Sunday, March 12, 2017

William J. Harris @ 75

William Harris

How does one celebrate his 75th birthday? By organizing a poetry reading of course. Well, that was the thinking of William J. Harris. He turns 75 today, so last night we -- a wide range of people he's encountered throughout his life and career -- joined him for a celebration and poetry reading in Brooklyn, New York.

For the poetry reading, we heard from Cornelius Eady, Tracie Morris, and Harris. And for the celebration? We heard from more than two dozen well-wishers.

[Related: Photo-journal from William J. Harris birthday party]

Folks far and wide know that Harris and his wife Susan Harris throw wonderful parties. They hosted gigs in the 1970s in Ithaca. They hosted get-togethers when one Harris was at Stony Brook and the other at Queens College. They hosted gatherings at their home in State College, Pennsylvania University in the 1990s. They continued bringing folks together for merriment into the 21st century when they were professors at the University of Kansas. Last night's celebration could have easily been a celebration of their more than 40 decades of hosting. Not this time. For this one, we celebrated William J. Harris at 75.

The audience at the Susan and William Harris's home

Well, we thought of it as a celebration for Harris. But you could tell that he was using his 75th as an excuse to bring a range of folks together. Family and relatives. Former colleagues. Neighbors. Former students. Poets. Friends. Friends of friends.

William and Susan Harris insisted that no one bring gifts. Our attendance was the gift, they said. Susan Harris did organize a surprise though. She requested that three students from different phases of Professor Harris's career say a few words. Poet and essayist Ken McClane, who has now retired after more than 30 years as a professor at Cornell University, was one of Harris's first students in 1971. I was Professor Harris's student at Pennsylvania State University from 1999 - 2002, before at headed to Lawrence. From 2010 - 2015, my younger brother Kenton was one of Harris's last students at the University of Kansas, prior to Harris's retirement.

Howard Rambsy II, Ken McClane, William J. Harris, and Kenton Rambsy

McClane, Kenton, and I gave a few remarks on our experiences as Harris's students. It was really something for me to think of myself as part of this continuum. Then, it was even more to recognize our small trio as tiny elements in a broader continuum. And more than that, all of us at the gathering were part of this continuum of recipients of Harris's generosity.

Note: photos courtesy of Kenton Rambsy

A Notebook on William Harris
An Anti-War march, Amiri and Amina Baraka, and me

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