File #3509: "soh_048_transcript.pdf"


Oral History Interview of Fred Marchant (SOH-048)
Moakley Archive and Institute

Oral History Interview of Fred Marchant
Interview Date: November 14th, 2018
Interview By: Bertha De Valle-Diaz, Danail Mitkov Koychev, and Nicholas Nunez
Citation: Marchant, Fred Interviewed by Bertha De Valle-Diaz, Danail Mitkov Koychev,
and Nicholas Nunez, Suffolk University Oral SOH-048, November, 2018. Transcript and
audio available. Moakley Archive and Institute, Suffolk University, Boston, MA.
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2018 Suffolk University

Interview Summary
Fred Marchant, a professor emeritus in Suffolk University’s English Department and
founder of the Poetry Center and Creative Writing Program, discusses his poetry, teaching,
and continued involvement with the university post-retirement. He describes the meaning
behind specific lines of his poetry, and how he combined his love of poetry with a love of
teaching at Suffolk. Marchant discusses his time serving in the military during the Vietnam
War, including leaving the military as a consequence of becoming a conscientious
objector. He also describes the university’s growth and changes to its culture as an
undergraduate institution from the 1970s until present day. The interview concludes with a
discussion of the potential of Suffolk’s emerging retirement association and the importance
of preserving institutional memory.

Subject Headings
Suffolk University. College of Arts and Sciences
Suffolk University -- History
Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Conscientious objectors -- United States


Oral History Interview of Fred Marchant (SOH-048)
NICHOLAS NUNEZ: Hello. It is three p.m., November the 14th of 2018. We are in
Suffolk’s Sargent Building in a studio. I am Nicholas Nunez, and I am with Bertha De
Valle, Danie Koychev, and we are interviewing Fred Marchant. Mr. Marchant has already
signed a consent form for this interview to be made available to the public at the Suffolk
University Moakley Archive. The focus of this interview will be his time at Suffolk, his
poetry, the Poetry Center, and the Creative Writing Program he created at Suffolk, and
what he is doing now. And welcome to Suffolk.

FRED MARCHANT: Well, thank you. [Laughter]

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: All right. To begin, how many years did you work at Suffolk? And
what job positions did you hold?

FRED MARCHANT: In total, I worked 31 and ½ years. And then began in 19—in the
fall of 1976. And I was hired—I was very lucky. I'm going to start there, very lucky. I was
still a graduate student. I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. And I had
finished my preliminary work, my exams, and my first set of papers. And my thengirlfriend, and now wife, still wife, was in graduate school at Harvard. And I grew up in
Providence, Rhode Island. My parents were just starting to be a little bit elderly.

So, when I finished all my first five years at Chicago, and started my thesis, I came to
Boston and Cambridge. And I lived there. And I was—as I said, I was very lucky. In fact, I
don’t know how to sort of describe this. It sounds so—so, oh I don’t know, you know,
blessed. But I remember knocking on the door of the English department, sometime in the
spring of that year, of 1976, maybe June even, as late as that, it was quiet. And just
introducing myself to the then-chairman of the department, whose name was Stanley
Vogel, and said that I—described what I just told you, and said that I just hope you keep
me in mind for some teaching.
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And I was just hoping to get, you know, an adjunct one-course kind of thing, to—and that
was my larger plan. And a couple of weeks after that, he called me and said that he had—
he had worked some wonders. He had just brought into the English department what was
then called remedial-writing teaching. And that had been under the counseling center. And
he had brought a faculty member over from that program.

And as it turned out, in addition to my scholarly side, I had done a lot of teaching already. I
had taught—I had been in the military. That’s where I began teaching, actually. That’s
another story, which we may have to get into later. But suffice it to say, I had taught many
number of folks about the GED [General Education Development]—practice for the GED,
the high school equivalency test and whatnot.

So there I was, I had a nice—I was a graduate student with a promising academic career
ahead of me. Plus, this experience. And Stanley Vogel had just acquired a good part of the
“remedial program,” the developmental program, we renamed it pretty quickly. And the
dean—He talked the dean into putting together a full-time job for me out of—well, out of
thin air. And so that fall, in 1976, I became a full-time faculty member. I was still a
graduate student, very early on. In those days, it took a lot longer. I was counting on eight
years or so for graduate school. I had to take at least three years for my thesis, I thought.
So I started teaching. And I began to learn how to teach for real that fall, as yes, I don’t
know what my title was. I wasn’t even assistant professor. It was not tenure track. I
became converted to tenure track a couple of years later. Now are we okay?
NICHOLAS NUNEZ: Yes, we’re still with you.


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FRED MARCHANT: I mean I've got more to say here. That was the beginning. In those
days, and that’s what we’re doing, something on behalf of the history and the selfawareness of this university. So, let me do a little broader view of that moment in the life
of the university. It was mostly a commuter school then. There wasn’t a dormitory,
although there were some places that were hired as kind of residences, for folks who
needed it. But it was mostly a commuter school. It was mostly white. It was mostly—And I
can't say this for sure, I have no real proof of this. But it struck me as being very Catholic,
too. And I grew up a Catholic, and that sort of resonated. I sort of knew.
And that made sense, because Suffolk’s history had been in the whole school in its larger
configuration, had had a history of, you know, of commuting. I think the other parts about
white and Catholic—well, I don’t know, I can't speak to the other parts of the university.

And in addition to that, what there was, was an extraordinary work ethic. And that applied
to the students and to the faculty. And so I had four classes of 30 students each, every
semester because we really packed them up. And that included the developmental courses
as well as the regular freshman composition courses. I mention this because this has a role
in a later twist in the story, if you want—in my story.

Sometime, I finished the dissertation maybe five years later. It took me longer because of
all that teaching. And then sometime shortly after that, I made a really important existential
decision. I actually—I was three years into my tenure track role. And I decided, at that
moment, that I was going to leave teaching. And in preparation for this conversation, I
was—I was remembering a moment when, many, many years later, after I’d come back to
Suffolk, and I had invited a—I was organizing the Creative Writing Program at this time.

And I had invited a very famous writer, Seamus Heaney, a poet and Nobel Prize Winner,
to read at Suffolk. And the then-dean, Mike Ronayne, the then-Dean Mike Ronayne said to
Seamus, he said, “What was with this guy? You know, I don’t—I don’t—he had gotten
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tenure right away and all of that. Why did he have to leave?” And I had left for six years.
And Seamus, bless him, said, he recalled to Mike Ronayne that moment in the Gospels,
where Jesus says, as he’s going along the Sea of Galilee to the future apostles, he says,
“Drop everything and come with me.” And Seamus said to Mike Ronayne, he said, “It’s a
little bit like that with poetry. Sometimes you have to do that.”
And it’s true. That’s what I did. I decided that I really needed to focus on my writing. And
that all of my teaching, while I was still young, and I didn’t have any responsibilities, and I
had put away some money for at least six months survival. And I said, “You know, I've got
to stop this and concentrate on my poetry.” And I thought I’d be leaving teaching. I
thought teaching was the issue.

