Letters to the Editor

Letter: Tale of two Bills

March 1, 2014


To the editor:

William Stafford was a citizen of Lawrence. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees up on the hill, an exemplary student. William Burroughs lived in town a few years too. As Clark H. Coan pointed out (Public Forum, Feb. 26), he wasn’t such a great example.

Both Williams would have turned 100 within a short time here: the one who was born and raised in Kansas, and learned in Lawrence — and this other man. Just why again is Burroughs being heralded over Stafford?

William Stafford, a National Book Award winner and a U.S. poet laureate, is known and loved around the globe for his truthful writing, gentle manner and ethical convictions. He was an artist of the first tier and has been deemed the most-read poet in America.

William Stafford, unlike your other Bill, not only didn’t murder anybody, he would not take up arms when ordered to and so spent four years laboring as a World War II conscientious objector. He was that convinced that killing was wrong. And he stood tall for peace all of his life.

I heard William Stafford read two dozen times. I visited his home, and he mine. He was steady. And I met your other Bill in his house as well, but came away underwhelmed.

Again, why is it that Lawrencians keep taking a shine to the one William over the other? Why can’t we all honor the honorable Bill? Why not give this Burroughs business a rest?


Richard Heckler 3 years, 7 months ago

Perhaps it is time to consider using names of "regular" people rather than only those who became well known for a variety of reasons.

How about Bill Remmers Avenue of Smiles shared use path over by the river or a KT Walsh Power Walkway connecting to the Bill Remmers Avenue of Smiles.

Then there is this maintenance person at Babcock Place that probably deserves recognition for his attitude and smile as well.

Then there is Gayle,Sandy and Suzanne from Babcock Place as well that deserve a ton of recognition for their tireless efforts of making Babcock Place a wonderful place to live for many. What a team!!!

Surely there must be a creative house painter in town that also deserves recognition.

Enjoy the day folks as the north wind will once again prevail.

Leslie Swearingen 3 years, 7 months ago

I confess I had never heard of William Stafford until I read your letter, which is right on the mark in my opinion. I looked him up and have read some of his poems which are excellent. I am very glad you wrote this letter as I now have a new author to read.


Clark Coan 3 years, 7 months ago

Here's his life in Kansas, including Lawrence.

William Edgar Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914, to Ruby Mayher and Earl Ingersoll Stafford. The eldest of three children, Stafford grew up with an appreciation for nature and books.

During the Depression the family moved from town to town as Earl Stafford searched for jobs. William helped to support the family also, by delivering papers, working in the sugar beet fields, raising vegetables, and as an electrician's mate. In 1933 Stafford graduated from high school in Liberal, Kansas, and attended Garden City and El Dorado junior colleges, graduating from the University of Kansas in 1937. In 1939 Stafford enrolled at the University of Wisconsin to begin graduate studies in Economics, but by the next year he had returned to Kansas to earn his master's degree in English.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941 Stafford was drafted before he could obtain his degree. As a registered pacifist, Stafford worked in camps and projects for conscientious objectors in Arkansas, California, and Illinois. He spent 1942 to 1946 in these work camps and was paid $2.50 per month for assigned duties such as fire fighting, soil conservation, and building and maintaining roads and trails. In 1944 while in California Stafford met and married Dorothy Frantz, the daughter of a minister of the Church of the Brethren.

Following the war Stafford taught one year at a high school, spent a year working for relief organization Church World Service, and finished his master's degree at the University of Kansas in 1947. His master's thesis, memoirs of his time spent as a conscientious objector, was published as a book of prose, Down in My Heart (Brethren Publishing House, 1947).

Ken Lassman 3 years, 7 months ago

I think William Stafford's poetry is some of the best, anytime, anywhere, and am all for highlighting his being a Kansan and a Jayhawk, both of which were important to his identity, even though most of his life was spent in Oregon. His quietly brilliant poetry can surprise and inspire like few others, bar none, and we are honored to have been a part of his life and should celebrate those connections.

On the other hand, I see no reason not to celebrate the impact Lawrence had on William Burroughs as well, one which was almost entirely positive by any measure. Choosing one man's local connections OVER the other is just silly, since they were both influenced by and influence our fair city and state. Both men showcase important parts of what make us who we are and are both world class artists in their own right.

I like Dickie's sentiments as well; here's to the not so common but far less prominent folks that can be found throughout our community!

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