Goucher alumna's gift grows into program

Kratz center will bring writers to the college

September 12, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Eleanor Kratz Denoon had contributed to her alma mater regularly since graduating in 1936. Then, a few years ago, Goucher College suggested she set aside her annual gift, let it grow, and use it to create something new.

Denoon did. The Kratz Center for Creative Writing, a program established with $1 million of her money in memory of her sister and parents, will bring successful writers to Goucher and fund a writer-in-residence position.

A reading tomorrow night by novelist David Guterson, who wrote "Snow Falling on Cedars" and "East of the Mountains," launches the Kratz program, the vision of a former English major who once aspired to write poetry.

"I'm not a good poet -- but I wanted other people to be," says Denoon, 84, a widow who lives outside Philadelphia. She will be in the audience when Guterson speaks at Kraushaar Auditorium at 7: 30 p.m. "I want more people like this to come to Goucher, to lecture for anyone who wants to listen," she says.

Denoon has high hopes for the students who will benefit from her generosity. "I want them to write stories and poetry -- and then get it published."

Success seems more than likely. The Kratz center will nourish a creative writing program that has attracted exceptional talent, including two 1999 graduates who have been published and a third who won a national poetry award.

"We're going to use the Kratz center to augment the offerings of the current creative writing program," says author Madison Smartt Bell, center's director.

Bell and his wife, poet Elizabeth Spires, lead Goucher's creative writing program. "For the next two years, we'll have a writer-in-residence teaching a course every spring."

Writer in residence

This year, Bell says, that writer will be Darcey Steinke.

Steinke has written three novels, teaches writing at Dickinson College and is a 1985 graduate of Goucher, where she was one of Bell's students.

The Kratz program has two goals, Bell says: to expose students to well-known writers, such as Guterson, and to give students access to a writer-in-residence who can teach them without stifling creativity. Both goals can be traced to Denoon, says Goucher President Judy Mohraz.

"It was her decision to support creative writing at Goucher," Mohraz says. "It was she who, recognizing the strength of our creative writing program, felt her gift could be most strategically used to further strengthen the program."

Denoon's gift fits into a long-standing emphasis on writing and writers at Goucher, Mohraz says. The former women's college in Towson became co-educational in 1986. It has 1,150 undergraduates and about 350 graduate students.

The college's history includes a graduate whose book on the early American minister Jonathan Edwards won a Pulitzer Prize, Mohraz says. And last year brought three unusual students.

Bounty of 1999 writers

John McManus, a 1999 graduate, has received a contract from Picador to publish a collection of short stories written during his senior year.

Christine Stewart, another 1999 graduate, won the 1998 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship award for a collection of 10 poems.

Jenn Crowell, also a 1999 graduate, had her first novel -- written when she was 17 -- published by G. P. Putnam's Sons. Her second novel, completed while she studied at Goucher, also will be published by Putnam.

Mohraz credits Bell and Spires, and their program, for such a proliferation of published work.

"I think they attract gifted students -- but then magic happens when they come," Mohraz says.

Crowell, who is pursuing women's studies at Towson University, agrees -- and sees Goucher's size as part of the magic.

"Because it's such a small school, students can get a lot more personal attention," she says. "It makes it easy to carry out independent work."

Mohraz, Bell and Denoon believe that the Kratz center will help Goucher expand its literary tradition. Mohraz says she hopes there will be money to allow students to spend a summer writing, instead of having to work to pay tuition and rent.

The Denoon gift has brought one immediate benefit, Mohraz said: a second bequest for additional writing courses at the Kratz center from Goucher supporters Hilda and Douglas Goodwin.

"We have this snowball going," Mohraz says.

And that, says Denoon, was part of her vision for the Kratz program.

"I've only given $1 million, maybe a little more," she says. "I think that will start it. I hope other people will add to it. I've been thinking about this for a long time."

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