Community film premiere celebrates poet alumnus Larry Levis

~ By Jefferson Beavers, reprinted from

The Fresno State Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing will host the Central California premiere of a new documentary film about the late author Larry Levis, a nationally honored poet and Fresno State alumnus who grew up in Selma.

The film premiere will be at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, at The Tower Theatre (815 E. Olive Ave.). Tickets cost $10 for general admission. Proceeds from the event will go toward the creation of a new Larry Levis creative writing scholarship.

The screening of “A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet” will include a discussion afterward with the filmmakers, director Michele Poulos and producer Gregory Donovan, as well as Fresno State alumnus and poet David St. John, who edited the posthumously released January 2016 collection of Levis’ poetry, “The Darkening Trapeze,” for Graywolf Press.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in English from Fresno State in 1968, Levis earned a master’s from Syracuse University and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. His writing awards included three fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fulbright Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Levis taught at the University of Missouri, the University of Utah and at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was a professor when he died in 1996 at age 49.

In 1995, Levis was awarded the University’s Top Dog Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Fresno State Alumni Association, on behalf of the College of Arts and Humanities. Dr. Lisa Weston, chair of the Department of English, said Levis’ creative writing work as a student and longtime friend of the late U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine is but one example that “Fresno is a place of poetry.” Levine served as U.S. poet laureate from 2011-12, and another Central Valley writer, Juan Felipe Herrera, currently holds the position.

“Showcasing alumni like Larry Levis is a way of showing how much a part of the Valley’s culture we are,” Weston said of the Creative Writing Program. “It tells students here who might be interested in a writing life that we can help them grow, and they can contribute their writing to engaging back with the community as our writers have been doing for so many years.”

Since 1997, the Creative Writing Program has co-sponsored with the Academy of American Poets an annual writing award, the Larry Levis Memorial Prize. “When an undergraduate student receives this prize, that student will be entering into a tradition and a legacy of Levis’ poetry,” Weston said. She said the creation of a new Levis scholarship will be another way to honor Levis’ writing and support up-and-coming writers.

The film is sponsored by the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing, with support from the College of Arts and Humanities, the Fresno Poets’ Association Reading Series and the Fresno State Alumni Association Creative Writing Chapter. Community sponsors include the Fresno City College Friends of the Arts, The Tower Theatre and Professor Emerita Linnea Alexander.

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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