Campus & Community

The Big Picture

2 min read

Jon Woodward, poet


Jon Woodward was born in Wichita, Kan., where Wyatt Earp was once marshal. The Woodwards weren’t outlaws. They were more like the families for whose benefit men like Earp had tamed the West. Woodward’s father was the principal of a Lutheran elementary school. His mother worked there as a teacher until she dropped out to raise a family.

When Jon was 10 his family moved to Denver. He went to high school there, then to Colorado State University where he majored in English and started writing poetry. Laura Mullen, the teacher of his writing workshop and a poet herself, encouraged him. She thought he had real talent.

What do you do with a B.A. in English? No one’s ever been able to answer that question, Woodward included, so when a friend who was a grad student at Harvard called to say his apartment was down one roommate and why didn’t Jon come East and try his luck, he said, sure, why not?

Three days after settling in, Woodward had a job at Harvard in the accounts payable department, scanning invoices into the database. It wasn’t exactly what college had prepared him for, but then this was Harvard and some pretty high-powered folks taught here, including Jorie Graham, the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for “Dream of the Unified Field.”

Woodward submitted some of his poetry for admission to her workshop, and darned if he didn’t get in! The workshop was great. It encouraged him to really flex his imagination, try out new approaches, new styles. He even met his girlfriend there. Later, Graham helped him put his poetry together to make a book (“Mister Goodbye Easter Island”). Alice James Books accepted the manuscript, so here he is, a published poet at 25.

He was a little nervous sending the book to his parents. Some of it’s a little far out, and he wasn’t sure what Dad would make of the section called “A Field Guide to the Jesuses of North America,” made up of short prose poems with titles like “EZ Bake Jesus,” “Industrial Strength Jesus,” and “Low APR Jesus.” But he’s been pleasantly surprised by their reaction.

“They’re doing a good job with it. I think they’re beginning to understand where I’m coming from.”