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April 2011

Assistant prof. & artist-in-residence Stanley E. Banks - Avila's poet laureate

For the last 14 years, as a professor of English in Avila University's College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Stanley Banks has shared with students his love of words and their usage. That love and appreciation for the art of language runs deep, whether it's commonly-used phrases in the everyday American lexicon, or finer prose like creative writing and poetry.

In fact, Banks' love of poetry goes well beyond classroom lectures or seminars. He's a well-respected poet himself, having had four books of his works published over the years, and recently served as editor for a book of poetry by his wife, Janet.

"I just like spreading the word and joy of writing," he said.

As it's turned out, Avila has played a large part in that passion for longer than he ever envisioned, he said. He started his career at the university as an adjunct professor in the spring of 1997, while keeping his full-time job as an English teacher at Paseo High School in Kansas City, Mo. His first semester, he taught just one class, creative writing (poetry).

"It was one of the best times I've had teaching," Banks said. "The students were just thirsty for writing."

He was asked to join the faculty at Avila fulltime the next fall and, though he said it was difficult leaving Paseo, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to teach at the next level.

"You go from teaching six classes of 30 students each per day … going to teaching in college is like going on a working vacation," he said, laughing.

During his tenure at Avila, Banks has taught everything from composition to creative writing to African-American literature – and, enjoyed every minute of it.

"I'm like the Knute Rockne … or, what's the name of the old Green Bay Packers coach? (Vince Lombardi)," he said. "I like to give the motivational speech.

"I can't believe I've been here this long, but … Sr. Marie (Harris, Avila's provost) is just incredible. She encourages me to try different things."

It's also allowed Banks the time to pursue his passion for writing poetry, which got started long before he arrived. One of his early works, a book of poems entitled, "Coming from a Funky Time and Place," won him a $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship/Grant in 1989. Before that, he won the Langston Hughes Prize for Poetry, in 1981.

He said he's traveled the state of Missouri talking about and reading poetry to schoolchildren, be it in small, rural areas or big cities like St. Louis. Those efforts, along with his deep body of work, have put Banks in the running for Poet Laureate of Missouri, an honor which was established just a couple years ago. Walter Bargen, a renowned poet from Ashland, Mo., was appointed the state's first poet laureate in January of 2008. David Clewell, who teaches at Webster University in St. Louis, is the current Poet Laureate of Missouri. His successor will be appointed in January, 2012.

"I've been told I'm on the short list," Banks said. "You can ask Clewell and Bargen … nobody has traveled the state as much as me."

Of course, Banks is hoping he'll get the designation come January. Until then, he'll just continue encouraging his students – and, anyone who will listen – to stop with their busy, bustling lives and take the time to really listen and enjoy something as beautiful as the written word.

"We don't smell the roses now," Banks said. "We just step on them and keep right on walking." AU

Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434