Ashlanders: Vincent and Patricia Wixon

Former teachers and lifelong writers, Patricia and Vincent Wixon have spent their 31 years in Ashland bringing poets and poetry-related events to the area.

For more than 10 years, the two have worked to promote the writing and preserve the legacy of Oregon's most famous poet, the late William Stafford. Every January, the Wixons spearhead a community celebration of Stafford's work. In addition, they put a great deal of time and energy into gathering and maintaining Stafford's archives at Lewis & Clark College.

They are the driving force behind a diverse list of poetry-related activities in the Rogue Valley, all of which have the same end goal: to connect teachers, students and writers. Though they play a very active role, they prefer to give students and writers center stage as they quietly manage the details behind the scenes.

The couple spoke with the Daily Tidings about the William Stafford celebration and their deep affection for Ashland and its community of writers.

DT: What brought you to Ashland?

VW: Patty's job as director of the Oregon Writing Project. First she was based in Beaverton, then Salem, and the third year in Central Point School District. We moved to to this area for her job.

PW: Vince was hired to continue the AP English classes at Crater High School. We settled in Ashland so our youngest three kids could continue to go to school in a college town. The older three were in college.

DT: Talk about the Friends of William Stafford and the upcoming celebration.

PW: Friends of William Stafford was organized two years after Stafford's death in 1993 to promote education in literature, particularly poetry in the spirit of William Stafford's gifts as a teacher and literary witness. Readings of Stafford's work were held various places, various times. Ten years ago, Friends of William Stafford decided to bring further focus to these readings by holding them in honor of Stafford's birthday Jan. 17. Now these annual events are held all over the world. The format of these readings usually involves local poets and an opportunity for audience members to tell a story about Stafford or read a favorite Stafford poem. They are a lot of fun.

DT: Tell us about your work with the Jefferson Monthly.

VW: The year after we moved to Ashland, the editor of Jefferson Monthly — then, it was called the KSOR Guide — presented a plan for having a page of creative writing by area writers in the monthly magazine and wanted us to be editors of that page.

PW: We've been doing it for 30 years. We still enjoy this volunteer job of finding poets new to the Jefferson Monthly either by submissions from JPR listeners or by Oregon poets visiting the Rogue Valley.

DT: What other activities are you involved in?

VW: Patty is on the board of the Friends of SOU Hannon Library.

PW: Since Vince retired, he's mentored several high school students in senior projects in creative writing and this year we're sounding boards for three Ashland High School journalism students re-establishing a student literary magazine, The Crimson Claw. In our daily lives, though, we both write poetry, meet with other poets, publish in literary magazines.

DT: Talk about something that makes you proud.

PW: I would say we are proud of our favorite commitment, the current projects in the Literary Archives of William Stafford, now housed at Lewis & Clark College. Vince has co-edited three Stafford books, plus he's consulting editor on two others. Also he has put in hours and hours of interviews to produce documentaries on Stafford and on Oregon's current poet laureate, Lawson Fusao Inada. These have been real highlights in his life.

VW: For Patty, her great satisfaction is in completing a three-year project producing 99 CDs of Stafford's readings, interviews and workshops over 50 years.

DT: Share your thoughts on Ashland's writing community.

PW: Ashland is a wonderful place for writers. There are many writing groups, and there are reading series with writers coming in from around the country. Also many local businesses sponsor or host readings, such as the Illahe Gallery, Karon Gallery, Bloomsbury Books, Bookwagon, Talent Coffee House and both Ashland Public Library and Hannon Library at SOU. Now, a group of ambitious students at Ashland High School are starting a literary magazine and plan to have a series of readings. There's a lot going on in the Valley.

DT: Do you have advice for aspiring writers/poets?

PW: Keep reading and writing. Don't wait for inspiration to write. As William Stafford says, "Lower your standards." Don't hold out for perfection in your first draft. Take advantage of hearing poetry read, of hearing any writer. Not just fiction, but journalists — anyone who puts energy into communicating ideas with written language for the public to read.

DT: Tell us about your family.

VW: We like to travel to visit our adult children, their spouses and see our grandkids. We're fortunate to have one of the families living here in Ashland and we love watching the grandkids' sports and other school events.

DT: Talk about someone who inspires you.

PW: For both of us, our parents have been our inspiration. Our parents served as wise models with strong, loving marriages. All four lived during the Great Depression and came through it with an abiding concern for humanity.

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