And I had lined up a job six months down the road as sort of, as a writer for an
organization you may know, Oxfam America. Oxfam is a humanitarian self-help
international organization, a non-governmental organization. And I had done staff writing
for them on a volunteer basis. And then it got converted slightly into a consultancy. And it
was supposed to be converted down the road into a full-time job.
I didn’t, however, do that. I ended up being, because of my Suffolk connections—are you
still with me? Okay? Is it still okay?

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: Still with you.

FRED MARCHANT: Because of my Suffolk connections, I knew the man who directed
the Expository Writing Program at Harvard, a man named Richard Marius. He was married
to a faculty member at Suffolk, Lanier Smythe. And she told him that I had taken a leave
of absence. And he called me up and said, “Listen, somebody’s walked out of a one-course
job to get, you know, a full-time job somewhere. I need somebody desperately.” He said,
“Would you fill in for me?” I said, “Sure.”
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And I was flattered. And I took that course, and it was a course with 12 students. And paid
very well. And so I did that for several years, actually, thereafter. I never went back to
work for Oxfam. And I actually taught other kinds of programs at Harvard for those
several years. And I did a similar thing at BU [Boston University] shortly after that. And it
was while I was at BU I decided that I finally understood the nature of the education—
educational systems up and down the Charles River. Here was Suffolk. There was BU.
And there was Harvard. And believe me, from my experience at Suffolk, my teaching
experience, my human experience at Suffolk, and my experience at Harvard were much
more copacetic and enjoyable than my experience at BU. That was really, that really felt
like a factory to me. And neither Suffolk nor Harvard felt that way.

And lo and behold, that very same dean I referenced earlier, and I met at a conference,
along with some of my other Suffolk colleagues. And I was there and presenting on a
program I was involved in at BU. And they were presenting on a program I had helped
start with them, that was—what’s now the first-year seminars. Well the prototypes for
those was a program called Integrated Studies. And they were presenting on that. And the
dean was there presenting on it.

And so we all got together afterwards and talked about our respective lives. And I said to
the dean, “Boy, you know, I really—now I know what it’s like to, you know, be in a school
that isn't as dedicated as Suffolk.” I was a bit sharp—more sharped tongued than that, to
tell you the truth. But this is for the record, you know. And so I don’t really have to say
snarly things about BU.

Suffice it to say, he understood what I was saying. And as it turned out, a few months later
he called me up and asked me if I was available to return. And I said, “I don’t know. You
should tell me that.” And he said, “Well technically, you're still on a leave of absence. It’s
an extended leave of absence. So yeah, I mean, from our point of view.” And that program
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that I had helped start, Integrated Studies, would now need a new coordinator, because the
then-director of it, Ken Greenberg, was becoming chair of the history department.
And so I said—to Mike Ronayne, I said, “Mike,” I said, “I don’t know how quickly I can
get there. But whatever it takes, I’ll be there in half an hour to sign that contract.” And he
said, “Well, you can wait over the weekend.” And I did. And I came down over the
weekend, and as I said—and I started. I started in midyear of the beginning of 1988. I had
left from 1982 to mid-year 1988.

I came back to direct that program, and—and from that moment on, I never—you know, I
was one of those sinners, you know, one of those prodigal sons, right? I had come back,
and I knew what Suffolk—I knew, in my heart of hearts, what Suffolk was about, and what
the value system was, and what I—and where I could, you know, make a contribution, and
the people I worked with, and of course, ultimately, the students I taught.
And so—so from 1988 to when I retired in 2014, ’13-’14, I was very happy. And I felt,
you know, that Suffolk was a place where I could do things that meant good things for
other people, as well as myself. And that—Oh yeah. I should have told you. I mentioned
returning to the English department. First I was in the humanities and modern languages
department for a while. And then returned to my original department. And that’s when I
started my—that’s my official title, professor of English. That’s a long answer to that one
NICHOLAS NUNEZ: No, it’s good, it’s good. It seems like poetry has definitely played a
significant factor in your life, and drove you many places. My colleague, Bertha DeValle,
has a question for you.


BERTHA DE VALLE-DIAZ: Why do you write poetry and no other types of—?
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FRED MARCHANT: I don’t write fiction. I do write essays. I mostly write essays about
poetry, I have to admit. But—But poetry is at the center. In fact, it takes—it took me a
good long while to really focus on what I thought was the central matter for me. So I
would say, I love all of those other genres and forms of writing. And I believe, you know,
writing is a really noble thing. But some configurations in mind and heart tend to find their
own genre.

I don’t—I can't tell a good story. I mean I can tell a good story like this, but I can't write a
good story. You know, it all sort of—I don’t know, it doesn’t work for me that way. But I
love language. And I love what words do. And I love the—and poetry foregrounds, you
know, the material of the art that language itself. And then I think, and it’s also true—now
I just started to realize something, that I fell in love with poetry first. I, you know, read
fiction and nonfiction, but I fell in love with poetry when I was an undergraduate. And I
was—I had—my own life story involves more zigging and zagging. I started at Providence
College and was there for two years. And then I transferred to Brown across the city in

And I began as a physics major. And I had a great English teacher in my first year. And
that’s when I fell in love with poems. I remember reading Dante, and then in translation of
course, and thinking, “Oh, this is amazing.” And then I remember—I remember reading
Gerard Manley Hopkins, a difficult late Victorian poet. And I didn’t—I enjoyed the
difficulty, right. And so to really go deeper into your question, whatever this art is, and it
changes in everyone’s hands and over time, whatever this art is, in any given moment in
history, it really does have to do with trying to find words for the things that seem to be
almost beyond words, you know. That’s kind of the duty and the calling. You recognize,
there are some things that, you know, that feel or seem almost beyond language. And that’s
where you place yourself and go to work and try to find words or invent words for, you
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know, constructions of words that enact those things that are so—that seem so difficult to

So that, you know, that can range, by the way, from a deep inner psyche, the things you
dream about, to the world you live in, and the nightmares in it, right? So you know, I also
thought that was a pretty good thing about poetry. You weren’t—you weren’t sort of—
there was nothing to you that was really off limits, right? In fact, if somebody said
something was off limits, that’s probably the place to go, you know. That’s an answer to
your question, why.
BERTHA DE VALLE-DIAZ: Mm-hmm. There is a line from “Tipping Point” that took
our attention, where you say, “I told him I did not belong to any nation on earth.”


BERTHA DE VALLE-DIAZ: Could you explain what you meant by that? We want to
make sure.

FRED MARCHANT: I really want to thank you so much, all of you. First of all, that you
read the work, and that you should go to that line. I mean I have chills, okay. I want you to
know. I'm not kidding you. And it’s hot in here. Let me tell you about the poem, and then
I’ll go right to answer your question directly, and why that line was in there. I should have
brought the book, but it would take up valuable time of ours to read the whole poem. But,
suffice it to say, you all—since you’ve read it.

But, for the record, the poem is one of the set of poems in my first book that address my
relationship to the Marine Corps, the United States Marine Corps, and the American war in
Vietnam. And I was in the Marine Corps for two years, from 1968 to 1970. That in the—in
the second year of that, I was supposed to be in for three years. In the second year of that, I
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was on my way to Vietnam and was—I was an officer. I was a lieutenant. And I was on—
assigned to a unit in Okinawa, an island that is now the southernmost island of Japan. It’s
off the China coast and above Taiwan.

