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Poet's gift to USF to fund lecture series

Garry Fleming pledged $600,000 for a poetry project at the Humanities Institute. A state matching program brings the total to $1.42-million.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX
Published December 22, 2005


TAMPA - Poetry is not dead. And if Garry Fleming has anything to say about it, the art of the word will live on at the University of South Florida long after he's gone.

Fleming, an 82-year-old poet and artist from New Port Richey, has pledged $600,000 to USF's Humanities Institute to fund a poetry lecture series. Under a state matching program, the donation from Fleming's estate will bring the total to $1.42-million.

Fleming's gift is one of several recently donated to the Humanities Institute. The institute supports a wide range of scholarly exchanges, research opportunities and lectures. Early next year the institute will host several leading literary lights, including former poet laureate Billy Collins.

Humanities Institute director Bill Scheuerle said Wednesday that Fleming will give an additional $100,000 for the establishment of an annual national poetry contest sponsored by the institute and judged by prominent literary critics and poets from around the country.

"The legacy that Garry is giving us is outstanding because it emphasizes the importance of literature," Scheuerle said. "It also is setting up a tradition because both of these awards (the poetry contest and lecture series) will be annual, and universities need traditions."

Preserving literary traditions has been a big part of Fleming's life. A native of New York, Fleming said he got the poetry bug when he read the works of Walt Whitman and others when he was a student at New School University in Manhattan.

"Somehow I felt that this was what I had to do," Fleming said.

Dance, however, proved just as compulsive. Fleming performed in several Broadway shows, such as Oklahoma! and Guys and Dolls, and even made an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, he said. As handy with a hammer as he was quick on his feet, he later began fixing up properties and took a gamble on real estate investments. The bet paid off, allowing Fleming to earn enough to pursue his first loves: poetry and painting.

Starving poets are a dime a dozen in Manhattan. Fleming, who moved to Florida 23 years ago, said he always knew he was one of the lucky few and decided to donate to USF because he wanted to share his good fortune with other poets.

"America is not the greatest place for poets," Fleming said. "Poetry has always struggled. It's always been a tough sell, but thank goodness there are lots of literary journals and poetry prizes still around."

Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 813 226-3337 or rondeaux@sptimes.com

[Last modified December 22, 2005, 00:58:15]


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