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'My thoughts' – notes on writing for ASU

October 09, 2012

Editor's Note: This op-ed by Judith Smith is part of a larger story on Smith's retirement from ASU, where she worked as a writer for 25 years.

I jokingly call myself “the ASU rabble rouser,” but it really isn’t a joke. I have decided, over the years, to stick my neck out and work on my twin passions: encouraging the ASU community to get out on the campus and explore the many riches ASU offers, and spotlighting our talented staff.

Who knew that Gary Beckert makes stunning guitars by hand in his garage, or that Pam Howard creates beaded jewelry that could be worn by royalty?

Or that Randy Kemp and Dean Yazzie play together in a group they call Artificial Red?

There are many, many more staff who paint, write, make photographs, compose music and so on. I suggested to several campus organizations that they sponsor a staff artfest, but no one ever did. Since I had long wanted to have such an event, I decided to do it myself, and we have now had a staff artfest every summer for the past six years, and a holiday sale on Hayden Lawn, open to all ASU faculty, staff, students, retirees and alumni.

At both festivals, the colleagues of the participants are usually surprised at the talents of their coworkers. I hope the artfests continue. I believe that ASU is the only university to have such fests.

Since I have a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in American literature, and have always loved to read, and have thoroughly enjoyed interviewing and writing about ASU’s many authors, I proposed the idea of an ASU book group.

I knew of several book groups on campus that met at lunchtime, but they were departmental. Since we have so many faculty who have published books, I thought, why not start a book group open to all the campus, with our talented faculty on hand to discuss their books? Or local authors, with or without ties to ASU?

With sponsorship from the Department of English and Piper Center for Creative Writing, we are launching our second year of the ASU Book Group. We’ve enjoyed meeting with Jewell Parker Rhodes, T.R. Hummer, Gary Stuart, Miral Al- Tahawy and many more.

My passion to bring ASU’s research, galleries, collections and other behind-the-scenes activities to the faculty and staff is unfulfilled. I want very much for everyone to learn first-hand what is happening on the campus. My idea for a lunch-hour gathering where people could meet the harp professor Lynne Aspnes, hear a talk from a Biodesign scientist, learn about our public art, and delve into all the fascinating nooks and crannies at ASU, was to be sponsored by a graduate-student group, but that group disbanded.

Then there is the carillon. I learned of its existence by accident while searching archives records for information about Arthur John Matthews, the seventh principal of Tempe Normal School, for whom Matthews Center is named. The carillon was installed in Matthews Hall in 1966 but had disappeared from sight.

Being a musician, I was fascinated by the possibility of finding this instrument, and so I went on a search that paid off when I laid eyes on the carillon in a cluttered Matthews Center storeroom.

I couldn’t just leave it there, so a 10-year odyssey began that led to the carillon’s permanent home in Old Main. My hope is that this instrument, which was donated to ASU by Associated Students, becomes an important part of campus life. It’s an important tradition because it honors those in the ASU community who lost their lives in war.

I have been very blessed to have worked at ASU for 25 years. Working at a university is like going to a banquet every day, except our nourishment is a smorgasbord of ideas, research, discovery, art, music, and intellectual stimulation.

– Judith Smith