And—But in those days, and it is still these days. What it really is, among other things, is
it’s an enormous American military presence, from the Air Force to the Marine Corps. And
the Third Marine Division lives there, and lived there then. And the Third Marine Division
was mostly in Vietnam. And that’s where I was assigned. But, as it turned out, on my way
to the airport in Okinawa to go to Vietnam, it was the—somebody noticed that that
particular unit I was assigned to was coming back to Okinawa forever. That was the first
unit that came out of Vietnam as a result of Richard Nixon’s Vietnamization policy. Since
you're historians, you understand. Sooner or later, that will come across your desk, what
happened in 1969 after Nixon was elected.

In any case, so I was assigned. I stayed in Okinawa, and I supposed to stay there six
months. And I was assigned to the military police. And I became, quite by accident, I was
a young lieutenant. And there weren’t that many of them who weren’t injured or whatnot. I
became the deputy chief of police for the Marine Corps, these six bases on the island. And
what that really meant was, I had a platoon of MPs and 400 [inaudible] Okinawan security
guards to worry about.

But a desk, and an office. And actually, that office had stateside magazine subscriptions.
And in early December of 1969, Life Magazine, a photographic magazine came across my
desk. And it was—in that was the first pictures that had been—that were released of the
My Lai Massacre. Does that ring a bell for you folks?


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FRED MARCHANT: Well, this was when, and the year prior to that, that release, that a
battalion of US Army personnel assaulted a complex of villages and killed numbers. You
know, there were varying degrees of numerical assessment. But at least 400 women,
children, and old people. And it was—and as it turned—and there were some who tried to
stop it, too. Some of those soldiers tried to stop it. And some took photographs for that
reason, actually. And some of those photographs eventually were released. And there
was—this was an enormously important moment in the history of the war, and an
enormously important history in my own life. I turned the page, saw the photographs, and
said to the ceiling, and to the world, and to myself, I said, “I'm not a Nazi. It’s not what I
joined to do.” They killed women, children, and old people.

And then somehow, that began a six month process of reassessing what I had done by
joining the Marine Corps, and I wanted to go to Vietnam to write about it. And so—About
ten months later, I was actually discharged from the Marine Corps, as a conscientious
objector, honorably discharged—another story, difficult in its own way. But this most
important—I was evaluated by everybody on, all up and down the chain of command. But
the most important person was the commanding general on the island. And because I was
the deputy provost marshal, I actually knew him, and he knew me a little bit.

And he interviewed me for four hours to test my sincerity, to test whether or not I was, you
know, sincere, and claiming that I was against war, in general, all wars, all times. And so
we had a long talk. And half of it was devoted to him telling me about how, as a—as a
general in Vietnam, how much he hated the killing. And you know, the losing of,
obviously, his own troops. But also, the atmosphere of killing. He later became the
director, the commandant of the Marine Corps. He was on the way up. And—and his
sincerity—I wasn’t testing his sincerity, but he was very sincere with me, too.

And that he was the man who said to me, in that long conversation as we were comparing
notes about what our attitudes were toward war, and especially toward killing. And he had
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asked me, you know, the standard questions that everybody asks conscientious objectors,
you know. “What if—What if some invading Army is coming in and raping your
grandmother?” that kind of question. “What would you do?”

And those hypothetical questions are really fruitless, you know. They go nowhere. They're
not even legally binding. I can tell you, however you answer them. However, you know, as
a human being, it’s worth talking about. And so I said, “Okay.” I said, “We can talk about
these things, you know. But you have to grant me the possibility that having a nation go to
war over this or that reason, that we know about is not the same thing.” So we talked about
And then he said, “But, you know, Lieutenant, every man has a tipping point. It’s a place
where his principles give way.” And I sat there, and I thought. We were having—we drank
Cokes, actually. I had Cokes from the—from his refrigerator. And I had a sip of my Coke.
And I said, “Well, you may or may not be right about human nature.” I said, “But I don’t
belong to any nation on earth.” And I don’t know where that came from. I mean I almost
got, “Don’t be a wise guy, right. You know, you're talking to the general, whose word on
this is going to really seal my fate.”

But what I meant was, that—that—and this is my—you know. I'm so—you're the first—
I've done numbers of interviews over the years. You're the first persons who have asked
me about that line. And it’s one of my most cherished lines in my poetry. And what I
meant by it was that a nation that I had—was part of, that I owed allegiance to, that I had
signed contracts to stay with, didn’t own me. I had a relationship with it. I was willing to
talk about it and to do—and I was talking about breaking the law, if I had to disobey an
order, what would happen to me, I said to the general and so forth. And I didn’t want to go
to jail, you know. But again, I was saying, I didn’t belong to the nation. I didn’t—I wasn’t
owned by it. I was going to make this decision on the basis of what I thought, you know,
was right.
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And so I may have said it in a slightly snarky way, you know. I'm sure I said nice things
around it so as to not to make it feel like I was, you know, confident that he was going to
take it. But the truth of the matter is, I meant it. I didn’t belong to any nation on earth.

And then it gets even more complicated. This is, of course, in the other sense of belonging,
you know, my parents, they live here. I'm coming back here. This is home. And so, in
some way, I belong there, in that sense of being part of, as opposed to being owned by.
And that was kind of the distinction I was making at the end of the poem, that—that yeah,
maybe—maybe he’s right. Everybody has a tipping point, you know, that the business
about how torture—everybody will talk under torture, right. All of that.

I wasn’t going to debate him about human nature. But I was going to say that, you know,
just because I am an American doesn’t mean I stop thinking about what I think is right and
wrong. And it doesn’t—the country doesn’t own my head. And yet, you know, there I am.
I'm in Okinawa. I'm asking for this privileged position of being a conscientious objector
and being let out of my contract. And what would I do if it happened? I’d go home. So I
did, in fact, belong somewhere, you know. Thank you for that question.

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: Very insightful. However, now I'm starting to begin to wonder,
how did your time in the Marine Corps affect your thoughts on poetry and writing?
FRED MARCHANT: Yeah. It’s also a very profound question for me. And I thank you
for asking it. There's another poem in that, there's three good poems in which I say is going
to—I'm going to pay for this, having done this Marine Corps business, right. I'm going to
pay twenty years silence. Well unfortunately, it was true. It really—I didn’t know what to
do with this. I had joined, out of a desire to go to the war and write about it, I knew the war
was wrong since I was a senior in college. But somebody’s got to go and write about it.
Well, that was a bit of a rationalization and a self-delusion. It was callow and shallow. And
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I wasn’t thinking about what it meant for the people who would be on the other end of the

In the aftermath of that, I didn’t know—you know, I really didn’t know what it meant for
me. I thought of myself as a writer, but didn’t write that much. I went to graduate school. I
realized how little I knew, anyway. And that was probably one of the things that this
experience taught me, taught me humility. I really had made a big mistake. And so I
really—I really loved being—studying.

And I had always thought I would teach, you know. And when I started at Suffolk, I
thought that this is what I would do. But as it turned out, I finished the doctoral
dissertation, which was on—I wrote on three American poets in their early years. It was
Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens.

