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Longtime Literature Professor, Noted Poet Begins Next Chapter with Retirement

University of Texas at Dallas professor Dr. Frederick Turner, who over the past 50 years has won numerous literary awards, published dozens of books, touched the lives of hundreds of students, and even been quoted in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, retired from teaching Sept. 1.

Dr. Frederick Turner

Turner, the Founders Professor of literature and creative writing, is described by many as a Renaissance scholar, with interests that span poetry and literature to neuroscience and psychology.

“He could not have fit more seamlessly into the vision that started UT Dallas — that is, seeing linkages across disciplines, seeing that the more interesting the problem, the more it demanded seeking multiple modes of understanding it,” said Dr. Dennis Kratz, senior associate provost, director of the Center for Asian Studies, and the Ignacy and Celina Rockover Professor. “He has been adventurous and willing to address the large ideas underlying the specific concepts that too many academics limit themselves to.”

Dr. Nils Roemer, interim dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, director of the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies, and the Stan and Barbara Rabin Professor in Holocaust Studies, described Turner as an unbound professor who will delve into anything to follow his curiosity.

“For Fred, it’s all connected — science, nature, poetry — and there’s no real separation. These types of scholars are not governed by boundaries or disciplines or a sense of respective expertise. If there’s something that interests them — something beautiful and aesthetic — they are there,” Roemer said.

“He could not have fit more seamlessly into the vision that started UT Dallas — that is, seeing linkages across disciplines, seeing that the more interesting the problem, the more it demanded seeking multiple modes of understanding it. He has been adventurous and willing to address the large ideas underlying the specific concepts that too many academics limit themselves to.”

Dr. Dennis Kratz, senior associate provost, director of the Center for Asian Studies, and the Ignacy and Celina Rockover Professor

The son of an anthropologist, Turner grew up in Zambia where he learned through correspondence courses. Eventually, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Oxford, where he also earned a BLitt (no longer given), which is a terminal degree at the PhD level.

Turner came to UT Dallas in 1985 after beginning his teaching career in 1967 at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Turner taught a range of subjects, including Shakespeare, Renaissance studies and performance studies, but writing and literature always remained the heart of his work.

“Fundamentally, I’m a poet,” he said. “I had my sense of poetic vocation when I was about 10 years old. And although I love teaching and love being a scholar, those were essentially ways of supporting my writing habit. Poets need patrons, and probably the best patron you can have is yourself.”

Turner is a winner of the Milán Füst Prize (Hungary’s highest literary honor), the Levinson Prize for poetry, the Dallas Chapter Golden Pen Award, The Missouri Review essay prize, the David Robert Poetry prize, the Gjenima Prize, and several other literary, artistic and academic honors. He has participated in literary and TV projects that have won the Independent Book Publishers Association Benjamin Franklin Award and an Emmy, respectively. He is a fellow of the Texas Institute of Letters. Turner’s Genesis: An Epic Poem, published in 1988, was the first major work of poetry that addressed the idea of terraforming Mars.

Dr. Frederick Turner (right) and Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth read testimonies written by concentration camp prisoners during a special Holocaust event in March 2018. Turner and Ozsváth, who also retired recently, collaborated on a number of writings and events, particularly translation projects.

He has published nearly 50 books, which include collections of poetry, book-length poems, literary criticism, cultural criticism and literary translations. Most of the translation books were done with his longtime collaborator, Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, UT Dallas professor of literature and history, who also retired recently. The two plan to continue their weekly meetings and translation collaboration. Turner called Ozsváth his closest non-family friend.

Roemer said Turner has been popular — even life-changing — among students.

“You have normal professors, and you have professors with whom students form very deep, long-lasting relationships. Fred is among those professors who have been very transformative to many, many students,” Roemer said.

Even though Turner is retiring from teaching, he said he will continue to contribute to the University through talks, advice and institutional memory. He plans to spend most of his time diving deeper into his writing.

“You have normal professors, and you have professors with whom students form very deep, long-lasting relationships. Fred is among those professors who have been very transformative to many, many students.”

Dr. Nils Roemer, interim dean of the School of Arts and Humanities

“For Fred, retirement is about finally being able to do all the other things he wants to do — particularly writing,” Roemer said. “His writing was part of UT Dallas, but it also extended beyond that, to the world, which is why I think his teaching is the biggest mark that he is leaving behind.”

Turner said he hopes UT Dallas will continue to focus on its interdisciplinary nature.

“The University, of course, has big demands to shine in particular niches or pigeonholes, and that’s fine,” he said. “But I think the soul of the University is in what happens in between the pigeonholes. And I hope we continue with that.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.