In my day, the University of Michigan’s Avery Hopwood Award was considered a major prize for young writers. It is even more so today – what with students winning multiple awards (two awards was once uncommon), and with supplemental bonuses that resulted in one lucky student bagging $33,000 earlier this year. Those kinds of sums defray an awful lot of tuition costs. It also pays for a lot of tea and cookies, which the Hopwood Room still dispenses regularly during the fall and winter quarters on Thursdays.
I used to feel a little glow of pride when I entered the Hopwood Room. It was my room, after all! But would it still be in the same place decades later? I was happy that I recognized Angell Hall immediately (one of the few buildings I recognized), walked up the front stairs to the door, and up stairs inside, and instinctively turned to the right. There it was, a few steps away a on the left side of the hall. And it looked … exactly the same. “Welcome to the time warp,” announced Andrea Beauchamp, assistant director and ongoing presence of the Hopwood program.
She said the room has been deliberately kept that way. She fought off attempts to replace the worn carpet “with Oreos crushed into it” with a drab new carpet that had a “standard dentist’s office” look about it. She wanted to keep the charm, books, and dark-wood ambiance, and she succeeded. Even the big round table covered with every literary journal imaginable still dominated the room – including some journals I have contributed to over the years since I left town, the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Kenyon Review, the Georgia Review among them.
The program was endowed by Avery Hopwood, a popular American dramatist and member of the Michigan Class of 1905. Mr. Hopwood bequeathed one-fifth of his considerable estate to the University of Michigan with the stipulation that it be used to encourage creative writing among students. During the years that have passed since the first Hopwood Awards were made in 1931, we have been able to award a cumulative total of well over $3,000,000 to more than 3,200 gifted writers. Former winners include Arthur Miller, John Ciardi, Mary Gaitskill, Robert Hayden, Lawrence Kasdan, Jane Kenyon, Frank O’Hara, Marge Piercy, Edmund White, and Nancy Willard. …
For former director Nicholas Delbanco’s remarks on the history of the program and the legacy of Avery Hopwood, written for the New York Times in 1998, see this PDF.
I had stayed in touch with Andrea over the years, feeding tidbits to the Hopwood newsletter. I had kept up with her for so long that I rather expected her to be a wizened old lady of a zillion years rather than the smart and vibrant woman in the photo above. I had apparently conflated her with her predecessor, “Sister Hilda,” a nun who had a PhD in English and arrived from an obscure and dwindling order to manage the program. Had I read the Hopwood newsletter more faithfully, I would have known that the beloved sister died in 2004, at 92, and served enthusiastically and tenaciously from 1971-1981. I would also have known she did her dissertation on that much-married diehard Puritan John Milton. She must have had quite a kick to her, which I hadn’t suspected as a student.
But the Hopwood program has kept up with Stanford, too. Andrea warmly recalled recent visits from our newest National Medal of the Arts winner Tobias Wolff and Irish poet Eavan Boland. Well, you can read excerpts from Eavan’s inspiring talk at the Hopwood Awards ceremony last spring here.