And I smile, because it wasn’t this simple. But the end result of writing on all three of
those poets in their early years was, “Damn, I’d better pay more attention to writing poetry
and stop worrying about, you know, with what the grades are in my class, right.” And
that—so I finished my dissertation within a year later. That’s when I left Suffolk, to just
find my way as a writer.

When I was at Harvard, teaching only one class, but had enough money to live on, I felt
two things. I felt I really enjoyed teaching. And I wasn’t going to stop teaching. And two,
that I really enjoyed writing. And that the idea would be to figure how to do it without sort
of making them in conflict with one another. And—I'm trying to think. How does that
relate to the Marine Corps? Probably not very—not very much at all, all things considered.

I was—I was growing beyond that, at that—beyond. The Marine Corps, the whole
impression of Vietnam changed my life in so many ways. Actually, I can answer that. Now
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I realize that so much of my—another part of my life has been really an affirmative effort
at, for lack of better words, we’ll call it peace work. So I wouldn’t—I'm not saying I'm a
sort of constant activist.
But all of my life’s work has, in some way or another, been, devoted to affirming and
doing what's needed to minimize, and at least to diminish the causes, and the experience
of, and the effects of violent action. So I mean that both in terms of my smaller world of
my local life, and in the larger world of our country and its place in the world. So over
those years, all sorts of things. We have been very active in various organizations. Let’s
leave it at that for the moment.

But I think teaching is peace work, now that I say it. It is. You know, I mean—you know,
I’ll give you another example of that. One of the great joys of my life, much later in my
time at Suffolk, is that aforementioned Ken Greenberg, who is a professor of history. You
should take courses with him, after you finish with Professor Reeve. But Ken and I, for
several years, would teach a course on the Vietnam War; on the history, literature, and the
film of the Vietnam War. And—and that was one of the great joys of my teaching life.

And a corollary of that is that I—I would do some writing workshops over at UMass
Boston, with the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences. As
a result of that, I met many Vietnamese writers over the years, and did some—met some
Vietnamese friends as helping, did some co-translation of Vietnamese poetry. And over
those years, many of those writers have come to Suffolk to visit, especially when Ken and
I were teaching that course on the history and literature and the film of the Vietnam War.
So that’s another way in which the Marine Corps business has affected my writing and my

BERTHA DE VALLE-DIAZ: So I wanted to ask you, as a poet and a person who also
worked in a different field, what advice would you give to a Suffolk student or other—any
other student who loves writing poetry, and the wait between, you know, that passion and
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devotion and time that it’s needed? And also, having a career and a professional life in a
different field? Do you have any advice that you would--?

FRED MARCHANT: Well, you know I do. I may not be always—not everything I say
may be applicable to every single writer and student writer I would meet. But, you know,
here and there, people put things together as how to do it. So I'm going to begin in the
inner life, you know, taking care of that part of you that wants to write. It’s so easy for the
world to sort of, you know, pile on and distract you and whatnot. And so it really does
require that you pay attention to that part of you that wants to write.

Now, what do I mean by paying attention to it? Well, you could be very strict. You could
say, “Damn it, I'm going to write every day, starting at 6:30 in the morning until 9:30. And
then I’ll go to my classes.” Of course that never works, you know. Everyone—Life is too
complicated. But if you—if you were to give yourself a good—a good dose of kindness,
and say that, you know, that really and truly, every day of your life should somehow
involve your writing self in some way. Tthat you don’t—you don’t let a day go by. Maybe
you don’t write that day, but you’ve done something that makes you—makes writing part
of your—So what you're doing is you're keeping in that flame nourished.
Like for instance, like let’s say you have a very busy schedule for exams or whatnot, you
know. But you could at least read a poem, or you could go to a reading, or you could—you
know, you could sit down with someone and talk even. I'm, over the years, I thought for so
long, I thought, “Oh, I'm not writing anything. It means I'm not a writer.” And I've seen
student writers, so many times, use similar kinds of judgments, saying, “You know, I'm not
doing X. Or I haven't accomplished X. That means I'm not a writer.” I really resist that. I
think that whatever it is that moves you to write, is something that is yours to take care of,
and not beat up, saying, “You know, you should do this. And you should do that.”

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Now, that’s my nicer side, my kinder side. The other part of me says, however, that even—
even when you're twenty-one or so, life—you know, life does not go on forever. And
there's a lot of work to be done. And what I've learned and believed and what I say, you
know, to you folks, as student writers, is that you’ve got to read a lot. You really can't do it
without reading. And—and that means, okay, sometimes taking courses. But also, you’ve
got to believe in language that way. And I say reading, you know, it means it really just—
you have to sort of commit yourself, and—and not fool around.

So, when you're not writing, you should read, as a writer. That’s what I think, you know.
One last—maybe a good thing. Well, two last little good things. I do believe that writing is
a process, that—that—and the most important teacher for me in my life was a man named
William Stafford, who did write every day in the morning. But what he did was, he—you
all know what free writing is now, right? It's a normal thing in writing courses, where, you
know, a blank of piece of paper, you just write down whatever comes to mind, as a way of
getting started.
Well, you know, thirty and forty years ago, fifty years ago, that wasn’t so common in
educational circles. Bill Stafford, though, he wrote beautifully about that. And that’s what
he did. Every day, he would lay down on his couch in the morning darkness, and he would
take out a backing, and he would start writing on a piece of paper, whatever came to mind.
And it would be the beginning of a poem, you know.

The other end of the spectrum, there are other folks—I know this for sure, fiction writers,
who really do write every day, and make sure that they are going somewhere, they're
designing, you know, their plots and whatnot. And I always envy them, because they
always know what to do tomorrow morning. I wish I did. [Laughter] All I know is I've got
to go get a blank piece of paper tomorrow.
BERTHA DE VALLE-DIAZ: That’s also maybe more about poetry than fiction.
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FRED MARCHANT: Yeah, I think so—

BERTHA DE VALLE-DIAZ: --fiction writing and poetry.


BERTHA DE VALLE-DIAZ: Poetry may be inspiring, some might say.

FRED MARCHANT: Yeah, I think you're right. I do think you're right on that.

DANAIL MITKOV KOYCHEV: So you taught at Suffolk for a long time. What were
some of the significant institutional changes that you witnessed?

FRED MARCHANT: Yeah, wonderful question. I love the way in which Suffolk has
grown up in the last thirty years or forty years. And when I say that, I mean that, you
know, that it was prudential, in its mid-twentieth century construction, really wonderful. It
really served a wonderful purpose in this city. Also in Providence, I might add. So many
people from Providence would take the train up as a commuter, you know. And I always
used to like it in class when somebody from Providence was in my class. I always thought
it was—and I always felt that Suffolk, when they arrived, it was sort of—it felt very much
like my neighborhood, you know.

However, I think that over the course of the years from the mid-1970s through the present
tense, Suffolk has necessarily widened its understanding of its role, of its demographics, of
its educational offerings. And I say that with some pride, because at the forefront of that is
the College of Arts and Sciences that you folks are in. I mean that. You know, I'm sure
other people in this building would debate me, right, on that. But I know, in almost factual

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ways, how the College of Arts and Sciences, in its educational innovations, in its residence
halls, in its student activities, you know, the whole array of student activities, in its theatre.

