Baruch honors distinguished English professor Grace Schulman

Emanuela Gallo, Editor-in-Chief

The Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence program held a tribute to Grace Schulman, a distinguished professor of English at Baruch College, on Nov. 3 in the Performing Arts Center Engelman Recital Hall.

In addition to teaching for 50 years at Baruch, Schulman has published eight poetry collections. Her ninth book, “Again, the Dawn: New and Selected Poems, 1976 – 2022,” will be released on Nov. 15.

Jessica Lang, dean of the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, gave the opening address. She discussed Schulman’s upbringing and Jewish-American identity.

Three of Schulman’s former students and now-graduates shared how their writing improved due to studying poetry in her classes.

“Grace’s editorial feedback on my poetry had me humbled so quickly,” one of them, Pooka Paik, said. “She chewed my work out, and I loved every single moment.”

Mary McGlynn, the English deputy department chair, praised Schulman’s work as a teacher and mentor, sharing memories with her over the years. Department chair Timothy Aubry discussed working with Schulman to hire a poet, recalling how she read each applicants’ writing.

“It comes from a position of humility,” he said. “A recognition of how important the tradition is and how much we have to learn from other poets.”

It was important to Schulman that the candidate be able to “put their ego aside in order to take on the mission of educating our students at Baruch,” which was her primary goal, according to Aubry.

Harman Director Esther Allen read a message from poet and novelist Alfred Corn, who could not attend due to COVID-19 infection.

In the message, Corn shared memories from his five-decade friendship with Schulman, describing her as a “formidable talent.” Another friend of Schulman, writer Roger Rosenblatt, also spoke.

Her nephew, Andy Schulman, talked about how he created musical versions of two of her poems, which played at the beginning and end of the event.

Grace Schulman then went to the podium and thanked Baruch for allowing her time to write. She read a few poems, including “Scallop Shell,” “Because,” “Angel,” “Hickories” and “Happiness.”

“Happiness is not a campfire but an occulting light,” she read. “A field of fireflies that blink on off.”

Schulman also read “Blue in Green,” a poem she wrote about jazz player Miles Davis.

“If only my heart could teach my hands to play and get it right on the first take,” she read.

Ruth Greenstein, a publisher and the editorial director of Turtle Point Press, then asked Schulman questions about writing and her career.

She said that while poetry is for everyone, it takes work to understand.

“Poetry is the complication of human feelings,” she said. “Human feelings are complicated, and poetry aims to complicate the senses, not pamper the senses.”

Schulman described poetry as private, like prayer, and a “fusion of aesthetic experience and life.” She also described “gently” giving constructive feedback to writers.

She cited poets such as John Donne, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and Wang Wei as favorites.

Journalism professor Eugene Marlow, a composer and producer, spoke about his 2019 collaboration with Schulman.

His album, “Blue in Green,” is a collection of original jazz compositions featuring Schulman reading her writing. Three songs were played for the audience.

“I think Grace is the Mozart of poets because it seems to come out of her whole,” he said.

In her past, Schulman worked as poetry editor of The Nation and the director of the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2019.