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Mary Jo Bang Celebration

On November 30, 2018, Washington University celebrated Mary Jo Bang–her work as a poet, English professor and artist, and her extensive collection of manuscripts, books, journals, photographs and other research materials in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections.

The event started in the Olin Library where six poets spoke about Mary Jo’s influences on their lives and their work, including Mark Bibbins, Aaron Coleman, Cassie Donish, Timothy Donnelly, Aditi Machado, and Justin Phillip Reed. With four of the six speakers being ex-students of Mary Jo’s, a common theme of the talks was her mentorship, as well as her lasting friendship. In all cases, but through unique personal stories, Mary Jo was presented as a wise, caring, witty person to be cherished, as well as a talented poet to be revered.

Aaron Coleman speaking at Olin Library
Aditi Machado speaking at Olin Library
Justin Phillip Reed speaking at Olin Library

A viewing of selected manuscripts on display in the Special Collections Mendle Room followed the talks. Joel Minor, curator of Modern Literature Collection, presented these materials in categories–poetry drafts, correspondence, translations, etc.–as examples from the rich literary and personal archive Mary Jo has provided researchers.

Attendees perusing artist books, translations of Mary Jo’s work, and periodicals featuring her work
Attendees looking at personal materials from the Mary Jo Bang Papers

The exhibit of Mary Jo’s artwork, “Mary Jo Bang: Self Portrait with Others” was also on view, in the staircase foyer, and can be seen through the end of January. A few examples of items in the exhibit:

Detail from “Self-Portrait: The Tempest,” 1998
ink, gouache, graphite
Portion of an untitled wedding photo puzzle book
mixed media, 1990
Oh Mother!
mixed media, erasure poem, 1989 – 2010

The attendees moved to the Women’s Building Formal Lounge for a reception and book sales. The event was co-sponsored by the Libraries and Alumni & Development, as part of the A&D Connections Series.

Mary Jo socializing at the reception
Photo by Whitney Curtis/WUSTL Photos
Books by Mary Jo and by the other speakers were for sale
Photo by Whitney Curtis/WUSTL Photos
Mary Jo signing a book at the reception. Photo by Whitney Curtis/WUSTL Photos

After the reception the six speakers then gave a reading of some of their favorite Bang poems, with commentary on why they selected what they did.

Mark Bibbins speaking at the Women’s Building
Photo by Whitney Curtis/WUSTL Photos
Cassie Donish reading Bang’s poetry
Photo by Whitney Curtis/WUSTL Photos
Timothy Donnelly speaking at the Women’s Building
Photo by Whitney Curtis/WUSTL Photos

Mary Jo herself brought the festivities to a close by giving remarks and then reading a small selection of her work, including a new, unpublished poem.

Mary Jo Bang reading her remarks and poetry. Photo by Whitney Curtis/WUSTL Photos

Explore the Mary Jo Bang Papers to find out more about the collection, and look for a digital exhibit of materials from the event in 2019.

Videos of all the talks will be available soon on this blog and on the Modern Literature Collection’s YouTube Channel.