The University of Florida Writing Program, 1949–1980

The arrival of novelist Andrew Lytle in the fall of 1949 marks the effective beginning of the creative-writing program at the University, with both graduate and undergraduate creative writing courses being offered for the first time. Among Lytle’s students were Madison Jones (A Cry of Absence and many others), Merrill Joan Gerber (The Kingdom of Brooklyn), Mary Ann Taylor-Hall (Come and Go, Molly Snow), Joanne Childers (Moving Mother Out), Smith Kirkpatrick (The Sun’s Gold), Harry Crews (A Feast of Snakes), and Lawrence Hetrick (editor, The Chattahoochee Review). In 1958 Lytle published his major novel, The Velvet Horn, solidifying his reputation. In 1961 he left the University in order to accept the editorship of The Sewanee Review.

Andrew Lytle’s program was kept alive, although without a graduate degree in creative writing, by his student Smith Kirkpatrick. In 1966 and 1967, Lawrence Hetrick and Harry Crews joined the English faculty, teaching undergraduate courses in poetry and fiction writing. Crews’ rapid succession of novels in the late 60s and early 70s provided the leverage by which the graduate degree was once again offered. Crews supervised a number of notable students such as John Miglis (Not a Bad Man) and Sterling Watson (Weep No More, My Brother), but his accomplishment of these years rests rather on his own books.

This interim period (1966–1978), as it might be termed, saw a great deal of activity on campus regarding writers and writing.  Lectureships were held by Stephen Spender, John Ciardi, Maxine Kumin, James Dickey, Peter Taylor, and others. The annual, weeklong, party-till-dawn Florida Writers Conference attracted participants nationwide, presenting everyone from John Crowe Ransom to Ken Kesey. Undergraduate students from the writing program founded and edited a distinguished literary journal, The Florida Quarterly, which ran from 1966 to 1974. Editors included Richard Mathews (currently editor of The Tampa Review), Jessica Everingham (who introduced a distinctive 60s graphic style), and Camille Symons.

By the late 1970s the English Department had committed its support to the Writing Program by hiring Joy Anderson, Robert Dana, Dave Smith, and Donald Justice.

– Lawrence Hetrick

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