Literary laureate Fanny Howe ’58 honored with Distinguished Alumni/ae Award

Among a crowd of faculty, trustees, and alumni, some of them her childhood friends from the Buckingham School, Fanny Howe ’58 joined the ranks of Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III ’99 and journalist Peter Beinart ’89 at the 2018 Distinguished Alumni/ae Award reception.

The reception, held on March 1 at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, honored Ms. Howe, a poet, novelist, essayist, and professor, with the school’s Distinguished Alumni/ae Award.

The author of over 20 books of poetry and prose, Ms. Howe, now 77, is a graduate of Stanford University and has taught at colleges across the country, including Columbia University, Yale University, Brown University, and University of California at San Diego, where she is a professor emerita of Writing and Literature. She has also received awards for her work from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Poetry Foundation, and the California Council of the Arts. 

The reception began with remarks from Board of Trustees Chair Brace Young P’14, ’14, ’17, who welcomed the attendees and introduced Head of School Rebecca Upham. Ms. Upham spoke about the school’s values of integrity, perseverance, and curiosity and praised Ms. Howe for upholding these throughout her career.

“Fanny embodies so much of what we value as a school and as a community through her work as a poet, a storyteller, and a teacher,” Ms. Upham said. “She has been a voice for social change and justice, for spiritual reckoning, for the dynamic tensions and rewards of human interaction, and for the beauty of literary expression.”

Ms. Upham and Alumni/ae Awards Committee Chair Kathrene Bell ’99 presented Ms. Howe with a framed certificate before Ms. Howe spoke about being a student at Buckingham and writing poetry in a time of war, namely World War Two and the Cold War.

Ms. Howe said that while students today share in a different experience, she still believes in the importance of creative expression.

“I would say that students now are much more widely educated, outside of the Western canons, and you have in general a more worldly sense, though the horizons remain pretty narrow because of economic realities and fear of the future, both environmentally and politically,” Ms. Howe said. “We had the practice drills for the A-bomb in school and big memories of bad wars, but the earth we stood on seemed eternally abundant.” 

“I would encourage a young person now to practice both an engaged politics in work and in the neighborhood and to document through poetry or any art form the subtle presence of beauty in the world,” she added. 

The Alumni/ae Awards Committee, established 25 years ago and made up of alumni and one faculty representative—currently English Teacher Rob Leith—annually honors a graduate of Buckingham, of Browne & Nichols, or of BB&N for exceptional professional accomplishment in their fields, outstanding leadership and community involvement at the local, national, or global level, and loyalty to the school by contribution of effort, wisdom, and giving, Ms. Bell said, adding that Ms. Howe stood out on all of these fronts.

“The research we did on her revealed she was not only a leader in her field, but also that she has done outstanding, important work at numerous institutions,” Ms. Bell said.

Mr. Leith said honoring someone successful in the arts was important since in the past the award has more often identified people successful in other fields, such as business and politics. 

“The award is important in making it clear to the community what an exceptional group the school represents,” he added. “There is a history to BB&N that many people are probably unaware of that’s really worth knowing about and feeling proud of.”

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