A poetry reading remembrance ceremony for Pulitzer Prize winning poet and VCU professor, Claudia Emerson, was held Monday night at the Grace Street Theater. A large crowd of well over 100 people packed the auditorium to pay their respects to a woman described as a kind, caring women with a good sense of humor.
The ceremony began with opening remarks from James Coleman, Dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences.
“The english language was an artistic palette, which Claudia painstakingly chose each word and painted them on her canvas at exactly the right place at the right time producing a one of a kind integrated work and valuable art with extraordinary beauty, complexity and depth,” Coleman said. “I truly want to celebrate because I feel so lucky that I got to know Claudia just a little bit: her vast curiosity and intellect, her rye and grounded rumor , her profound devotion to her work and her students and her positive personality.”
The primary event of the evening was the reading of a selection of poems she wrote by people she had touched. A total of fourteen poems were read by a wide variety of people, with colleagues she knew as well as some graduate students whom she had taught, indicating the many different types of lives she touched.
The ceremony closed with remarks from Katharine Basard, Chair of the Department of English and then a video of Emerson reading her own poem was shown.
They announced that enough money had been raised for a scholarship in Emerson’s name. Money was raised through a fund in her name. The large outpouring of money led to the creation of the scholarship for at least one student in the creative writing program with focuses in poetry or creative non-fiction.
Emerson was a professor at VCU before she passed away due to cancer at age 57 in 2014. She began teaching at VCU in 2013 and taught graduate students. She was a professor at the University of Mary Washington before coming to Richmond.
She was the state of Virginia’s poet laureate from 2008 until 2010, which is a role that consists of writing poems for special occasions and events.
Her book “Late Wife,” which was published in 2005, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2006.
Christian Detisch and Annie Rudy both had Emerson as a professor in graduate school at VCU and both read a selected work of Emerson’s at the ceremony. Although both only knew her for a relatively short amount of time, they were impacted by her tremendously. Both former students thoroughly enjoyed the ceremony.
“I thought it was gorgeous,” Detisch said.“ I was so happy that so many people showed up, and that so many different people in the community read too and it wasn’t just all students. it was lovely.”
Annie Rudy agreed and was impressed by the diversity of poems that were selected to be read.
“A cool thing though was that we were asked to send in two choices of poems we wanted to read in case there was overlap, and of everyone that sent in a poem, no two poems overlapped,” Rudy said. “We all chose different poems, which i think is really impressive.”