And I guess I have to say it this way, without patting myself on the shoulder or professors,
but you know, it’s faculty, too, an extraordinary flowering, efflorescence of intellectual
activity. And that sounds pretty pompous, doesn’t it? But still, you know, it really was—
you know, it was really nice to be a part of that, and to see, you know, to see how Suffolk
rediscovered its roots, for instance, in educational opportunity for marginalized

That was one of the great contributions of David Sargent when he kind of learned, because
he was really a pure product of the mid-century of Suffolk. And he kind of, with the help
of some faculty members, Paul Korn, for instance, Judy Dushku, helped him see that
Suffolk had its origins. The law school had its origins in addressing a need in the early part
of the twentieth century, where Southern Europeans, Jews, I forget who—some other
marginalized populations couldn’t get into law schools in this city or this area. They were
not allowed. You know, it wasn’t by law, it was just, you know, never done, right?

And the founder of Suffolk, you know, being a shrewd Yankee from Maine, thought,
“Hmm, there's a population here who want to be educated. And I think I can do
something.” And he invented the law school in his parlor in Roxbury. And then got some
offices just down the street, just down the street that way, on Tremont Street. And that’s
the beginning of Suffolk.

And I don’t know fully the details. I can't remember exactly how many, you know, all the
populations. But it was clear that there was one story that told everyone, that he told
everyone, and that eventually David Sargent started to tell everyone. And that is, that the—
that the dean of the Harvard—or the president of Harvard, dean or—I forget. The president
of Harvard—let’s say the president—heard about this law school trying to get incorporated
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by—you know, approved by the state. And he came down to the State House and told the
Governor or his legislators, “You can't make”—how does it go? “You can't make a silk
purse out of a sow’s ear,” a line from Shakespeare. The meaning, you know, it wasn’t that.
It was a variation. “You can't make thoroughbred race horses out of draft horses.” And
then he probably said the Shakespeare line.

Well, you know, I'm sure for the first half of Suffolk’s life they said, “The hell with you
folks. We’ll show you.” And that was rediscovered, I think, in our time. And I think David
helped with that. Obviously, the residence halls changed the tenor of the school.

But you know, I have a certain parochial and narrow focus that I wanted to say, one of the
really interesting things that happened in the mid-nineties was Suffolk having a friendly
acquisition of the New England School of Art and Design, which had been down on
Newbury Street, had a very nice fancy building down there. But they were going under.
They were, you know, whatever that reasons were. And there was a friendly takeover.
They—you know, that someone thought that they could do something good with that—that

I always thought that was really, you know, kind of visionary on the part of whoever made
that decision, because it happened to coincide with several other artistic impulses going on
inside the College of Arts and Sciences. There was my dear friend, Marilyn Plotkins, you
know, and really starting to make the theatre work, when it was still over on—the C.
Walsh Theatre on the other side of the Hill.

And it was also the time when I said to that dean who I had mentioned before, Dean
Ronayne, I said, “Would you do me a favor, and let me out of these various administrative
responsibilities that I was in,” directing these programs? “Do me a favor. Let me out, and
I’ll invent a creative writing program for you.” And I had—I had tried to get out of these
things before, so many times, I had bothered him so many times. He said, “Okay.”
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Well, so around mid-1990s, that’s when I started, you know—We had informal
workshops, students volunteered to do once every other week workshops, because I needed
to establish the fact that there were enough student writers who were interested. And so I
just kept the record for a couple of years. And it was 1996, I think, that the Creative
Writing Program started. And it was small. But all within five years, it expanded

But the reason why I mentioned the New England School of Art and Design, that process
started—And there was at least an awareness that, in a school that had seemed to be mostly
devoted to practical things, some impractical matters really could—some impractical
things could play a role, too.
And I have to tell you another story, okay. So hold onto your hats. I’ll give you an example
of just the surprising things about Suffolk. You asked about the institutional changes. And
I say, because there's a story about David Sargent rediscovering the roots of Suffolk. He
probably would say I always knew it. But you know, it felt like he had rediscovered them.

In a smaller way, when I first started working at Suffolk, the law school faculty lounge had
a wall of old books under lock and key, in a grilled bookshelf, lock and key. And I learned
from the English Department this was the Irving Zieman Collection, Z-I-E-M-A-N, of
poetry. You might ask, what the hell is it doing in the law faculty lounge? And why is it
locked up? Well, there was no place for it. It wasn’t going to circulate. The library was
so—it was in the Sawyer Building going down into the basement. No, no. Before that, it
was even in a smaller space, in the Donahue Building. Remember, just two floors.
PROFESSOR REEVE: That’s before me.

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FRED MARCHANT: Yeah. And there was no place for it. Well, as the Creative Writing
Program started to really take off, again, this was in the last year or two of his deanship, I
spoke to Mike Ronayne. And I said, “You know, we really ought to do something with that
Zieman Poetry Collection, you know.” And it happened to coincide with the arrival of the
new librarian, Bob Dugan, and the beginnings of the present tense library over in 73
Tremont. That didn’t exist yet. Bob was still running a library over in the Sawyer Building.
But he was lobbying.

And so he and I joined forces. And Mike Ronayne said, “Well, I've always thought that.”
Like a good dean, he was going to be—wasn’t going to be behind. He was ahead of the
curve, right. He said, “Yeah, we ought to do something with that collection.” And
suddenly, Suffolk came into the possession of the 73 Tremont building, that the school
evaluators—what are they called? The accreditors said, “You really need a bigger library
for the undergraduates.” And boom.

And Bob Dugan, the then-librarian, he was so good to me. He let me do all the thinking,
and he did all of the administrative work for designing the Poetry Center. But he really
believed in it. And so we have that space. And that, too, seems to me, if you ask me, that’s
a very important institutional change.

And I always worried over the years, that, you know, that there was a movement for a
while to turn it into the all-purpose utility room or something, some strange name like that.
And Dugan fought that tooth and nail, right? And every time, I remember thinking, during
that, every time somebody said, “Where’s the Poetry Center?” I said, “Yep.” One little
more—One little notch in the building saying, “Yep, that’s what that place is,” right?
And guess where the Irving Zieman Poetry Collection is right now. It’s in the back room of
the Poetry Center. And it still isn't used properly, because it takes—it’s going to take—it’s
going to take a new librarian to commit some time and people to it. But what it is, is 400
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books of poetry, donated by a man in 1956, who himself had never gone to college, who
had two hobbies. One was collecting old good books of poetry, and the other was writing
couplets about the streets of Boston. And he made a fortune in housing supplies in the
aftermath of World War II. And so he was a rich guy.

And this was his hobby. And the books, we had them assessed, you know, informally by a
real, you know, book dealer. And he said that, you know, that—so the many books there
that are really wonderful and old and in good condition, and they are also elsewhere,
they're not rare. So he said that, “So what you have is a really nice old book collection with
two or three rare books, to be honest.” But he said, “What you have, also, is something that
could be really interesting as time goes on, to students who might be—let’s just any—
poets, obviously.” But I was thinking, too, like librarians.

