Poet, writer, literary historian, editor, linguist, and educator, George Venn (1943) is an eclectic, complex, and distinguished figure in western American literature. As one university press editor described him, "Venn's blend of creativity and scholarship is unique..." Venn recently enhanced that description in the 2005 Contemporary Authors: "Politics: Independent. Religion: Ecumenist; mystic; no literalistic ethnocentric orthodoxy; everything universal." His distinguished and eclectic literary practice is best affirmed by Marking the Magic Circle (1987), a collection of fiction, poetry, essays, translations, and Jan Boles photographs. In 1988, this book won a silver medal from Literary Arts; in 2005, the same book was selected by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission as one of the 100 best Oregon books in two centuries.
As a poet and fiction writer, George Venn studied at The College of Idaho, at City Literary Institute in London, and at the University of Montana. In the 1970's he won a Breadloaf scholarship and studied briefly with the novelist John Williams. In 1980, his poem “Forgive Us...” (Off the Main Road, 1978) won a Pushcart Prize. When he received the 1995 Andres Berger Award, The Oregonian described him as “One of the best-known and most respected poets in the state.” His 1999 collection West of Paradise was a finalist for an Oregon Book Award. His poems and stories have been widely published in regional periodicals and anthologized in seventeen different state, regional, and national collections, most recently in Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach. His work has been included in the national Poetry in Motion program, carved in stone at the New Oregon Zoo, and featured in the Ron Finne film “Tamanawis Illahee.” Three different composers have set his lyrics to music for concert performances across the Pacific Northwest.
As a writer and literary historian, Venn studied with folklorist Louie Attebery at The College of Idaho and with graduate faculty at the University of Montana. His sixty articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in thirty-two different periodicals, and his prose has been anthologized in nine different collections, most recently in World Views and the American West. Reviewing his third book, a critic wrote that George Venn is “one of the foremost serious regionalists in the Northwest....” In 1992, editor Jo Alexander wrote that Venn’s essay, “Nard Jones, Weston, and Oregon Detour,” inspired the Oregon State University Press to begin what became the “Northwest Reprint Series.” In his 2003 study, On Sacred Ground: The Spirit of Place in Pacific Northwest Literature, Nicholas O’Connell wrote that Venn’s essay, “Continuity in Northwest Literature,” broke new ground by “suggesting that the landscape might serve as the focal point for a distinctive regional literature.”
As an editor and critic, Venn has reviewed manuscripts for federal agencies, university presses, literary magazines, and small presses. In the 1970's, he edited the Eastern Oregon Literary Supplement, a regional annual with 60,000 circulation. In the 1980's, he edited and published interviews with Ursula LeGuin, Carolyn Kizer, and Richard Hugo. In 1986, his edited Chinese folktale appeared in Folklore India. He has served on the editorial boards of the Oregon Historical Quarterly, Oregon East Magazine, and Northwest Folklore. From 1989-1994, he served as General Editor of the 2,300 page Oregon Literature Series. For that six-volume project, declared by NEA a national model and awarded an Exemplary Programs grant, Venn received the Stewart Holbrook Award for “outstanding contributions to Oregon’s literary life.” In 1995, the National Council of Teachers of English also recognized the project with a Multi-cultural Publishing Award.
As an educator and linguist, Venn first taught English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) as an undergraduate while studying Spanish at universities in Ecuador and Spain. After completing his M.F.A., he joined the English faculty at Eastern Oregon University where he taught courses in writing, ESL, American Literature, Literature of the West, Northwest, and Native American Literature. He also served as director of the EOU Creative Writing program; director of the ESL Program; instructor in the German-Oregon international exchange program; advisor to Oregon East, the EOU student literary journal. On four occasions between 1970 and 1988, Venn was nationally recognized by CCLM when Oregon East placed in the top twenty collegiate literary magazines in the United States. In 1981-82, while teaching at Changsha Railway University in China, he collaboratively translated poems by the exiled modernist Ai Qing. From 2001-2003, he served as President of the Oregon Council of Teachers of English. On retiring as professor of English and Writer-in-Residence, he received the Distinguished Teaching Award.
For more information, please see Contemporary Authors 231 (2005) and www.georgevenn.com.
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