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The Mass Media

Professor Profile: Lloyd Schwartz

English Professor Lloyd Schwartz recently returned from sabbatical.
Courtesy English Dept.
English Professor Lloyd Schwartz recently returned from sabbatical.

Lloyd Schwartz, Pulitzer Prize winner and Frederick S. Troy Professor of English, recently came back to UMass Boston from a semester on sabbatical where he worked on his latest project, a book of collected works by Elizabeth Bishop.

As a student, Schwartz attended both public and private college institutions. Schwartz prefers teaching in public institutions because of the diverse student body.

“The UMass students have the one thing you can’t teach in a writing course, and that’s experience…I think the talent is sort of connected to that,” he said, adding, “there’s an amazing conjunction between talent and experience [at UMass].” Schwartz, the director of the Creative Writing Program, also admires the faculty at UMass, “It’s a very remarkable faculty…my colleagues are very impressive,” he said.

Schwartz, a Brooklyn native, relates to UMass because he graduated from Queens College, which is also an urban and public university. “I identify with my students, although I think they have a harder time than I did,” he said.

It appears that Lloyd Schwartz has found a home that he both respects and enjoys. “I very nearly accepted a retirement incentive last year and the thing that changed my mind was that I didn’t want to stop teaching those students…I really love them.”

Growing up an only child, Schwartz developed a passion for acting. As a young child he created an imaginary world containing a whole family of characters, all of whom he acted out himself. This was the beginning of not only Schwartz’s acting career, but also the influence acting had on his poetry.

In middle school Schwartz was one of few children to skip the 8th grade and to go directly to high school. Schwartz, who was one of the youngest in his class, says that academically he was prepared to skip a grade but “socially it was a complete disaster.” He was an intelligent student in a tough neighborhood school where being smart was not valued by other students. Schwartz’s pursuit of the theatre helped him gain the respect of his fellow students because he “… was willing to make a fool of [himself].”

At the age of 16, Schwartz had graduated high school and enrolled as a freshman at Queens College of the City University of New York where he majored in English. He wrote for Spectrum, the school magazine, which featured creative writing, photography, and artwork. As a senior Schwartz was the poetry editor for Spectrum and New Poems, a school magazine of poetry.

In 1962 Lloyd Schwartz graduated from Queens College and received the Woodrow Wilson Scholarship to study at Harvard University. At Harvard, Schwartz wrote drama reviews for The Harvard Drama Review, in turn getting free tickets to theater productions. This ended up changing the course of Schwartz’s life, and led him back to his childhood passion of acting.

After writing a negative review of a Harvard rendition of The Tempest Schwartz, on a dare from a friend, tried out for a play that was being directed by Timothy Mayer, the same man who directed The Tempest. Schwartz was given a small, walk-on part, for which he received a praising review.

After that he continued to perform in plays for the next 5 years for both the Harvard Dramatic Club and Harvard Producing Organization (HARPO). He worked with notables such as Stockard Channing (The West Wing), James Woods (Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story, John Q) and Tommy Lee Jones (The Hunted, Men in Black). “It was thrilling to be part of those productions, and I don’t think there has been anything like that in Boston since,” he said.

In 1971, after 5 years of acting, Schwartz took a teaching position at Boston State College. He taught night classes in Literature, and introduced and instructed their very first Creative Writing course.

Schwartz completed his PhD at Harvard in 1976. Not long afterward, while still working for Boston State College, Schwartz began writing for The Boston Phoenix. He started out writing classical music reviews, but ended up writing about other topics as well. In 1994, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism.

“Working for the Phoenix I’ve gotten to do other things besides classical music,” he said “I’ve written about art, dance, and popular music, theater, so I’ve been very lucky with the kinds of opportunities for writing that I’ve had.”

Through The Boston Phoenix Schwartz was offered a job as the classical music commentator on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The weekly show, based in Philadelphia PA, discusses contemporary arts, current affairs and news issues. He now provides DVD commentaries on a variety of topics including music, art, and film.

Schwarz has published three books of his poetry: These People, Goodnight Gracie, and Cairo Traffic. Schwartz describes writing a book as, “one of the hardest things a poet has to deal with,” adding, “You are so vulnerable as a writer. Once you publish a book you are in the hands of the receivers. You just hope that people are going to like what you do.”

Lloyd Schwartz will be reading from his poetry in the Central Square Library on September 28th. Contact the library for details at: 617-349-4010.