What if we had an undergraduate, you know, what if the library had a course even, you
know, or did something like this, where there was a practical dimension to using the Irving
Zieman Poetry Collection, so that somebody graduating from Suffolk will apply to
Simmons College Library Graduate Program, would have that kind of experience. You
know, it’d be great.

Anyway, I'm sort of daydreaming and blue skying it right now. But that sort of part of the
thinking, that the Poetry Center could have multiple purposes. Its primary purpose has
been as a meeting place so far.

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: Just add to your memory, just think, last week ago, someone asked
me, where was the Poetry Center.

FRED MARCHANT: Is that right?

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: Yep, and the library.
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FRED MARCHANT: Oh, that’s great.

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: Yeah. And if my memory serves correctly, you were there last

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: You were at Clio’s Table. Yeah.

FRED MARCHANT: Yep. And Clio—Clio’s Table was, you know, really interesting,
wasn’t it?


FRED MARCHANT: I think they're—I love the idea. As I joke, I said, you know, the
History Department is my second favorite department. Because you do things like that, and
this, you know. There's such—there's such good thinking involved.
NICHOLAS NUNEZ: I liked the Clio’s Table too. But we do have a question. You're a
well known poet yourself, with numerous awards. And we notice that your Poetry Center
has associated readings from award-winning authors, such as James Carroll. How do you
manage to network with other authors and bring them to the Poetry Center?

FRED MARCHANT: That’s a very nice question. I consider myself, even though I'm
retired and emeritus and all that, I consider myself a student of poetry and writing, no
matter what. You know, I think there's – I never stop learning. And so I'm always curious.
And there are writers that I admire, and who I know I can learn things from. And then there
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are writers who I think, you know, speak to the present tense moment. And we could all
learn things from that way.

And then there were younger writers too, you know. Like the principle of our work at the
Poetry Center—I’ll tell you more about the more famous people in a minute. But the
principle has always been that, in any given semester, we—we need to have writers in the
three stages of development, you know. Their emerging years, the mid stages, you know,
and then their, you know, glory years, right, you know. And we don’t really know how
that’s going to work out in any given year, you know. But that’s sort of the basic idea that
we—we’d want. And then we’d use that as a kind of template.
And so, you know, when I say emerging writers, you know, it’s good for students to see
really famous writers. But it’s also good for student writers to see writers who are not, you
know, forty years down the road from them, right, but like ten years or fifteen years down
the road. They can see something of what they might want to do or be. So that’s an
important dimension of it.

And you know, because I live in Boston, and we all—it’s a writer-rich community. So it’s
pretty easy to have emerging writers. The problem is actually saying no to people, right.
Because I've been around, I know writers, in the mid stages of their careers, and probably
for the same, in the same way, that this is a writer-rich community.

So, for instance, we just recently had, about three weeks ago, we had a reading on a
Sunday afternoon, in which three writers from a small press, but a really good poetry press
in New York called Four Way Books. We were celebrating their 25th anniversary. And so
we had a writer who was really established, Dan Tobin, who is—books in poetry, and he’s
down at Emerson. And then we had a woman in the mid-range named Joan Houlihan, who
teaches at Lesley and Clark University. And then we had a writer with her first book, or

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second book—but her first book with Four Way, come up from New York City. And so
they sort of represented that tripartite template.

Now, having said that, some other good things have happened over the years. When I
decided to retire, I really hated the idea of a retirement party. You know, I said it sounded
like a funeral, you know, come on. And I had been to a lot of them, too. They had
sometimes even felt like a funeral. Forget it. So I thought about it, thought about it, thought
about it, and thought, the best thing I could do, in the way of having a retirement party,
would be to have a fundraiser for the Poetry Center. And so I entered the world of
advancement, as we call it in university life, you know, raising money for the school.

Now that was interesting in its own way. What we did is we had an evening of readings. A
bunch of people, friends of mine, all told about seventeen or eighteen of them, read a poem
or two. But we charged for the theatre, we charged a lot of money, and encouraged people
to give more. And we brought in a lot of money, more than we thought, a lot more than we
thought. In fact, even sort of tripling what we thought we would get. And we had a couple
of people who were major donors. And indeed, remain so, and want to be anonymous, you

So all of that is all news to me. I had never thought about that before. But then I realized
that I had a responsibility to use that money properly. Oh my God, I was retiring, and now
I've got a job again. This time I'm doing it as a volunteer, you know. And on the other
hand, I thought, hmm. This is also really good, you know, for the long term benefit of the
Poetry Center or for the students, for—oh I don’t know, for the community around us, for
Boston, right?

So I talked to a lot of people. And what we decided to do was, once a year, use some of
that money to bring an absolutely famous writer, really famous, and have that person spend
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two days or a day and a half with us, you know, an afternoon with students, and an evening
for the public, so to speak, including Stevens. And we've done that now, the four times—
three times with poets, and now this fourth one is going to be a fiction writer this spring,
Carmen [Maria Machado], a really wonderful fiction writer, younger person. And that’s
going to be paid out of the money that we—The deans allowed us to put that money—it’s
not making any money without investing it. But it’s preserved in the Dean’s Office so that
we can draw upon it for that one event a year. And then we don’t use up the budgets for
other things with that. Does that—

Where are we in our questions? [Laughter]

DANAIL MITKOV KOYCHEV: Can we have a time check at all?
PROFESSOR REEVE: Of course. It’s five of four. And it’s the question if you're—


NICHOLAS NUNEZ: You're still doing well?


DANAIL MITKOV KOYCHEV: All right. What would you say you enjoyed the most at

FRED MARCHANT: Good. Thank you. So I was thinking, what haven't I talked about,
that I would like to talk about? You know, I like to talk about the classroom. And also, the
way in which the classroom has changed over the past many years in my association.
When I first started teaching at Suffolk, it was—it was pretty sort of, standard, right? You
walk in and stand in front of the class. You lecture, ask, generate some questions, a couple
of exchanges. You use the blackboard and do some tests, right. I mean that’s of course, I'm
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making it sound that way, because some schools what would happen is so much better.
And they had some excitement.

But still, over the years, very gradually at first, but then in the last fifteen years with great
rapidity, the classroom—the tenor, the feel of the classroom has changed dramatically, I
think, so that you know, the kind of activities that you are doing right now are, as learning
experiences, become so much more prominent. And I'm going to say something again
that’s real parochial, okay.
But what it is, it’s the workshop model that’s very much like the creative writing
workshops. Creative writing workshops that I’ve taught, all involve the students doing
things, learning by doing. They write. And they talk with each other about writing. And
even—even that talking, itself is instructive. And so, from my point of view, as a creative
writing teacher all these many years, what's happened, I think, in the classroom, is that—is
that the—well, I’ll put it this way. The best courses have a kind of workshop feel to them.
You know, they differ. But this is even more important, when you think about sciences.
Because sciences have always had labs, you know.

