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TURNER, ALBERTA

TURNER, ALBERTA (1919 - 2003) was born in 1919 in Pleasantville, New York. Alberta Tucker attended Hunter College, earning her master's and Ph.D. at Wellesley College and Ohio State University. At OSU she met and married Arthur Turner, graduate student who wore leg braces as a result of polio. In 1947, Arthur began teaching English at Oberlin College. The school's nepotism clause limited Alberta to teaching only the occasional course, so in 1964 she accepted a part-time teaching position at Cleveland's Fenn College along with the directorship of its Poetry Forum, an ambitious project established a year or two earlier by the poet Lewis Turco. Turner continued in both capacities after Fenn was subsumed in 1967 into the new CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY. In 1969 she moved to full-time status. The same year, at Oberlin, she co-founded Field, a journal of contemporary poetry and politics that over the next twenty years would bring her into contact with, and earn her the respect of, most of the eminent poets then writing in America and England.

For almost three decades Alberta Turner boarded a Greyhound bus in Oberlin, Ohio, and made the one-hour trip in to Cleveland, often not returning home till late in the evening. In her office on the18th floor of Cleveland State University's Rhodes Tower, she met with students throughout the day, continuing conversations in the elevator on her way down to class. And one Friday a month, for 26 years, she presided over an open poetry workshop that might run till 11 p.m.-at the conclusion of which, her longtime colleague Leonard Trawick remembers, she would toss her arms and proclaim, "It's been such a wonderful day!"

Turner's zest for life was legend. It is also apparent on every page of the eight books of poetry she found time to write-when she wasn't arranging for a major literary figure like Allen Ginsberg or Seamus Heaney to give a reading or workshop at CSU, or publishing an article about Milton (on whose poetry she was an authority), or poring over a manuscript in her capacity as director of the CSU POETRY CENTER (The Center's annual competition and prize, which included publication of a book, drew between 800 and 1,000 manuscripts a year from around the U.S. and the world at the height of its glory). The Harvard Review pronounced her own work "constantly fresh, surprising, and singular."

Forced into mandatory retirement from CSU in 1990 at age 70, Turner jumped at the chance to continue teaching there part-time. She maintained contact with her former students, some now published poets, and continued to be active with the Poetry Center and its press, which in 1993 brought out its 100th title. Her own last book of poems, Tomorrow Is a Tight Fist, was published in 2001 when she was 81. Alberta Turner died in 2003 at her home in Oberlin.


Dennis J. Dooley, winner of the 1986 Cleveland Arts Prize