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Updated 5:00 PM March 16, 2007




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  Distinguished University Professor lecture
Maintaining creativity a significant challenge for elder artists in youth culture

Baseball players and ballerinas know by the age of 40 their best years are behind them, but artists have no reason to stop creating as they get older, says Nicholas Delbanco, the Robert Frost Distinguished Professor of English.
(Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

Yet keeping their art, whether it is writing, painting or sculpting, fresh and relevant can be a daunting task, he says. In a culture that celebrates youth, avoiding repetition is a challenge that faces not only artists but aging Americans who still yearn to paint a sunset or take piano lessons.

Delbanco, who published his first novel 40 years ago, will explore why some artists remain creative and relevant as they age and others fade away, when he delivers the Distinguished University Professorship Lecture at 4 p.m. March 27 in the Rackham Amphitheater. The lecture is titled "Lastingness."

Delbanco's latest novel "Spring and Fall" explores the chance reunion of two former lovers on a cruise ship after 40 years. Since the book was published last fall, he says he has heard from many people who have had a similar experience.

"Part of the problem of lastingness has to do with the fact that people live a lot longer," Delbanco says. "As a race, especially in western cultures, we haven't figured out the secret of longevity. Shakespeare died in his early 50s and Keats died at 26."

In the era of computer blogs and YouTube Delbanco, Chair of the Hopwood Awards Committee and the author of 23 books, remains optimistic about the future of literature. On a recent vacation he saw many people reading books on airplanes and beaches.

"The human impulse to be in the presence of art is still there," he says.

Distinguished University Professorships recognize exceptional scholarly and/or creative achievement, national and international reputation and superior teaching skills. Established in 1947 by the Board of Regents, the awards provide an annual salary supplement of $5,000 and an annual research supplement of $5,000. The duration of the appointment is unlimited, and the professor may keep the title until after retirement.

Since 2002 Distinguished University Professors have been expected to deliver an inaugural lecture during the first year of the appointment.

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