Celebrated author Lorrie Moore departed her post at UW-Madison much the way she’s carried herself since first moving to town in 1984: quietly and without fanfare.

Moore leaves her position as professor in the humanities and creative writing instructor to accept an endowed chair at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University as the Gertrude Conway Vanderbilt Professor of English.

The news first broke via an official Vanderbilt press release and soon moved through the media.

The Isthmus cited Moore’s reputation as “a major draw for prospective students” and quoted poet Ron Wallace, who first recruited Moore to the university, saying, “I can say for certain that we’ll miss her mightily.”

On her blog, UW-Madison law professor Ann Althouse referred to the news as "a sad day for us."

Reactions in Nashville were far less muted.

Vanderbilt English professor Tony Earley could barely contain his glee upon hearing the news.

“Lorrie’s the most influential short story writer working in America, and has been for the last 20 years,” he said. “Ordinarily I would say that our MFA students have no idea how lucky they are, but they know exactly how lucky they are. They actually shouted for joy when they heard. I did, too, but first I made sure nobody could hear me.”

Earley’s excitement is certainly warranted. In her celebrated career, Moore, the author of three novels and four collections of short stories, has received an O. Henry Award and landed a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Her latest novel, “A Gate at the Stairs,” which was released in 2009, garnered high praise from national outlets like the New York Times (in his review, critic Jonathan Lethem described Moore as “brainy, humane, unpretentious and warm; seemingly effortlessly lyrical; Lily-Tomlin-funny”).

Locally, Moore has a reputation as something of a recluse (a 2009 interview with 77 Square opened with a question about her non-existent public profile), so it’s not surprising she has yet to comment publicly about her departure.

Reaction to the news on her public Facebook profile has been generally positive. Over 130 people “liked” a post about the announcement, while the comments on it ranged from well-wishers offering congratulations (“Best of luck in your new position”) to locals still adapting to the news (“Bad for us, good for them”).

Last year, Moore spoke with the New Yorker about her short story “Referential,” which she conceived and wrote as a tribute to Vladimir Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols.” While the May interview offered no clues about Moore’s mind state or her looming decision to depart Madison, reporter Deborah Treisman’s inquiry about the couple at the center of “Referential” struck a chord.

“In your story, Nabakov’s aging married couple becomes a couple with…a relationship which is clearly reaching an end,” she said.

Now, unfortunately, the same can be said about Moore’s time at UW-Madison.

Her departure continues a disconcerting trend for the university, which lost two nationally recognized faculty members in 2011 in the wake of the uncertainty surrounding Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed two-year budget, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

You might also like

(16) comments


We wish Ms. Moore well in her new venture at Vanderbilt. The accusation that Governor Walker to blame for her leaving is, well, ludicrous. She went for the money grab. We cannot sustain budget deficits for our children and grandchildren to inherit, and Governor Walker understands this. Fiscal sanity, in the end, is what this state and the University needs. In the short term there will be some pain, but nothing compared to the pain of economic ruin in the future if we don't live within our budgets. Take a look around the UW campus in Madison at all the new buildings going up--there's where a lot of the money that could be going to faculty salaries is diverted.


Yes - There wil be more of these people (faculty and administration) leaving UW-Madison in the next few months. At one time they could use the benefits as alternative compensation, but that is no longer available. Any new faculty (1 - 8 years) can and will leave and certainly will be considering offers. They need to be in a position where they can sell their house and move in a expedient manner. There is really nothing that the Board of Regents can do about this anymore - actually they (the board) have been non effective in years, but in reality have no power to move the university from being viewed as a liability from the legistrature instead of a asset. To those who suggest you move with your feet - you can get used to more of this. To those who value a UW-Madison education, rest assurred they will try to stay ahead, and will succeed to some extent, but they will remain at the margins of success as UW-Madison can no longer lead, but just try to keep up.


She is leaving for an "endowed chair" in a city that is regarded as one of the best places to live. Nashville is constantly being written about as the new "it" place. Besides, it's warmer there!


Wow, is there anything more pathetic than conservatives trolling an article comment section like this? Good lord. Slow work day.


She did it quietly because...who cares that she did leave? People make decisions like this everyday in the local workforce. Slow news day I see!


Oh please cap times- get over it - walker won - you lost. I swear you could make a story about a little kid falling off his bike walker's fault. I think we should make it a drinking game


When a UW scientist writes a grant, they pay part of their salary (in most but not all schools) from the grant, the salaries of their graduate students and technicians, and the University also gets a cut as indirect costs. When a writer publishes a book, do the proceeds go right into their pockets above their salaries? Does the University get any financial return for providing the writer with office space, TAs for the courses they teach?


Humanities Profs make a lot less than the Profs in the sciences.


Not true actually. If you comb through the salary data available online you'll find that some of the larger humanities departments are actually better paid than some of the physical sciences departments.


I doubt much writing gets done in campus office space, due to the many distractions there. As for TAs, they serve the students and not the professor.

It might be reasonable to ask what the university gets back for the salary they pay though. Overall, grant money raised by UW Madison faculty totals something like 4 to 5 times their overall salary, but this relationship doesn't apply in humanities departments.


A "major draw for prospective students". That is the first time that an English Professor, instead of an athelete or coach, has been described that way.


Will the last faculty member to leave this fine University that has been gutted by Doyle and Walker, please turn off the lights?


Wow, such negativity in these comments. Good luck Lorrie! You will be missed by those of us who had a chance to learn from you!


I'm sure that she will be missed but what is wonderful about UW Madison is that they can bring in top flight replacements. Remember a few years ago when lots of profs in Political Science either left, died or retired? That department now has lots of very productive, very scholarly people of top talent: and they are younger and more industrious than the people they replaced. The truth is there are lots of brilliant people out there without good jobs and good connections who would love to be at a school like Madison. So thanks, goodbye, and good luck. And note, that most writers do their best work early in their career!


Unfortunately the new reality is that UW faculty numbers are shrinking, especially in Letters and Science. It is very difficult in the present financial situation to get replacements approved. And some departments are electing to provide long overdue raises rather than hire new faculty. For better or worse, the old days of hiring to fill vacancies are over.

Obviously someone forgot to tell Vanderbilt that they're hiring a washed-up author ( probably for twice her current salary).


Just a plot by Scooter Walker to dilute the quality of the UW staff to make his alma mater Marquette appear more relevant as an institute of higher learning in Wisconsin.

Oh wait, you actually have to graduate to have an alma mater.


Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Exchange ideas and opinions on posted articles. Don't promote products or services, impersonate other site users, register multiple accounts, threaten or harass others, post vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language. Don't post content that defames or degrades anyone. Don't repost copyrighted material; link to it. In other words, stick to the topic and play nice. Report abuses by clicking the button. Users who break the rules will be banned from commenting. We no longer issue warnings. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.