I used to do interdisciplinary teaching, I would talk to my science colleagues, and you
know, fellow teachers. And we would talk. And I would say the writing workshop is like
the lab. Well now there are more labs, if you will. And teaching and learning is more lab
oriented. And—And, I mean, I don’t—you know, I'm not one of those people who are
against lectures. I like lectures, you know. And I like—I like readings, and people reading,
and talking about their readings, and writing papers. So I don’t do that—I don’t say that—I
think that’s profoundly meaningful.

On the other hand, I think the sense of student activity in the classroom is really, you
know, it’s a very pleasing—to me, it’s a very pleasing evolution of classroom teaching. I’d
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also—I'm looking at a TV, you know, monitor and all. And the presence of electronic stuff
in the classroom, of course changed—was part of the impetus of the last fifteen years, all
of that energy, you know, and machinery at work. And I have to admit, that at first I was
thrown by it.

But when I began to make my peace with the electronic revolution, when I saw how cool it
was to use—oh geez, I'm going to forget the name—you know, instead of using
transparencies that are projected?


FRED MARCHANT: But no, not the PowerPoint, the—the screen where I could put
something on the—


FRED MARCHANT: What's it called? Well, now—now you can see, this is
embarrassing. But whatever that is. You know, and all of a sudden, that was my—and I
could actually write on it, you know.

BERTHA DE VALLE-DIAZ: The board that you write?
FRED MARCHANT: What’s it called?
NICHOLAS NUNEZ: It’s a camera. It’s a thing on the bottom—

FRED MARCHANT: It’s a camera, right, and the camera on the bottom. So that my
transparencies and all of that, they could go on there. But I could put poems up there. And
that really started to—that really helped me with my teaching. And then, of course, then
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the Internet. And you know, I started—You know, when I would start to do the more
complex, advanced courses, I relied on Internet material all the time. And it was always,
you know, thrilling.
For instance, when I’d teach a course, say, in modern poetry, in modern American poetry,
and there's so much material, for instance, about things like the invention of modern art.
You know, the visual qualities of non-representational art, for instance, was so—it’s so
helpful to have that when I'm teaching; modern poetry, sort of seeing to understand some
of the things that are similar in that.

And then finally, films, you know. And here’s where Professor Greenberg, we’re very
close friends, but he always used to like—just like he did the other day, he liked snippets.
Me, I like the whole film, or at least, an hour, right? He liked the—“Let’s do a snippet,
right, and talk about it.” And I think that it is really an interesting dilemma, how much of
the electronic material to use.
And when—when passivity creeps in that’s an important concern, it would seem, for both
teacher and student. But you know, the classroom itself is—And I want to say that I get—I
really do love the way in which Suffolk made a commitment to making the classroom
electronically contemporary, you know. And that’s pretty good.


FRED MARCHANT: I think the law school led the way on that, too, by the way, this
building [Sargent Hall] was so well done that it made everything else look bad by
comparison. So we had to, you know, ramp up the rest of the school, right?

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: Well, Suffolk has the law school graduate type of these buildings.
So the undergrads kind of have to, you know—
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FRED MARCHANT: -- yeah, exactly—

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: --work towards. They have something to work towards, right?

FRED MARCHANT: Yeah. And also, you know, I think this—I shouldn’t say this, but
my prediction is that Sargent Hall will be a multi-purpose building, you know, as it is
somewhat, in small ways. But in the past, it was purely the law school. And now it’s not
purely. The business school has some dimensions of it. And you know, there are all these
other good things here, like what we’re doing.
NICHOLAS NUNEZ: It’s a notable change, for sure.

FRED MARCHANT: It is, it is.

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: You expanded on what you did after you retired at Suffolk. But
could you expand on why you decided to retire?

FRED MARCHANT: Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, when—I could have kept
teaching until about right about now. You know, I'm now 71. And you know, I certainly
had enough energy to do it. But it's also true that I'm not going to live forever. And I did
really want to have a piece of my life in which I really did devote myself utterly, or as
much as I could, to my own writing. And then something, you know, really quite
miraculous happens. Suffolk ran into a little bit of financial difficulty, and offered—
offered people like me a free—a year, another sabbatical, in effect, a year’s salary.

So all of a sudden, I had to calculate, how long would I teach if I had—if I was teaching
that year? And then I was trying to think, that I was really just sort of like depriving myself
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Oral History Interview of Fred Marchant (SOH-048)
only of a couple of years of teaching. When I was sixty-six, and this happened, I was sixtysix-sixty-seven, I said, “Hmm. The sabbatical? A whole year with a paycheck? Hmm.
Trade me a couple of years of teaching. You know, I can work for three more years and get
my paycheck,” but I said, “I think that my calling toward writing poems is going to take
priority.” And so I did.
Now, I also made a deal with myself and God and the dean, I said, “I'm not going to
disappear,” because one of the things I noticed about our era at Suffolk is that there had
never been a consistent emeritus presence, a retired professor’s presence. In the law school,
more so, but not in the college. And I started saying to everyone then, and to the dean then,
and to the president and so forth, that I think that’s one of the things I'm going to do, is I'm
not going to disappear. I'm going to stay connected to the Poetry Center.

At first, they wanted to pay me a little adjunct money to do that, you know. And I said,
“Oh, that’s a trap. You know, because all of a sudden I'm going to be totally thinking I'm
not earning my money. I better do this and that.” So I said, “No, I want to volunteer.” And
so I stayed in relationship to the Poetry Center and the English Department, but mostly the
Poetry Center, with my colleagues Jennifer Barber, George Kalogeris, Amy Monticello,
Wyatt Bonikowski, Quentin Miller, we all—we meet, the Creative Writing Program meet.
You know, and I have a moral presence. I don’t have a voting presence in big things. But,
you know, I have a moral presence.

And, you know, and I take some responsibility. We all take on responsibility, put on one
reading per year, at least. And I do that. And I've done that. And so where I am right now, I
want to maintain my relationship. Oh yeah, they visit classes. I should have said that. I get
invited to visit my colleagues’ classes. And I do – And that is really sweet, because I don’t
think about grades or anything. I just get the pleasure of meeting the students, talk about
this good stuff.

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Oral History Interview of Fred Marchant (SOH-048)
And so I feel like it’s—to answer your question, it’s age-appropriate. I started thinking,
yep. When I was thinking too, I'm sixty-six. How long am I going to teach? Maybe to
seventy, have a year—they’re offering me a year. But I'm not going to leave. And so I had
to negotiate all that stuff in my mind and with the school. And as it turns out, it’s kind of
fun, because nobody—nobody expects it. In the first year or so, everybody’s, “What are
you doing here?” I said, “What do you mean? Why not?”

And what always struck me, is that my cohort of faculty have had the responsibility of
inventing things like this. And so, you know, people like John Berg, he does his thing,
right? And people stay connected in different ways. Nancy, I've known—Mrs. Stoll, you
know, as an administrator, she wants to stay connected, although she’s not going to be
doing what she did, right? And then, so I think the answer is that it started to look ageappropriate.

My wife, too, began to think about retirement at the same time, and that sort of thing. So
life—So it wasn’t—it wasn’t getting—You know, I wasn’t happy to get—I was really
happy not to have to do certain administrative chores. But other than that, I wasn’t—I
missed teaching. But I do workshops and whatnot. And so you know, I still had my
teacher’s heart.

