Novelist and short story writer Barry Hannah and his wife, Susan, have been honored by their friends Howard and Sylvia Lenhoff of Oxford with a scholarship endowment in their name at the University of Mississippi, where Barry Hannah is a writer-in-residence.
The Lenhoffs’ gift of $25,000 creates the Barry and Susan Hannah Creative Writing Scholarship in the Department of English.
“Barry Hannah is really very special; he’s a national treasure,” said Howard Lenhoff. “We’re hoping that this is a seed gift that will encourage his many, many friends and students to give something that will allow more students an opportunity to study with Barry.”
Hannah’s first novel, “Geronimo Rex,” won the William Faulkner Prize for writing and was nominated for the National Book Award. His first collection of short stories, “Airships,” is considered a modern classic. Hannah helped develop such writing talents as Larry Brown and Donna Tartt.
Graduate students in the creative writing program in the English department will be given first preference for the scholarship.
“We are especially grateful to Howard and Sylvia Lenhoff for this generous gift,” said Patrick Quinn, chair of English. “This scholarship will allow gifted young students to study with Barry Hannah, the master of the short story and one of the most important writers of our time.”
The Lenhoffs spent the majority of their careers at the University of California, Irvine, where Howard is a professor emeritus of biology and Sylvia served as director of relations with schools and colleges. They retired to Oxford six years ago. Soon after they relocated, they attended a discussion on Hannah’s work.
“We got interested, and we started reading his work,” Sylvia said. “We called him soon after that to see about taking a class from him. He was so gracious and let us in the class, even though it was already full.”
After finishing the class, the Lenhoffs were hooked on all things Hannah.
“I have first editions of every book Barry has ever written,” Howard said. “I also collect old Life and Esquire magazines that have stories by Barry.”
The class led Howard to become more than just a fan; it also helped him become a better writer.
“As a scientist, I’d written plenty of academic papers,” he said. “But I wanted to learn to write in a different style. Barry teaches that every story needs a beginning, middle and an end, and the end has got to be something ‘wow.’ That’s his secret.”
Since taking Hannah’s class, Lenhoff himself has authored and co-authored several books, including “Black Jews, Jews, and Other Heroes: How Grassroots Activism Led to the Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews” and “The Strangest Song: One Father’s Quest to Help His Daughter Find Her Voice,” a book about his daughter Gloria.
Describing Hannah’s style, Sylvia Lenhoff said, “His writing is fantastical and wild and goofy. You’re always amazed by him and the marvelous way he handles language.”
It’s this love of writing that the Lenhoffs hope Hannah will pass on to many more students.
“I’d like to see the scholarship grow to provide support to more than just one student,” Howard said.
The gift is part of the university’s MomentUM campaign, a four-year initiative to raise $200 million. Funds raised through the campaign, which ends in December 2008, will support scholarships, graduate fellowships, faculty support, a basketball practice facility, residential colleges and a new law school on the Oxford campus. Also in the plans are a cancer center at the UM Medical Center and a new building to house the School of Pharmacy, both in Jackson.