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.