Alumnus Penned ‘Letter from a Young Poet’

Newly Published Work Emphasizes Importance of Mentorship

Hartford, Connecticut, January 21, 2016 – Faculty mentorship is integral to the liberal arts college experience. For Hyam Plutzik ’32, an accomplished poet and alumnus of Trinity College, it was transformative. His devotion to English Professor Odell Shepard, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who taught at Trinity from 1917 to 1946, inspired Plutzik to pen a 72-page missive to the man who affected him so greatly. Written in 1941, the letter was left among Shepard’s papers, which are held by the Watkinson Library at Trinity College.

Early last year, the Watkinson Library undertook the publication of this letter, in book form, with support from the Plutzik family. Paired with Shepard’s response, historical notes, and a forward by Daniel Halpern, Letter from a Young Poet offers an intimate portrait of a young Jewish writer struggling with societal expectations, a fledgling ambition, and a fractured world on the eve of World War II.

Richard Ring, head curator and librarian of the Watkinson Library, stewarded the publication of the work. For him, the theme of mentorship is particularly poignant. “Mentorship has always been a part of the Trinity College experience,” said Ring. “We hope that this letter will be an encouragement to young writers and a testament to the culture of mentorship that Trinity promotes as one of the foundations of a liberal arts education.”

The post-collegiate years described by Plutzik in his letter detail the universal angst and restlessness experienced by many young college graduates. Entering a master’s program in English at Yale University immediately after graduation, Plutzik chafed at the pedantic nature of the academy. Leaving his scholarship uncompleted, he returned home and worked in clerical and low-level jobs in journalism. He spent a year living a Thoreauvian existence in rural Connecticut while trying to write what he hoped to be his first great work. Through Letter from a Young Poet, he sought the solace and legitimation of his former mentor. “Even nine years after graduating from Trinity, Plutzik revered and coveted the counsel of Professor Shepard,” noted Ring.

Plutzik completed his graduate studies at Yale, and one year after writing the letter, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served overseas. His experience during the war inspired some of his most famous work. During the course of his lifetime, Plutzik experimented in other literary forms, including the novel, movie serial, and science fiction short story. He authored three books of poetry that were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Plutzik became the first Jewish faculty member at the University of Rochester, teaching English until his death in 1962.

Letter from a Young Poet is available for purchase at the Trinity College bookstore and may be borrowed from the Raether Library and Information Technology Center at Trinity.

Written by Ellen V. Hart