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Learn about Oregon's most celebrated poet, William Stafford, at events honoring his birthday this week and throughout the month of January.

William Stafford

For The Review, Tidings

The Friends of William Stafford are preparing celebrations to honor William Edgar Stafford, an American poet and pacifist.

He was the father of poet and essayist Kim Stafford, and appointed the 20th Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1970.

A longtime resident of Lake Oswego, Stafford also served as Oregon's Poet Laureate from 1975 through 1990.

Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, the oldest of three children in a highly literate family. During the Depression his family moved from town to town in an effort to find work for his father. Stafford helped contribute to family income by delivering newspapers, working in sugar beet fields, raising vegetables and working as an electrician's apprentice.

He graduated from high school in Liberty, Kansas in 1933. He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Kansas in 1937, then was drafted into the U.S. Armed Forces in 1941, while pursuing his master's degree at KU, but declared himself a pacifist.

As a registered conscientious objector, Stafford performed alternative service from 1942 to 1946, in the Civilian Public Service camps. The work consisted of forestry and soil conservation work in Arkansas, California and Illinois.

While working in California in 1944, he met and married Dorothy Hope Frantz, with whom he later had four children.

He received his master's degree. from KU in 1947. His thesis, the prose memoir "Down In My Heart," was published in 1948 and described his experience in the forest service camps.

Stafford taught English for one academic semester to juniors at Chaffey Union High School, Ontario, California. That same year he moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis & Clark College. In 1954, he received his doctorage from the University of Iowa.

Stafford taught for one academic year (1955-56) in the English department at Manchester College in Indiana, a college affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, where he received training during his time in the Civilian Public Service. The following year (1956-57) he taught at San Jose State in California, and the next year returned to the faculty at Lewis & Clark.

Stafford was 46 years old when his first major collection of poetry was published, "Traveling Through the Dark," which won the 1963 National Book Award for Poetry.

Stafford had a quiet daily ritual of writing and his writing focused on the ordinary.

The Friends of William Stafford was formed in 1995, following Stafford's death in 1993. The organization's primary mission is to honor his life and literary legacy to ensure his work be recognized as essential to the content and history of American literature.

The Friends of William Stafford has sponsored thousands of public readings and Stafford Birthday celebrations in libraries, schools, book stores and galleries since its founding. The organization's expanded mission is to engage and encourage new and emerging writers in the spirit of William Stafford.

Locally, events are planned for:

Jan. 19, 3 p.m. — The Peregrine Literary Series presents Paulann Petersen reading her work to honor William Stafford's birthday. Both Petersen and Stafford served as Oregon poet laureates.

Audience members are invited to bring and read their favorite Stafford poem. The Peregrine Literary Series is hosted by Joan Maiers at Stickmen's Brew Pub, 40 N. State St., Lake Oswego. The event is free and family-friendly.

Jan. 21, 7 p.m. — The Third Tuesday Author Speak at the Lake Oswego Public Library will feature an evening of poetry honoring William Stafford, hosted by the Friends of William Stafford. The library is located at 706 4th St., Lake Oswego.

Other events are planned in Oregon City and throughout the metropolitan area. To view them visit williamstafford.org.


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