Literary Arts

String Light (While There is Light) – honoring C.D. Wright and Keith Waldrop

Founded in 2017 as the CD Wright Lecture Series and renamed in 2024, this annual program honors the life and work of CD Wright and Keith Waldrop. Each year, the series will bring to campus a poet, scholar, artist or other related figure who will present a lecture, literary reading or performance; or will oversee an installation; or will participate in a conversation with the audience following the screening of work.

C.D. Wright, who taught at Brown from 1983 until 2016, was born in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, the daughter of a judge and a court reporter. She published over a dozen books, including ShallCross (2016); The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All (2016); One With Others (2011), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was nominated for a National Book Award; Rising, Falling, Hovering (2008); Like Something Flying Backwards: New and Selected Poems (2007); Deepstep Come Shining (1998); and Tremble (1996). She also provided the text for two book collaborations with photographer Deborah Luster: One Big Self: An Investigation (2003), which documents Louisiana prison inmates; and The Lost Roads Project (1994), a walk-in exhibit of Arkansas. 

Though her work is deeply connected to the Ozarks, Wright spent significant periods in New York and San Francisco before moving in 1983 to Rhode Island, where she taught at Brown University. With her husband, poet Forrest Gander, she ran Lost Roads Publishers for over 20 years. Among her honors are a MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, a Robert Creeley Award, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, she was elected as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

“Poetry is a necessity of life,” Wright said. “It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free, and declare them so.”

Keith Waldrop, recipient of the National Book Award in Poetry in 2009 for his trilogy, Transcendental Studies, died on Thursday, 27 July 2023. Keith had retired from Brown University as Brooke Russell Astor Professor of Literary Arts and Comparative Literature in 2011, where he had taught for just over 40 years.

While foremost a poet, Waldrop was also a distinguished translator, earning the rank of Chevalier of Arts and Letters from the French government. His translations ranged the gamut of French poetry – with highly-regarded translations of canonical writers Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine, but also delivering to an English-speaking audience luminous renderings of his French contemporaries Anne-Marie Albiach, Jean Grosjean, Jacques Roubaud and Claude Royet-Journoud. He also published two books of prose, Hegel’s Family (a collection of short pieces) and Light While There is Light, a memoir in novel form, depicting an altogether eccentric American childhood, an Odyssey in its own right, told in deadpan manner with precise timing — a memory piece haunted by ghosts and filled with readerly pleasures.

With co-editors James Camp and D.C. Hope, Keith founded Burning Deck, a literary journal wherein the hope was to create a space that might bridge the gap between the various poetic camps. After four issues, the journal transformed into a book press, and Camp and Hope moved on while Rosmarie Waldrop joined as co-editor. The press ran from 1961 to 2017 and published over 200 titles.

The Series History


The first C.D. Wright Lecture took place on 18 October with a presentation by Elizabeth Willis entitled "Silent Letters, Talking Pictures, and the Punchdrunk Gospel of the Bone Man’s Dictionary.”


The second lecture took place on 8 November with a presentation by Susan Stewart entitled "'Snow Nobody Has Walked On': C.D. Wright and the Paradigm of Birth."


The third lecture took place on 29 October with a presentation by Harris Feinsod entitled "Fifth and Final Cycle: C.D. Wright's Americas."


The fourth lecture took place on 3 November, with a presentation by Stephanie Burt.


The fifth lecture took place on 25 October, with a presentation by Lynn Keller entitled "C.D. Wright's Chlorophyll World."


The sixth C.D. Wright lecture, "A Lyric Gift Gone Roaming in the Storm," was delivered by Robert Baker on 10 April.