Traditionally, speakers in the Lawrence Convocation Series have been well-known members of their respective fields. One such speaker was poet and professor Edward Hirsch. Hirsch concluded the 2001-2002 Convocation Series May 21 with his lecture “Reading as Relationship.” During the convocation, Lawrence University awarded Hirsch the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
Less than four months after his visit to Lawrence, Hirsch was named President of the Guggenheim Foundation.
Senator Simon Guggenheim and his wife, Olga Hirsch Guggenheim, established the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1925 in the memory of their son, who died when he was seventeen years old.
Senator Guggenheim stated his purpose for establishing the Foundation as “a desire in some sense to continue the influence of the young life of eager aspiration by establishing a foundation which in [John’s] name should, in the words of the charter, ‘promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding, and appreciation of beauty, by aiding without distinction on account of race, color or creed, scholars, scientists and artists of either sex in the prosecution of their labors.’…To add to the educational, literary, artistic, and scientific power of this country, and also to provide for the cause of better international understanding.”
In 1929, Guggenheim grants were also made available to residents of Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. Roughly 200 grants are awarded each year to individual scholars, researchers, and artists who have a “significant record of publication…exhibition or performance of their work.”
In 2002, the average grant totaled about $36,638. The Foundation receives approximately 3000-3500 applications each year.
Hirsch will be the fourth president of the Foundation, with which he has a long history. In 1985 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, four years after his first book of poems, “For the Sleepwalkers,” was published. In 2001 he served on the Guggenheim Selection Committee for American and Canadian applicants.
In the words of his presidential predecessor, Joel Conarroe, “There is nobody better suited by intelligence, imagination, and temperament to lead the Foundation at this particular time [than Hirsch].”
Hirsch authored the best-selling book “How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry”, as well as five books of poetry and two additional non-fiction titles. He is also a weekly contributor to the Washington Post‘s Book World, and has written numerous articles for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and other publications.
Hirsch has also been the recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, commonly called a “genius grant.” In addition to his new position, Hirsch is now also continuing work on another book of poetry.