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Poet Philip Schultz finds success in 'Failure,' comprehension in 'My Dyslexia'

“If I have to believe in something / I believe in despair," writes Philip Schultz in one of the poems in his most recent collection “The God of Loneliness: Selected and New Poems” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). While it might be unfair to refer to any writer--much less one so dedicated to the teaching of craft--as our "poet laureate of failure"(as some reviewers and critics have described Schultz), there is no contemporary American poet who has plumbed the depths of loss and self-doubt more thoroughly and unsparingly, and with such little sense of affectation as he has.

Schultz, who delivers the University at Buffalo’s 2011 Oscar Silverman Reading at 8 tonight in 250 Baird Hall on UB's North Campus, is the author of seven collections of poetry, including the volumes "Like Wings" (Viking Penguin, 1978), winner of an American Academy & Institute of Arts and Letters Award, "Deep Within the Ravine" (Viking, 1984), the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets, and "Failure" (Harcourt, 2007), for which he shared the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2008.

Earlier this year he published "My Dyslexia" (W.W. Norton), a memoir that relates how being diagnosed with a learning disability at age 58 (largely as a result of his oldest son Eli's diagnosis with the same condition in the second grade) changed his perspective on his own childhood, his early struggles as a reader and writer, and even how he processes information and his own experiences as an award-winning poet and teacher today. 

Born in Rochester in 1945, Schultz was the son of immigrant parents -- both his mother and father were Jewish refugees from World War Two era eastern Europe -- and grew up a working-class neighborhood of Rochester in the 1950's.  His early family life was difficult, as his father suffered one business failure after another, and died bankrupt of a stress-induced heart attack when Schultz was just 18. After many years of working on a Bildungsroman about that era, Schultz refashioned the material into the 81 poems that appear in his 2004 volume "Living in The Past" (Harcourt Books).

Schultz was the founder of the MFA program in Creative Writing at New York University in 1983, but after four years as its director, he set out on his own to create The Writers Studio, a non-degree granting, private school based in New York City's Greenwich Village in 1987.

Unlike most MFA programs, The Writers Studio features a five-stage curriculum that "emphasizes technique and emotional connection, making writers aware of the distinction between the actual writer and a narrative persona."  Currently in its 24th year of operation with Schultz as its executive director, The Writers Studio now features an online program, as well as offering workshops in three U.S. cities -- New York City, San Francisco, and Tucson -- and a new workshop in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  The New York City-based school also sponsors a celebrated poetry and fiction reading series.

--R.D. Pohl

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Poetry
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