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“Come to me, said the world:” Louise Glück Reading Brings Life Back to Campus

By Amy Bochner

Glück commanded the attention of the audience through the emotional resonance of her poetry (Photo by Amy Bochner)

One could hear a pin drop in the moments following Louise Glück reading the last line of each poem, as a theater full of people felt the ache of loneliness emanating from her words and imagery. After two years of Purchase College’s events largely taking place online, “A Reading and Conversation with Louise Glück,” on September 21, represented one of the first events back in the Performing Arts Center.

The reading was the latest installment in the Durst Distinguished Lecture Series, where students are given the opportunity to interact with accomplished authors. Glück is the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, as well as prestigious awards such as a National Humanities Medal and a Pulitzer Prize. She has published two collections of essays and 13 books of poems.

Creative writing professor Monica Ferrell began the evening by introducing Glück and her work, followed by Glück stepping out and reading poems from across her bibliography. Although Glück appeared small onstage, behind a podium not much shorter than she is, she commanded the room. She read with the cadence of falling snow, quiet but captivating. The audience remained silent, without a scuffle or whisper of conversation, as they listened to Glück create images of loneliness, love, and healing using descriptions of nature as her paint.

From the images of despair, subjects find moments of healing, such as the lonely speaker in “October” finding comfort in the moon’s evergreen beauty: “From within the earth’s bitter disgrace, coldness, and barrenness, my friend the moon rises: she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?”

After the event, Ferrell found the reading impactful in its content and significance to the community as a whole.

“It is so amazing to be back in the PAC and see people together again, to share a moment like that," she said. "[Glück] spoke about those final two poems arising out of the experience of COVID, and craving community, craving experience, craving the world as it was before the pandemic. She also spoke about poetry coming out of suffering. I feel like we've learned to really appreciate what we had, things that we might have taken for granted really now feel special in a different way.”

This reading marks a shift towards bringing back in-person events at SUNY Purchase, as Anthony Domestico, the curator of the Durst series, described.

“I think we're in a moment now where people, understandably, are excited to go to in-person events, whether those are movies or concerts or readings, but they're also still slightly apprehensive about it,” he said. “One of the reasons in particular that we wanted to have the Louise Glück event be the first event of the fall is, she's a really compelling figure.”

The event drew a crowd of approximately 90 people, including Pamela Trevisan, a senior creative writing major.

“It’s a breakthrough for Purchase College, especially coming out of COVID when we had nothing, no in-person events," Trevisan said. "It was dark times for everyone, and we all felt it. [It’s huge] having her come in, a woman of her demeanor who has succeeded and achieved so much in her life… [To have her be able] to speak to us and offer this glimmer of hope into the world. Especially for writers, to kind of see that this kind of person isn't as far away as we think they are.”

Glück spoke to Purchase students last fall via Zoom. Her agent reached out to Purchase about an in-person event, as Aviva Taubenfeld, the director of the School of Humanities, indicated.

“The agent reached out to us and said Louise Glück is doing very few talks this year and that she would like to come to Purchase… here we are this small public liberal arts college,” she said. “It's so meaningful that we have these kinds of distinguished people, particularly given the fact that many of our students– in fact, many of our faculty– have never had the opportunity to meet live authors, let alone a Nobel Laureate.”

Not only is Glück’s star power driving the excitement behind this event, but what this event represents to the Purchase community as a whole.

“We're bringing people back to campus," Taubenfeld said. "The campus is so much more alive to me. It's not just about the Durst series being back. It's about the Performing Arts Center being back.”

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