For over fifty years the Beck Series, funded by the Harriet Ewens Beck Endowment for English, has been a mainstay of creative writing studies at Denison University. The series provides students the opportunity to hear, study with, and engage some this country’s finest writers in the close quarters and pastoral setting of our hilltop campus in Granville, Ohio.
Harriet Ewens Beck, class of 1910, developed a lifelong love of poetry after studying high school English with Willa Cather in Pittsburgh. Upon her passing, her husband Gordon C. Beck (class of 1906), arrived on campus in 1960 and announced to Paul Bennett of the English Department, “I want to establish an enduring monument to Harriet, something that will honor her interest in writing.” Beck pledged to fund the endowment and then, over a lunch of peanut butter crackers and chocolate chip cookies in the Student Union, the two men outlined the plans of what would become one of most vibrant and dynamic reading series on any campus in this country.
The Beck Series first visitor was Eudora Welty, whose four-day visit came in April of 1964. She met with faculty, visited classes, and conferenced with students about their manuscripts. That first visit set the tone and template that defines the Beck Series. Visitors to Denison’s campus continue to share their work in public readings, meet with creative writing classes and the campus community, and work with students in one-on-one manuscript consultations or lead workshops. The generous gift from the Beck family has brought to Denison twelve United States’ Poet Laureates and over twenty winners of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, including Derek Walcott, Louise Erdrich, Mark Strand, Aleksander Hemon, Steven Millhauser, and Edwidge Danticat, to name a few. David Baker, Thomas B. Fordham Chair of Creative Writing, says, “The Beck Series has been one of Denison’s jewels, a virtual anthology of American writing since 1960. New, emerging, established, and downright famous writers in every literary genre, from short poems to long novels, political, lyrical, confessional—every literary stance has been represented by our visitors.”