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Jarold Ramsey receives Distinguished Writer Award

April 26, 2017

On Monday night at the Oregon Book Awards, Jarold Ramsey was honored with the C. E. S. Wood Distinguished Writer Award, presented to an Oregon author in recognition of an enduring, substantial literary career.

OSU Press has been fortunate to have a long and fruitful history with Jerry Ramsey, stretching across three decades. In 1990, he encouraged us to reissue Nehalem Tillamook Tales, for which he wrote a new Introduction. He co-edited The Stories We Tell, an award-winning anthology of Oregon folk literature. A move back to his family ranch north of Madras in 2000 inspired the essay collection New Era: Reflections on the Human and Natural History of Central Oregon. Next year, OSU Press will publish a companion volume of essays entitled Words Marked by a Place. Ramsey was introduced at the ceremony by Portland poet Armin Tolentino, who has graciously allowed us to share his remarks.

 

Armin Tolentino (left) with Jarold Ramsey. (Photograph: Laura Stanfill)

Armin Tolentino (left) with Jarold Ramsey (photograph by Laura Stanfill)

 

* * *

 

Here from the start, from our first of days, look:
I have carved our lives in secret on this stick
of mountain mahogany the length of your arms
outstretched, the wood clear red, so hard and rare.
It is time to touch and handle what we know we share.

 

So says the speaker in Jarold Ramsey’s poem, “The Tally Stick,” and how fitting that today we get to celebrate this year’s C. E. S. Wood Distinguished Writer Award as a sort of tally stick for Jarold’s lifetime of devotion to literature. His is a career that has been notched over and over, and not just with his own work, but with the words of those who have collectively shaped our literary landscape.

Jarold Ramsey, at any given moment is a poet, essayist, scholar, editor, mentor, mountain climber, letter writer, and, according to rumors, connoisseur of mail order novelty products such as joy buzzers and itching powder.

Though he was on loan to Upstate New York for 35 years as a beloved English Professor at the University of Rochester, his heart has always belonged to central Oregon, and it was inevitable that he’d find his way back. His poetry is steeped in this landscape; it is an echo and benediction through the canyons.

But for many it is his meticulous work compiling and editing American Indian literature for which we are most grateful. The seminal collection Coyote Was Going There and its companion book of essays Reading the Fire are both considered foundational to any scholarship on Northwest folklore, but more importantly, emphasized theses stories as art, not trinket or bauble, but a manifestation of human creativity to be valued as much as any literature we teach to our kids and return to in times of celebration and grief.

One story in the collection, called the Sun-Box from the Warm Springs tribe, describes how Crow smashed Eagle’s sun box, thus releasing light into the world. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Jarold had a major part in doing the same for Northwest Indian literature, freeing it from archives of university basements to be living art with us all today. After all, Jarold helped ensure that any discussion of American Literature is by definition incomplete if it doesn’t include American Indian Literature.

Please help me in welcoming to the stage our 2017 C. E. S. Wood Distinguished Writer, Jarold Ramsey!

Armin Tolentino, April 24, 2017

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