OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi adjunct biology professor Howard Lenhoff, and his wife, Sylvia, have honored their friends by creating the Barry and Susan Hannah Creative Writing Scholarship Endowment with a gift of $25,000.
Barry Hannah, a novelist and short story writer, is a writer-in-residence at UM. His first novel, “Geronimo Rex,” won the William Faulkner Prize for writing and was nominated for the National Book Award when he was just 30. His first collection of short stories, “Airships,” is now considered a modern classic. Hannah has also helped develop such writing talents as Larry Brown and Donna Tartt.
“Barry Hannah is really very special,” Howard Lenhoff said. “He’s a national treasure. We’re hoping that this is a seed gift that will encourage his many, many friends and students to give something that will allow more students an opportunity to study with Barry.”
First preference for the scholarship will be given to a graduate student in the creative writing program in the English Department at Ole Miss.
“We are especially grateful to Howard and Sylvia Lenhoff for this generous gift,” said Patrick Quinn, English Department chair. “This scholarship will allow gifted young students to study with Barry Hannah, the master of the short story and one of the most important writers of our time.”
The Lenhoffs, who spent the majority of their careers at the University of California, Irvine, where Howard is a professor emeritus of biology and Sylvia served as director of relations with schools and colleges, retired to Oxford six years ago. Soon after they relocated, they attended a discussion on Hannah’s work.
“We got interested and we started reading his work,” Sylvia said. “We called him soon after that to see about taking a class from him. He was so gracious and let us in the class even though it was already full.”
After finishing the class, the Lenhoffs were hooked on all things Hannah.
“I have first editions of every book Barry has ever written,” Howard said. “I also collect old Life and Esquire magazines that have stories by Barry.”
And the class led Howard to become more than just a fan – it helped him become a better writer, too.
“As a scientist, I’d written plenty of academic papers,” he said. “But I wanted to learn to write in a different style. Barry teaches that every story needs a beginning, middle and an end, and the end has got to be something wow. That’s his secret.”
Since taking Hannah’s class, Lenhoff himself has authored and co-authored several books, including “Black Jews, Jews, and Other Heroes: How Grassroots Activism Led to the Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews,” and “The Strangest Song: One Father’s Quest to Help His Daughter Find Her Voice,” a book about his daughter, Gloria.
It’s this love of writing that the Lenhoffs hope Hannah will pass on to as many more students as possible.
“I’d like to see the scholarship grow to provide support to more than just one student,” Howard said.
“His writing is fantastical and wild and goofy,” Sylvia said. “You’re always amazed by him and the marvelous way he handles language.”
The gift is part of the university’s MomentUM campaign, a four-year initiative to raise $200 million. Funds raised through the campaign, which ends in December 2008, will support scholarships, graduate fellowships, faculty support, a basketball practice facility, residential colleges and a new law school on the Oxford campus. Also in the plans are a cancer center at the UM Medical Center and a new building to house the School of Pharmacy, both in Jackson.
For more information on making a contribution to the Barry and Susan Hannah Creative Writing Scholarship Endowment, please visit http://www.umf.olemiss.edu/makeagift.