Goodison Receives WOCAP Verrett Award in a Music and Poetry Filled Event

Snow fell lightly in the early evening outside of Stamps Auditorium as people gathered for the 2015 Women of Color in the Academy Project Shirley Verrett Award Ceremony honoring this year’s awardee, author Lorna Goodison. The event was held on February 11, 2015. Welcoming the audience was Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion and Academic Affairs, Robert Sellers. Rebecca Hasson, Professor of Kinesiology and WOCAP member, was the Mistress of Ceremony.

Lorna Goodison, this year’s awardee, is professor emerita in English language and literaure and Afroamerican and African studies. She is one of the Caribbean’s most distinguished and internationally celebrated  contemporary poets who uses her poetic voice to tell the story of her home country, Jamaica, the people, the challenges and the beauty of life there. In her role as a teacher, one colleague said of Goodison “She has instilled in her students a passion for, and a love of, the music of language and perhaps most significantly, has provided her students new tools for understanding  and sharing the stories of their experience.”

The Shirley Verrett Award recognizes a faculty member whose work supports the success of women in the creative arts who come from diverse cultural and racial backgrounds and promotes diversity as an important part of the University’s educational mission. Shirley Verrett, an acclaimed opera singer and faculty member at the Univerisity of Michigan, performed over 40 roles all over the world during her career and was much admired for her dedication to teaching and to her students.

George Shirley, Professor Emeritus of Music, spoke eloquently of admiring Verrett as a performer. He remembered the day he suggested to her that she consider teaching at the University. “I didn’t think she would,” he said “but I asked her to think about it.” When she agreed, he was elated. She came to U-M in 1996. Her committment to her students was legend. In a speech she gave to a class of freshman, she said, “Not all of you who come through these portals will become major opera singers or renowned scholars. However, every one of you should leave this university as an educated person.”

One of her former students (and cousin) Marcia Porter, also an opera singer and Associate Professor of Voice at Florida State University, sang  “lo son l’umile ancella by Franceso Cilea and “He’s got the whole world in His Hand” accompanied on the Steinway grand piano by Lydia Qui, pianist, in tribute to Verrett and this year’s awardee Lorna Goodison.

Before Robin Wilson, Associate Professor of Dance, presented Goodison with the award, one of Goodison’s former students, a CEW Scholarship winner and distinguished poet, Zilke Joseph, read three of her own poems in tribute.

Goodison herself wrote a poem in honor of Shirley Verrett calling out the name of every role Shirley Verrett had ever played. She spoke of  her admiration for Verrett and her thanks in being honored.

A reception concluded the event.