On April 6, 2018, members of the Washington University community came together to celebrate the legacy of William H. Gass, who died on December 6, 2017, at the age of 93.
Gass taught at Washington University for 30 years and in 1990 became the co-founder and first director of the university’s International Writers Center (IWC) in Arts & Sciences—now known as the Center for the Humanities. Gass led the IWC for a decade with the assistance of associate director Lorin Cuoco.
In 1999, Gass retired from the university as the David May Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities. His many books include In the Heart of the Heart of the Country and Other Stories (1968), The World Within the Word (1978), The Tunnel (1995), Reading Rilke (1999), A Temple of Texts (2006), Middle C (2013), and Eyes (2015). The recipient of many prizes, Gass won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism three times. In 2000, he received the PEN/Nabokov award and the PEN/Nabokov Lifetime Achievement award.
On April 6, University Libraries held an open house in Gass’ honor in the Department of Special Collections at Olin Library. The event included a viewing of materials from the William H. Gass Papers and the Libraries’ rare book collections, organized by Joel Minor, curator of the Modern Literature Collection. Handwritten and typed manuscripts, drafts, correspondence, photos, and a range of materials from the IWC were on display.
After the viewing, brief remarks were delivered by Gass’ friends and colleagues, including Kathryn Davis, Hurst Writer in Residence at Washington University; Catherine Keane, chair of the Department of Classics; Martin Riker, lecturer in the Department of English, and Mark Rollins, professor of philosophy, chair of the Performing Arts Department, and Dean of University College. About 75 people at attended the events at Olin Library.
The open house was followed by an evening program and reception at Holmes Lounge. A number of speakers paid tribute to Gass, sharing personal anecdotes and impressions of his work. Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton opened the program by praising Gass’ eloquence and distinguished history as a member of the Washington University community. Fiction writer Joy Williams, a frequent visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University, and Garth Risk Hallberg, Washington University alumnus and the bestselling author of City on Fire, also shared their perspectives on the late author.
Additional speakers were Lorin Cuoco, who, as a co-founder of the IWC, worked closely with Gass; novelist and poet Matthias Goeritz, the university’s first William H. Gass Fellow and a part-time teacher of creative writing in the International Writers Track, and photographer Michael Eastman, who partnered with Gass on a number of creative projects. Catherine Gass, the author’s daughter, curated a selection of photos that were shown in Holmes Lounge.