Stockton News

Stockton remembers the late Pulitzer Prize-winning Stephen Dunn

Written for The Argo by Emily Hamilton

In late June 2021, Pulitzer Prize winner and former Stockton Literature Professor, Stephen Dunn passed away. Dunn was born on June 24, 1939 in New York City, and was the first in his family to attend college. Earning his BA from Hofstra University, and later an MA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University, Dunn used this experience to shift career paths from advertising to writing. Although failing in his first attempt to publish a novel, Dunn went on to produce meaningful pieces of poetry that would win him the Pulitzer Prize.

The Poetry Foundation offers a very detailed description of Dunn’s literary contributions throughout his life. They write, “Dunn’s poetry reflects the social, cultural, psychological, and philosophical territory of the American middle class; his intelligent, lyrical poems narrate the regular episodes of an everyman speaker’s growth, both as an individual and as part of a married—and later divorced—couple.” The foundation goes on to reflect on Dunn’s poetry to be an impactful understanding about navigating the complexities of society. Adding that Dunn’s narrator for his most recent poems was, “…regular guy cursed with an understanding of human nature more subtle than he’d prefer,” which was highlighted in a New York Times article. Rounding out his most notable books of poetry, “Different Hours” (2000), Pulitzer Prize winner and “Local Time” (1986) the National Poetry Series Prize-winning, were just a few of his awarded works of literature. Dunn is recognized by the Poetry Foundation for his pristine work in literature and remembers him for his life lessons being etched forever in his poetry.

Stockton University’s President, Harvey Kesselman, eulogized Dunn as a, “…Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing, whose teaching and writing inspired thousands of students and poetry lovers.” Dunn was a professor at Stockton for more than 40 years starting his career in 1974 as a young professor at a newly established college just starting to get its foundations. Over the course of the decades Dunn spent at Stockton, President Kesselman remembers Dunn with the inspiring words shared from Dunn’s 2014 commencement speech. Kesselman remembers, “he talked about the value of a liberal arts education, telling students ‘I have no doubt most of you are prepared for What Next, which means you are ready for the inevitable crooked path that awaits you. Our area of General Studies has anticipated this, has allowed, nay insisted, that you take courses outside of your comfort zone.’” Concluding the eulogy, President Kesselman recalls one of Dunn’s most memorable poems, “The Metaphysicians of South Jersey”, that he felt strongly summarize the impact of Dunn’s legacy on and off campus.

Stephen Dunn had not only made his mark in the literary world, but also on Stockton’s campus leaving many students and faculty pieces of his wisdom through his poetry. He will be a deeply missed individual in the literature world, but will continue to influence future generations of writers. Anyone who would like to make a memorial gift are encouraged by the family to donate to Frostburg’s local and independent bookstore in his honor