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: So if I could just focus in on one thing you said, it was the


NICHOLAS NUNEZ: Emeritus. Did you convince the dean to make an emeritus
professor system?


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Oral History Interview of Fred Marchant (SOH-048)
FRED MARCHANT: No, no, they existed. Emeritus professors existed. But people
would sort of disappear, you know. They would retire, and we’d never see them again.
And, we all thought, that doesn’t make sense. We should be—In fact, I was with a
professor, no—President Kelly, when thinking about the Emeritus Professor Society, that
we’re going to try to form, you know, a group, a committee anyway, she was saying, every
school—Emeritus professors have lots more to do with the life of the school. It’s a
resource, you know. And it’s all goodwill. You don’t have to pay them anything. You
know, they're happy. You're happy.

And she said, for instance—you know, what she asked me at this meeting, what would I—
what did I think of the idea of saying to the chairman of my old department , “In case one
of your faculty members gets sick, or has to go to a conference and needs somebody to
cover a class, I'm available.” Just putting myself on the list. I said, “That’s a great idea,
because I can't tell you how much that pleases me.” Not to say I’ll do it every time and all
of that. But you know, let’s say there are five people who are on that list. And someone
needs to go to a conference and they're away for a couple of days, right? So, you know,
you call them up and say, “Would you be interested and able to teach such and such,
right?” And I think that’s wonderful.

And then, you know, by contrast, my colleagues have invited me to visit and do a class.
And I find that to be totally the right thing. Like my colleague, Tony Merzlak, who was a
Shakespeare scholar, in his last semester, invited me to come in and talk about
Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And the sound of the poetry, and the
diversification, sounds very esoteric until you look at the play, and realize that it’s
practically the most important thing in the play. And that people, when they're dreaming,
talk one way. And people when they're not dreaming, talk another way. We’ll put it that


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Oral History Interview of Fred Marchant (SOH-048)
And I so enjoyed that class. And he so enjoyed having me. And we could—because
teaching is often a lonely profession, too, you know. There you are, by yourself, all that
responsibility for all those human beings in the room, right? And so it’s really nice to be
able to talk things out with a colleague in public. And that’s also one of the things I—
Speaking about how things evolved.
I don’t know if it’s possible anymore. It’s something that probably should be revisited. But
for a while, it was possible for co-teaching to occur, for two teachers in the same room,
sometimes with a large class, which is okay, and get paid as a normal class, counted as one
of your classes. That kind of co-teaching can be more difficult, then, because you really got
to work things out with the other person.

But what happens for the students is just so spectacular, is you start to learn that education,
an important topic, certainly, needs to be approached via dialogue, you know. That there
isn't a kind of papal authority at the front of the room. You know, there really is an inquiry
that has to be made. And people have to learn how to think together.

So when Ken Greenberg and I would teach together, we never told each other what we
were going to talk about. We had a general topic, but we didn’t—we didn’t say, “What do
you think of this?” I would say something, and you’d find out what he thought, and viceversa. And sometimes he’d say something and I’d say, “Wait a minute.” I’d raise my hand
like a student and say, “Wait. We’ve got to talk about that. I'm not so sure about that, you
know,” and so on.

And it’s really true. Pat will, I'm sure, agree that historians and literary people don’t
necessarily see eye to eye in everything, right? But it’s—but that’s how you get—that’s
where you get eyesight, stereoscopic vision, you know. Two different points of view. And
they sort of—when they start to come together, you really see something. That’s because
of my surgery. I'm – [laughter]
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Oral History Interview of Fred Marchant (SOH-048)

BERTHA DE VALLE-DIAZ: Is there something else that you would want to share, that
we haven't covered?

FRED MARCHANT: I'm going to say something about my impressions of the students
these days. The school feels so good. And it’s because of you. When I go to the Poetry
Center, for instance, and I mean, I have a privilege now of just looking, right? You know,
I've seen people working in the library. And I really feel—I honestly feel like the future of
Suffolk is really remarkably bright, really—you know, there was a lot of turbulence with
the presidents for the past, I don’t know, seven or eight years. And you know, if you take a
really long view, it probably was inevitable, given the long tenure of David Sargent and the
way things had sort of become firmly established, a law school first, and all that stuff.

So, you know, so maybe it was inevitable that there be a crisis. Maybe it went on too long,
but still. People were thrashing their way at the highest levels, thrashing their way through,
to make—to make the place work, you know. And—and I think Marisa Kelly is really
good. I really like her. And I think that she—And I think she’s an educator. She’s got to do
the fundraising and do all the things presidents do. But she really believes in this—in the

And so I'm glad for you. I'm confident that you're going to be okay, and your time here will
be really valuable in your lives. And that there will be another generation, and you’ll be
saying things to them like I'm saying to you, you know.

DANAIL MITKOV KOYCHEV: To finish with, what plans do you see this oral history
project having?


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Oral History Interview of Fred Marchant (SOH-048)
FRED MARCHANT: Oh, that’s such a good question. Pat told me about this. I
instantaneously see that it’s important. I'm delighted to be involved. One of the things
that—and this relates to that emeritus professors disappearing, people retire and disappear.
One of the things that an institution needs for its sustained well-being is an understanding
of itself, you know. Like you can't critique what you don’t know. You can't improve on
what you don’t realize. You can't—you can't apologize for the mistakes made. I thinking of
many other mistakes, right? You can't—

And so part of the work—I mean even, when I recall David Sargent talking about, in the
eighties, thinking about diversity, and thinking, holy cow, Suffolk was being diverse
before it was popular, right? That was a moment of self-awareness for the institution. And
so the archives really matter, you know, the Moakley Archives. The effort at oral history—
And, of course, everything I'm saying is, you know, it’s my individual point of view, and it
has to be fitted in with others and whatnot.

But collectively, the larger project, I think, allows there to be a record of understanding,
about what the institution is, and has been, and could be. And who knows what the other—
we were talking a bit. Who knows what we will do with it. Maybe some scholar will write
a history of Suffolk that we’ll ultimately use, and maybe not. Maybe somebody will just,
you know, wonder—ahh. Maybe someone will wonder about the history of the Poetry
Center. Well, guess what.

And, you know, maybe there's a new librarian. And there will be this year, or next, you
know. And maybe that person will say, “Hmm. Who is this Marchant guy?” right. And you
know, somebody might say, “Well, you could check it out in the Oral History Project.”
They could call me up too, but you know. [Laughter] But that’s what I mean. I think that
the project really does provide the foundation for self-understanding, and thereby making
good judgments about the present and the future.

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Oral History Interview of Fred Marchant (SOH-048)
PROFESSOR REEVE: Nice job, everybody.

FRED MARCHANT: Yeah, thank you. Wonderful questions. Thank you so much, really.


BERTHA DE VALLE-DIAZ: Wonderful answers.

NICHOLAS NUNEZ: Thank you for being here with us, Fred. And my colleagues,
Danial, Bertha, myself Nick, and also Professor Reeve.
FRED MARCHANT: All right, it’s great.

PROFESSOR REEVE: We really appreciate it.


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