By Simon Boes
Sewanee welcomed home Sam Pickering (C’63) to give a talk and sign his latest book Happy Vagrancy, as well as receive an honorary degree during Convocation. Sewanee was only the beginning of Pickering’s extensive and impressive English and writing career in academia. Pickering went on to get another B.A and ultimately an M.A. at St Catharine’s College in Cambridge, followed by a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and honorary Doctor of Letters from Oglethorpe University. He started teaching as an assistant professor at Dartmouth College then went on to be an associate professor at University of Connecticut where he has been since. Pickering taught across the world, from Syria to Scotland. A Fulbright scholar, Pickering is truly an inspirational writer and professor.
Gailor Auditorium was packed with intent listeners including Pickering’s old pals, students, and even the editor of the Sewanee Review. Pickering read some of his short stories, recalled some of his school anecdotes, and took questions from the crowd. He explained, “I am a literary magpie, scavenging all sorts of things,” as well as “I have devoted my literary career to writing the unread.” Pickering held the audience in suspense by discussing simple ideas that he adds a twist to. For example, Pickering stated, “I wish that the word ‘patriot’ were not exclusive, but inclusive, and included the good Samaritan.” Pickering had the onlookers’ reactions switching from roaring laughter to thoughtful contemplation: the sign of a great speaker.
When prompted to speak on what he would say to the current undergraduates of Sewanee, he responded that our time here at this wonderful place is not just about grades, but to reach out, do new things, and discover who you are. A former student wrote the script for Dead Poets Society, The role Robin Williams, Mr. Keating, is loosely based on Pickering and his eccentric, thought-provoking teaching and writing. Hopefully Pickering will return to the University of the South soon to impart more wisdom.