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The legacy of Ken Fields

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Dear editors,

I was very sorry to read your two recent articles, “Following accusations of insensitivity and vulgarity in class, Native American studies professor is no longer teaching course” on Jan.14 and “After ‘insensitive’ course delisted by Native American Studies program, English department chair scheduled to meet students” on Jan. 21. No doubt, your reporting was complete and accurate. Still, I struggled to recognize any of the best qualities of my friend and colleague, Ken Fields, which I’d like to acknowledge here.

For more than 50 years, undergraduates and Stegner Fellows have left Stanford better poets, critics, and writers for their time studying with Ken. So many of the best first books of poetry published in the United States today feature Ken’s name on their acknowledgments page. He is the living institutional memory of a program, as well as a teacher and mentor who, to spin an admiring joke, has easily forgotten more about poetry than most of us have ever learned. If, in these later years, his discursive and provocative teaching style is not quite the best fit for our contemporary moment, the person is nevertheless deserving of a more complete acknowledgment than your article suggested (indeed, you might have drawn on your very admiring 2012 profile of Ken for some perspective in that regard).

I will always recommend Ken’s courses to my undergraduate and pre-major advisees. I know that, for myself, just running into Ken in the hallway remains that rare occasion to encounter a wise elder, an exceptional writer and teacher. I learned, and still learn, a great deal from him. This moment will not define his legacy to Stanford.

— John Evans, Draper Lecturer of Creative Nonfiction