A $3 million gift to support writing programs at Wesleyan was announced March 1 at the Board of Trustees dinner on campus.
The gift from John Shapiro ’74 and Shonni Silverberg ’76, a Wesleyan trustee, builds on their 2009 gift establishing the Shapiro Creative Writing Center. Shapiro said he was delighted with the speed with which the center was developed.
“We were gratified that the University moved quickly and got this program launched and established,” Shapiro said. “I’ve had good feedback from people both at Wesleyan and elsewhere. It has generated a bit of a buzz.”
This new gift will enable the expansion of faculty, the visiting writers program, and courses, among other things.
Shapiro and Silverberg have funded the Shapiro Silverberg Endowed Chair in Creative Writing, as well as the Gittel and Mervin Silverberg Visiting Scholar in Jewish Studies and the Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, and have given many other gifts to fund scholarships.
The Shapiro Creative Writing Center serves as a hub for writing activities, providing a venue for readings, workshops, colloquia, student-sponsored events, and receptions. Its lounge is open to all students enrolled in creative writing courses. The Center houses visiting writers, as well as Amy Bloom ’75, the Kim-Frank Family University Writer-in-Residence.
“This is a vote of confidence in the kind of education we provide,” President Michael S. Roth said in announcing the gift, praising Shapiro and Silverberg’s “great generosity and thoughtfulness.” He noted that Wesleyan now offers 36 creative writing courses, “and they’re full.”
Shapiro jokes that he was initially inspired to support writing programs by his own failure as a scribe.
“I fantasized about being a writer,” he said. “But I lacked the talent and the discipline.”
He believes that a general decline in writing skills makes writing programs in universities critically necessary.
“The reality is that communication in any endeavor is very important, and many people have not been adequately schooled in writing,” he said. “And this is all before we got into Twitter, texting, and e-mailing, where a smiley face and a couple of hash marks can convey information.
“I’m not looking to solve that. But we can create a center that values good writing and stimulates people, and that goes a long way.”