Novelist Robert Stone leaving job at Hopkins for writing post at Yale

March 17, 1994|By Tim Warren | Tim Warren,Sun Book Editor

Novelist Robert Stone is leaving a teaching position at Johns Hopkins University to become writer-in-residence at Yale University, the writer said yesterday. He leaves after teaching only two semesters in Hopkins' Writing Seminars.

Rumors that the National Book Award-winning novelist had accepted the Yale position had been circulating around the Homewood campus this week. Yesterday, in a telephone interview from his winter home in Key West, Fla., Mr. Stone confirmed he had accepted a position as Rosenkranz Writer-in-Residence at Yale, starting next fall.

"Basically, I'm doing this because it would simplify our lives," said Mr. Stone, 56, noting that his year-round residence is in Westport, Conn., a half-hour from Yale's campus in New Haven. "My wife and I never really did move from Connecticut [they had stayed in a home belonging to a Hopkins faculty member]. It just makes things so much easier that I found it impossible to resist.

"I feel a lot of regret because I was extremely fond of the Writing Seminars," he continued. "The faculty is first-rate, and I liked the students and the position -- everything about it. But this job [at Yale] is too close to home for me to turn down."

Mr. Stone said he had received the Yale offer "at the end of the fall term" and mulled it over before informing John Irwin, head of the Hopkins Writing Seminars, of his decision. "It wasn't about money, or prestige, because everyone knows how good the Hopkins department is," Mr. Stone said.

When Mr. Stone joined Hopkins in the spring of 1993 as a professor of fiction, it was a coup for the Writing Seminars, the second-oldest university writing department in the country. Russell Baker, John Barth and Louise Erdrich are among the writers who have studied in the Seminars, which had 28 graduate students and 98 undergraduates enrolled for the 1993-1994 term.

Mr. Stone was a fitting heir apparent to Mr. Barth, who became a leading novelist and longtime member of the Seminars faculty before retiring from full-time teaching.

Mr. Stone's novels include "A Hall of Mirrors," "A Flag for Sunrise" and "Dog Soldiers," which are generally considered among the major American novels of the 1960s and '70s. "Dog Soldiers" won the National Book Award in 1975 and was made into the movie "Who'll Stop the Rain?"

His most recent novel, "Outerbridge Reach," was a finalist for the 1993 award.

Dr. Irwin conceded that Mr. Stone's departure would be a blow to the Writing Seminars.

"He's a good writer and a good teacher, and during a crucial period of transition when Jack Barth was moving from professor of fiction to professor emeritus, he bolstered the fiction side of the department," Dr. Irwin said. "Is it a disappointment? Yes, unless we can get somebody of his [Mr. Stone's] stature or greater to replace him. And I think we can do it."

He said the department was close to hiring a visiting professor to replace Mr. Stone for the fall semester, and that the appointment likely would be announced in the next few weeks.

Mr. Stone will have at Yale approximately the same arrangement as he did at Hopkins -- teaching two courses in the fall and having the spring off to write (though he had begun his stay at Hopkins by teaching the spring 1993 semester). At Hopkins, he was known as a demanding teacher who would mix praise and criticism with equal forthrightness.

"I thought the students were absolutely second to none," Mr. Stone said. "It's a really good place, and particularly, there's a great bunch of people teaching in the Writing Seminars. In life, nothing is free. You have to give up something to get something, and I'm giving up a good situation at Hopkins."

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