21, No. 9, Nov. 1, 2001
Stillinger plans compilation of
original poetry and critical essays
By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
(217) 244-1072; firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bill Wiegand
Jack Stillinger retired from the UI English department in
May after 43 years. After earning the distinction of being
named a Center for Advanced Study Professor of English in
1970, Stillinger returned to the classroom after a semester
because he missed teaching.
Rather than gleefully
announcing his unavailability now that hes a retiree, the small
sign on Jack Stillingers office door instead beckons to passers-by,
offering Stillingers listening ear or helping hand to colleagues
and students who want his assistance with writing, research or other
"People actually take me up on this!" Stillinger said, referring
to the sign. "Its great. I like doing that. I have a tremendous
fund of knowledge in my head even now, and its great to make use
of it in a friendly way."
Stillinger, who retired in May after 43 years service, said hes
"as happy as can be" with this new phase of his life. A member
of the English department faculty since 1958, Stillinger was named a
Center for Advanced Study Professor of English in 1970. Achieving that
distinction could have exempted him from teaching, but he missed the
interaction with his undergraduate students so much after a semester
out that he decided to return to the classroom.
Although he reluctantly gave up teaching, most days Stillinger can be
found in his third-floor office in the English Building with the poet
John Keats, the subject of several of his books, gazing thoughtfully
out from a poster on the wall.
Stillinger has written more than 26 books throughout his career, in
addition to numerous articles and reviews; his retirement has given
him the opportunity to fulfill a longtime aspiration: writing a book
"I dont need to publish any more books to justify my life,"
Stillinger said, "but Ive always wanted to publish a book
of poems. And I wrote poems back in the 1970s, late 60s and really
enjoyed it, and really impressed everybody because nobody could believe
that I with the kind of scholar that I was with lots of footnotes
and lots of factual compilations could write poems about people
going up in a balloon and bailing out."
Some of Stillingers poems, such as the one about the balloonists,
already have appeared as prefaces to his books or been published in
various journals. Stillinger now is compiling them, "in a leisurely
way," into a volume of his own.
As with his kindred spirit, Keats, Stillinger said poems just seemed
to "drop out of the sky" and into his head.
The seeming effortlessness with which he conceived the poems caused
Stillingers interest to wane, and he ceased writing poetry for
several years. However, his happiness with this particular phase in
his life has rejuvenated Stillingers creative spirit and
changed his longtime belief that misery is the poets solitary
Ever the teacher, Stillinger also is anthologizing some of the critical
essays he wrote in journals throughout his career in hopes of reaching
a fresh audience of readers: undergraduates who might be unlikely to
peruse scholarly periodicals.
Even after spending more than half his life as a teacher, Stillinger
said he would be in the classroom yet if a near-fatal heart attack two
years ago and another recent health crisis had not left him feeling
exhausted and depleted, prompting his reluctant decision not to return
for the fall semester.
"I come over here every day and kind of hang out," Stillinger
said, referring to his office. "And I run into people. I like to
see them. Its an OK way to be if you have to get old."
In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Stillinger is an avid bicyclist,
riding through the Urbana-area countryside three days a week, traveling
about 20 miles each trip. The flatness of the land, a topographical
feature that repels some area visitors, and the sparse traffic make
for great biking and good reasons for living in Urbana, Stillinger said.
Stillinger and his wife of 30 years, Nina Baym, also a distinguished
member of the English faculty, enjoy travel, especially to France, which
they visited again last spring. They also enjoy sojourns with their
children and grandchildren, who are scattered throughout the states,
and are planning a trip soon to Lawrence, Kan., to visit Bayms
daughter and her family there.