Alumni & Friends
Gator Generations -- An Ode to SF State
In the fall/winter issue we asked readers to share stories about their families whose attendence at SF State includes two or more generations. Here are just a few.
For 30 years my mother, Professor Ruth Witt-Diamant, taught English literature at San Francisco State. I grew up watching her prepare her lecture notes, and knew all her impressive colleagues. When I began my undergraduate studies at the "old" campus at Buchanan and Laguna streets, I looked forward to working with teachers like Cassady, Arnesen, Fenton and Becker-Colonna.
It was the 1950s. The Little Theatre was a vital part of the campus with a growing reputation for original and contemporary productions by its fine directors Jules Irving and Herbert Blau. The atmosphere felt laid back. Jazz played everywhere.
My mother, a fierce intellectual spirit, was devoted to her students. To promote what she viewed as the "forest fire of interest" in poetry, she established the Poetry Center, a national institution, in 1954. Until she secured the necessary funding, she housed many visiting poets at 1520 Willard St., our home. It became a haven for artists: Dylan Thomas, Marianne Moore, Kenneth Patchen, Charles Olson, James Broughton, Robert Duncan, Langston Hughes, Ted Roethke, Allen Ginsberg and more. Anaïs Nin lived close by for a time, and even stored her boxed diaries in our basement where I read her manuscripts by flashlight. My mother’s students, eager to meet our visitors, enjoyed helping with social events at our home.
With the impending college move to Holloway Avenue, my mother approached President J. Paul Leonard, suggesting he needed a world-class figure for the inauguration. She proposed W.H. Auden, who later helped bring thousands to the ceremony.
After military service, I returned to the "new" campus for my graduate degree and went on to study architecture and enjoy a career in engineering. Meanwhile, the Poetry Center continued to grow, becoming a nationally recognized resource of creative language and thought. As Frances Jaffer put it, "The Poetry Center is the Fort Knox of poetry, except that it’s not locked up."
-- Stephen Witt-Diamant (B.A., '53; M.A., '63)
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