Purdue Libraries archives exhibit to feature poet Felix Stefanile

April 18, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – An editor and English professor who is best known as the "everyman" poet is being honored with an archival exhibit at Purdue.

Purdue Libraries' Division of Archives and Special Collections will feature "That Words are Dreams: An Exhibit Honoring Felix Stefanile." The exhibit will be displayed through May 25 at the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center. The center is located on the fourth floor of the Humanities, Social Science and Education Library in Stewart Center.

Felice, known most of his life as Felix, Stefanile was born April 13, 1920 in Long Island City, New York. His poetry is best described as metrical, traditional poetry built upon autobiographical reference. Life experience, observational skills, and keen memory allowed Stefanile to reveal insights through carefully crafted verse. He never stopped writing, claiming that one did not need inspiration to write, only the internal desire to continue.

Stefanile received numerous awards and recognition throughout his distinguished career.  His essay, "The Imagination of the Amateur," expressing his ideas on independent literary publishing in American history, was published in 1966. The essay gained Stefanile a National Endowment for the Arts Prize in 1967 and was awarded the Emily Clark Balch Prize of the Virginia Quarterly Review, 1972. In 1997 he was the first recipient of the John Ciardi Award for lifelong achievement in Italian American poetry.

Stefanile was educated in the public schools and at CCNY (College of the City of New York).  He was drafted into World War II, where he served as an Italian translator for the Army. After the war, he found employment in a series of clerical jobs until 1950, when he began an 11-year stint in the New York State Department of Labor.

In 1954 he and his wife, Selma Epstein, founded the poetry magazine Sparrow, which was created to serve as an eclectic journal for those serious about poetry composition and discussion.  Sparrow stopped publication in 2000, completing a long and successful run as one of the definitive poetry journals in the United States.

In 1961, Purdue invited Stefanile to serve as visiting poet and lecturer for one year. At the end of his appointment, the university asked him to stay on as a member of the English faculty. He taught freshman composition, survey courses, and a poetry writing class that drew campus-wide attention.  In 1969 he was appointed to a full professorship. Always willing to share his work, Stefanile hosted heavily-attended readings of his poetry while at Purdue. He retired in 1987 and died in 2009 in West Lafayette.

"This exhibit is an opportunity to peer into the life of an influential poet - from his grade school newsletter that contains his first published poetry, to a painting of Felix done by a prisoner of war during World War II," said Neal Harmeyer, digital archivist and exhibit curator. "The display is a testament to how he inspired others to live a life of poetry, as he did."

The exhibit also features copies of the first and last issues of Sparrow, as well as Sparrow No. 14, published in 1960, which includes "The Loser" by well-known poet Charles Bukowski. Early and unpublished drafts of multiple poems also will be featured.

More information on the collection can be found at https://go.lib.purdue.edu/ASC/stefanilepapers Stefanile's oral history interview can be found at https://go.lib.purdue.edu/ASC/stefanileoralhistory

Contact: Neal Harmeyer, harmeyna@purdue.edu