Literary Lunches: Senior Tess Grogan’s Legacy

Photo by Michelle S. Lee '16 | The Literary Lunches, proposed by Smith student Tess Grogan ‘14, was created with the intention of attracting students interested in literature.

Photo by Michelle S. Lee ’16 | The Literary Lunches, proposed by Smith student Tess Grogan ‘14, was created with the intention of attracting students interested in literature.

Kyle Kaplan ’15
Arts Editor

Last Wednesday, the English department held its second Literary Lunch as part of a year-long series begun by department liaison Tess Grogan ’14. Beginning with a discussion of Michael Gorra’s new book on Henry James, Portrait of a Novel, Wednesday’s lunch brought English students and faculty together to appreciate the work of the recently deceased poet Seamus Heaney.

Grogan explained in an interview that she collaborated with professors Dean Flower and Michael Thurston to create an event that would be more inclusive than a forty-five minute presentation of Heaney’s life. Fans of the Nobel Prize-winning poet were invited to bring their favorite poem of his to read aloud in a room where chairs were arranged in a circle, so that the reading felt more conversational than a class or symposium. “It gave faculty and students space to connect and to respond to one another,” said Grogan.

In addition to poetry, many readers also shared anecdotes about Heaney, ranging from personal experiences with him to memories of the events that fueled his highly political poetry. Biology major and poetry concentrator Kitty Dymek ’14 said, “The reading was so moving. So many people read their favorite poems and shared their stories. I had only started reading Heaney’s work after his death, but I already wish I’d had the chance to meet him in life.”

Asked if the Literary Lunch series was passed down to her from a former Smith student, Grogan explained that the lunch series had in fact begun this fall, following a moment last year when she went to see a friend present their honors thesis for the biology department. “I had been looking all year for a way to bring students and faculty together to talk about creative and academic work on equal footing. Many students don’t know what professors are interested in or working out outside of class and vice versa,” she explained.

Observing her friend’s honors thesis presentation, Grogan said that she was astounded by how many people came, not because they knew her friend, but because they were interested in biology. Hoping to cultivate the same support for the intellectual endeavors of Smith faculty and students in the English department, Grogan suggested the lunch series to other liaisons, as well as professors Andrea Stone and Rick Millington, the English committee faculty members. “I met with Rick over the summer and we set up the specifics and got things rolling for September, with the invaluable help of Jen Roberts, our administrative assistant,” Grogan said.

While this installment in the Literary Lunch series began with a dedication to a well-known poet, the Poetry Center was not involved, although Grogan says she hopes to coordinate an event with them at some point. In this proposed event, students involved in the English department and the poetry concentration would be able to come together and support each other’s literary pursuits.Aly Siemion ‘17, a hopeful poetry concentrator and English major, approved. “As someone who tries to attend most readings on campus – and I’m pretty sure the English department supports many of the readings the Center hosts – it would be interesting to see what they could come up with together for this series,” Siemion said.

In addition to a potential reading of creative writing from both poetry concentrators and other writers on campus, Grogan says we can look forward to presentations from Smith faculty, students and visiting writers. “On October 16th, English students who have been abroad will be hosting a panel about their experiences. We’re excited to have Ambreen Hai speak about her project on servants in postcolonial literature later in the fall, and one English J-grad will (hopefully) speak informally about her special studies. I may present the video series on film technique that I’m working with Jeff Hunter to create, if there’s space.”

Grogan hopes that after she graduates, the English Literary Lunches will continue on without her. “It would be a really nice feeling,” she concluded, “to have helped give a start to an event that continues once I’m no longer at Smith to have left something good behind.”

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