Eastern Oregon University > Mountaineer Magazine > Spring 2019 > Writing off the page

Writing off the page

Ars-Poetica-2019When Sandra (Ellston) Mason’s husband passed away in 2008, she decided to commemorate him with a gift to the EOU Foundation that would bear his name in perpetuity.

The Carl and Sandra Ellston Ars Poetica Literary Lecture Series invites professional writers to visit campus in La Grande each term, where they read from published work, answer questions, and collaborate with students.

Mason was a dean and professor of English at EOU, and she and her late husband participated in a range of cultural events.

“One of my major joys was to recognize and celebrate the way in which EOU is the cultural center of the region,” she said. “I thought it would be nice to have our name attached to an experience like that for students and the community.”

Now retired, Mason has published four books since 2011 including the well-received novel “The Lighthouse Ghost of Yaquina Bay,” and she has two more in the works. She has met Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney, multiple Poet Laureates and other well-known writers who inspired her to keep honing her craft.

“Over my own lifetime, some of the things that made a lasting impression on me were poets and writers reading their own work,” she said.

“One of my major joys was to recognize and celebrate the way in which EOU is the cultural center of the region.”

Her gift to the Foundation established an endowment that provides ongoing funding to keep writers coming to EOU for generations, passing on the experience that meant so much to her.

“How great to bring in working writers to share the details of their craft, as well as the fruits of their labor,” she said.

Mason reflected on her own experience entering the field during great upheaval of traditional literary criticism and the canon itself.

“When I was a student, especially as I became a grad student, the discipline of English was starting to blow apart,” she said. “As we became professors, the curriculum changed to be more inclusive first of women and then people of color. It was a sea-change of the whole degree program.”

Mason stays engaged with literature and writing programs on Oregon’s central coast. She’s been running a writers’ group for about a decade, and served as president of the nonprofit Writers on the Edge. Mason organized and hosted a region-wide conference called The Northwest Poets’ Concord for six years, and she co-founded Turnstone Books of Oregon, which publishes volumes by Oregon writers.

“I endowed the Ars Poetica series to ensure that students could experience writers ‘off the page,’” Mason said.,“…reading their own work and discussing the creative process.”