A Penciled Silhouette of Words: The Creative Life of Ruth Stephan
The year 2010 marked both the 50th anniversary of the University of Arizona Poetry Center and the 100th birthday of our founder, Ruth Walgreen Stephan (1910–1974). Many people know about Ruth Stephan as the philanthropist who began our Poetry Center with gifts of property, books, and an acquisitions endowment, all of which have made ours one of the leading contemporary poetry libraries in the nation. But not as many are familiar with her creative work as a writer, editor and poet. Ruth once wrote, “The first great shock of my life came when I was eight years old and discovered that everyone did not write poetry.” Although her father, a successful and traditional businessman, did not encourage her interest in poetry, she was nonetheless “swept forward on its exciting current” from the time she began to read.
Ruth Stephan’s first poem to gain international recognition, “Identity,” was published in Harper’s in 1937. Ten years later she launched a groundbreaking journal of experimental arts and letters, The Tiger’s Eye. Focusing on the creative process, she published both the work and reflections of writers and artists such as William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Pablo Picasso, and Mark Rothko. By the time she started spending winters in Tucson in the early 1950s, she had already published her first book of poetry in Peru. Her ties with the University of Arizona deepened as she wrote two novels based on the life of Queen Christina, edited a book of songs and tales by the Quechua people (The Singing Mountaineers), and explored Zen in prose, film, and poetry while living in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Her poems of Kyoto, collected in Various Poems (1963), are, as she put it, “fired with the frequently frustrated wish to make the invisible within us visible.”
—Gail Browne, Executive Director, The University of Arizona Poetry Center
This exhibit, curated by Rodney Phillips, originally appeared in the Jeremy Ingalls Gallery of the University of Arizona Poetry Center from September 27, 2010 to January 3, 2011.