted to be a writer, Charles Wright-Tennessee-born, Davidson-educated-says he might be the only Southerner who can't tell a story. Wright's evocative, elegant, engaging poems share a very different tale, as does his curriculum vitae: retired University of Virginia professor and winner of virtually every poetry honor, including the Pulitzer Prize. He's been called "the real thing," a rare alchemist of the written word. Indeed, Wright's poems are stories at their purest and most distilled, exploring language, landscape and the idea of God.

Wright attended Davidson because his parents wanted what they considered a proper environment for their son. At Davidson, Wright recalls, "I discovered I was not good at fiction. But later I found I could write a poem that could infer a story."

In his last two years at Davidson, Wright signed on for advanced ROTC training in order to make gas money for a '54 Chevy that he later immortalized in verse (along with "the unendable blue of North Carolina sky"). He earned a second lieutenant's commission in Italy, where he read Ezra Pound, discovered poetry and immersed himself in the arts.

This awakening led Wright ever deeper into the life of words, and into teaching. He hopes his students will pay closer, more delicate attention to language, as he did at Davidson. "It's not just a bunch of words," Wright says. "Language has purpose."

Wright was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2014. The author of more than 20 books of poetry, Wright is often ranked as one of the best American poets of his generation.
The Conarroe Lecture Series at Davidson is named in honor of Joel Conarroe, a 1956 Davidson graduate and distinguished member of the professional literary community who served as president of PEN American Center, president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and executive director of the Modern Language Association.
Novelist Joyce Carol Oates inaugurated the Conarroe Lectureship in 2002, and those who followed her include some of the most notable authors of this era-Michael Cunningham, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, Michael Chabon, Russell Banks, Margaret Atwood, W.S. Merwin, Edward Hirsch and Don DeLillo.