Manning Inspires At Convocation

by Holly Brown

The first weekend of fall term is already behind us, and with it came the year’s first convocation. The first lecture took place Sunday night in Haggin Auditorium, featuring Kentucky poet Maurice Manning.

Manning was born in Danville, Ky., and currently owns a farm near Perryville, Ky. He turned down a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, instead going to the University of Kentucky where he obtained a master’s degree in English, and later to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa where he earned a master’s of fine arts. Manning is currently a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., teaches in the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C., and is a faculty member for the Appalachian Writers Workshop in Hindman, Ky.

In his writing career Manning has published four books of poetry. His first, “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions,” was included in the 2000 Yale Series of Younger Poets.

However, Manning didn’t come to Transy to talk about his own writing. Instead, his lecture was an extension of the 2010 First Engagements discussion of Wendell Berry’s novel “A World Lost.”

“I’m sure that Maurice was chosen as the convocation speaker because of his connection with Wendell Berry, and also because of his reputation as a writer, and because of his deep ties to Kentucky,” said physics professor and friend of Manning, Dr. Jamie Day.

“Because everyone in the incoming class read Berry’s ‘A World Lost,’ it made sense to tie the convocation to the novel. Furthermore, since we’ve had Berry as a convocation speaker recently, it made sense to ask someone different, but closely allied, to speak,” Day said.

Manning, who took an English literature course from Berry during his years at UK, opened the convocation with some of his recollections of the man as a professor. While Manning credits Berry with showing him the banality of fluff words such as “respectively,” he also learned deeper life lessons from the professor.

“There’s a difference between a lifestyle and a life,” Manning said.

Manning asserted that he was able to apply the lessons that he learned from Berry to his later career as an author and as a careful reader.

“Writing well comes from thinking well, and thinking well comes from reading well,” he said.

Along with discussing the book as a piece of literature, Manning also expanded into questions that he asserted “the novel ought to put into our minds.” He highlighted how within the novel Berry depicts an example of a community that has a sustainable relationship with the earth. With this example in mind, Manning turned to consider our modern world.

“We have willfully squandered our natural resources,” he said. “We have replaced useful skills with fiddling around on the Internet.”

In closing, Manning gave the audience a challenge. “In our recent history, defiant youths have abandoned their roots to pursue dreams of material gain. But those who dare to be defiant today will avoid complacently accepting their role in the rampant materialism of a capitalist economy, and will instead endeavor to give back to their families and communities.”


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