“I loved to read when I was a kid,” he says. “I felt that I would like to give to others the delight those authors gave to me. I decided to try to become a writer myself.”
Having defined his course, he set out. At 15, while in prep school, he took third place in a local newspaper’s high school poetry contest. A job as student correspondent and newspaper morgue clerk ensued at that same paper; he began submitting poems to the local poetry column, and his literary career was launched.
Four years in the U.S. Navy after high school put Turco on the USS Hornet for two years and a round-the-world cruise. Before his discharge in 1956, he married Jean Houdlette and made plans to attend the University of Connecticut, with two scholarships from the Meriden newspaper at which he had worked to augment his GI Bill funding. With Navy-earned academic credits and an impressive list of publications, Turco completed the U. Conn. program and used the remaining funds for a master’s from the Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa.
Teaching at Fenn College after graduation, Turco founded and directed what is now the Cleveland State University Poetry Center, an accomplishment that brought him to the attention of Oswego’s Dr. Erwin Palmer, who was chair of the English department.
“Dr. Palmer wanted an actively publishing poet, and he wanted me to start a poetry center modeled after the one in Cleveland,” Turco says. “I had to tell him it was impossible in a city the size of Oswego.”
Turco offered an alternative. “I said I could begin a program in writing arts if he wanted it.” With that, Oswego became the site of one of the premier undergraduate writing programs in the nation. Genre specific and workshop oriented, the program demands academic rigor with commitment to creativity and publication. As director and professor, Turco shaped student authors for 31 years, nurturing them as they acquired basic skills and advanced techniques and helping them prepare their work for submission.
“I loved my students,” says Turco, who retired in 1996. “Many of them continue to stay in touch through Facebook or in person.”
He speaks with pride of his former students who have succeeded in writing careers as novelists, educators, software developers, poets and Oswego faculty members.
Poets around the world have been initiated into the principles of formal poetry through Turco’s The Book of Forms, now in its fourth edition. Wesli Court (an anagram) published Epitaphs for the Poets in 2012, and Turco last summer finished an epic poem titled “The Hero Enkidu.”
Fifty-two books, chapbooks and monographs, in addition to hundreds of poems, stories, plays and essays in journals and anthologies, are evidence of his status as a writer. Generations of former students attest to his effectiveness as a professor.
Nose stuck in a book, hands on the keyboard, directing a program and teaching developing writers: Lewis Putnam Turco reflects that he has met his goal to live a useful literary life.
—Linda Loomis ’90 M’97
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