CU Boulder professor emerita and poet Linda Hogan will be given an honorary Doctor of Letters for her record of achievement, commitment and compassion
When Linda Hogan, an internationally acclaimed poet, writer and Pulitzer Prize finalist, was growing up, she said she’d never read contemporary poetry.
“So I wasn't at all interested in writing,” Hogan admits.
However, one day she received a gift from friends: an anthology of contemporary poetry.
“Those were poems I could grasp, read, understand. Especially ‘A Blessing,’ a poem by James Wright.”
And from that point on, life for Hogan became a lot of putting pen to paper—writing poems on her lunch hour and on weekends.
“Soon, I was trying to write all of the time,” Hogan says from her home in Idledale, Colorado, about an hour south of Boulder. “I thought that it truly was like magic because of the effect the poetry had on me, both the reading of it and the writing. It transformed how I saw the world. It transformed the world. I felt good when writing, and those were, and are, the happiest moments even when writing truth and about difficult world experiences.”
She says she knew that writing was what she wanted to learn and what she wanted to give her time and life to.
“I still feel that way and know how fortunate I am to have found something I truly love to do,” she says. “Not everyone stands up for their own gift or talent. It is a difficult direction to follow when everything else says they should do something more acceptable in the world, enter the competitive world of other jobs or live in another way. Who can say when asked what they do as a job that their job is poetry? That takes courage.”
Hogan, a professor emerita of English at the University of Colorado Boulder who will be given an honorary doctor of letters degree by the university in a private campus ceremony on May 4, earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and a master of arts in English and creative writing at CU Boulder.
She also taught creative writing at CU Boulder, which holds special memories for her. She says when she thinks of the university today, her mind immediately takes her to her old office.
“I loved my office and the green leaves that crossed the windows,” she said. “That is my first thought. And then I think of my students, so many of them who have become great writers and remain as friends. I loved teaching and still work on Zoom. Every time, it is a joyful experience for me.”
Martin Bickman, professor of English at CU Boulder, who taught with Hogan and nominated her for the Doctor of Letters honor, says he believes Hogan deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature.
“I think she's really one of the best writers in the country. She is truly a national and international figure who stands for social justice and the life of our planet,” Bickman says.
“She has excelled brilliantly in the three major genres of American literature: poetry, fiction and nonfiction prose. Her record of achievement, commitment and compassion is extraordinary. I'm particularly interested in her teaching at CU Boulder since we taught in the same department and shared some of the same students.”
Bickman adds that two of Hogan’s former students, David Gessner and Luis Urrea, have appeared on The New York Times’ bestseller list.
“Their success bears witness both to Linda’s personal interest in her students and her pedagogical genius,” Bickman says. “Not that many people know about (her) excellent teaching, (it’s) often hidden in the shadows. Folks should know about (that) aspect of her work, she is more than an excellent writing teacher; she is transformative.”
The effect the poetry transformed how I saw the world. It transformed the world. I felt good when writing, and those were, and are, the happiest moments even when writing truth and about difficult world experiences.”
Hogan’s numerous publications include DARK. SWEET. New and Selected Poems; Rounding the Human Corners; and Mean Spirit, winner of the Oklahoma Book Award, the Mountains and Plains Book Award and a Pulitzer finalist, among others. In poetry, The Book of Medicines was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
She is a faculty member of the Indian Arts Institute and writer in residence for the Chickasaw Nation. She has worked with at-risk teens at the Chickasaw Children’s Home and lectures and reads extensively worldwide. In 2007, Hogan was inducted into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame for her writing.
“I think what still influences me the most is that of having two sights of the world, being bicultural and knowing two ways of being,” she says. “As an Indigenous woman, I understand our world and it lives in one very major way. As a Native woman who has lived in the world of non-Indian people, I have a comparison, a double vision.”
Hogan adds that as a continuing scholar, the kinds of knowledge that contribute to her own growth and understanding of life, of being, has taken her “in directions that others do not follow.”
When asked if she believes humans will learn to live in peace and to care for the earth, Hogan says, “The human animal is one of such complexity. Who knows what the future holds, but the younger generation seems to care more than the older ones, and that gives me hope. We are capable of great changes if we use our gifts to move toward caretaking the earth.”
She adds: “More and more, we are understanding the world around us and granting rights to other creature lives to rivers and to locations in the world. Many countries have granted legal personhood and rights to rivers in New Zealand, to all life in Ecuador and to other animals worldwide.”
On being given the honorary Doctor of Letters, she says simply that she’s grateful.
“I have so much gratitude to be receiving an honorary degree. And I thank Professor Bickman and others who nominated me for this. They did much work and were committed. It says a great deal about their hearts. And nothing sounds better to me than ‘humane’ letters because I am devoted to what this word means, in all its different aspects.”