For Howard Wolf, ‘writing is a form of living’

Howard Wolf.

Although he formally retired from UB in 2007, Howard Wolf continues to write, teach and lecture, both in the U.S. and abroad. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi


Published February 20, 2014

“For me, writing — and teaching — is what connects ‘me’ to ‘others.’”
Howard Wolf, professor emeritus
Department of English

When asked about life after UB, Howard Wolf, emeritus professor and senior fellow in the Department of English, turns to one of his heroes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to make his point.

According to Emerson, “The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.”

 “This always has been the case for me. For me, writing — and teaching — is what connects ‘me’ to ‘others,’” says Wolf, who retired from the full-time UB faculty in 2007 after a 40-year career as an English professor at the university. “As E.M. Forster says famously in “Howard’s End” (no relation),

‘Only connect!’”

Over the course of an incredibly prolific career, Wolf has worked in almost every genre, including literary and cultural criticism, autobiography, short fiction, travel writing, the novel (“Broadway Serenade,” 1996), poetry and plays. Among his major works are “Forgive the Father: A Memoir of Changing Generations” (1978), “Far-Away Places: Lessons in Exile” (2007), “A Version of Home: Letters from the World: An Autobiographical Journey through Singapore, Malaysia, India, Greece and Turkey” (1992) and “The Education of a Teacher.” (1987).

A graduate of the Horace Mann School, Columbia University (MA) and the University of Michigan (PhD), where he won a Hopwood Award for Fiction, Wolf says he has had work published every year since 1965 — a total of 300 publications, including 10 books.

And, he promises, “More work is in the pipeline.”

At a time in life when many retired people are spending their days on the golf course or relaxing with the grandchildren, Wolf continues to teach, write and lecture, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Since formally retiring from UB, he taught for three years as an adjunct in the UB English department, and has taught a course on travel writing for the past three years as part of UB’s Discovery Seminars program.

He’s lectured at meetings of the F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway societies, at colleges and universities, and at local high schools.

But his focus these days is on writing.

“I always have been a teacher and writer, or writer and teacher — the emphasis varied from year to year — so when I retired from full-time teaching, I naturally put more emphasis on writing,” he says.

Wolf attributes his interest in travel writing to his experiences teaching overseas on U.S. state department lecture tours, as well as stints as a Fulbright lecturer in Turkey (1983-83) and South Africa (1998), and a three-year run (1991-94) as a lecturer in American literature at the University of Hong Kong. He also taught in UB’s Malaysia program.

All told, he says he’s given about 100 lectures in 20 countries, among them India, Thailand, China, Korea, Japan, Germany, Greece, Taiwan, Israel, Finland, England, Slovakia and Singapore. He returned to Ankara in 2000 to deliver the keynote speech at a celebration marking the 40th year of the Fulbright program in Turkey. These travel and teaching experiences, he says, are the subject of “Far-Away Places: Lessons in Exile.”

“If one writes steadily over time, for reasons that are a little mysterious, different subjects and different forms — often they are related — demand attention,” he says in explaining the wide range of his work. “Short fiction and ‘generational memoirs’ have been a constant interest, but I’ve also written one novel, innumerable letters, op-ed pieces, critical essays, radio scripts and now one-act plays” — a staged reading of one of his plays, “Reunion of a Summer Evening,” took place last May at the UB Newman Center.

A graduate of Amherst College — he received his BA in 1958 — he’s been sending literary material to the college’s Archives and Special Collections since 1971. The collection features literary manuscripts, as well as personal and professional correspondence, including writings by colleagues and students he mentored and an assortment of “cultural miscellany” — concert programs, clippings, calendars, tourism brochures and artwork. Correspondence includes letters from many colleagues and fellow writers from America and from around the world.

His collection was the subject of an exhibition, “Collecting a Collector: The Howard R. Wolf Papers,” at the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College last summer, and was the focus of a session during Amherst’s 2013 reunion program. Wolf, who was attending his 55th reunion, spoke at the session.

Upcoming activities include a May trip to Cambridge University, where he will give an invited lecture at Wolfson College. In his talk, “The Role of Creative Nonfiction in the American Literary Curriculum,” he will reflect on his many decades teaching literary journalism at UB, and his more recent teaching of travel writing in the Discovery Seminars.

Wolf edited “Far-Away Places” while serving as a senior academic visitor at Wolfson in 2007; he is now a life member of the college.

He’s currently working on three books: “Home at the End of the Day,” a collection of one-act plays; “Exiles by Starlight,” a collection of short stories; and “Stone Harvest: A Writer’s Garden,” a collection of personal essays.

When asked for his advice to colleagues contemplating retirement, he suggests they plan what they will do for at least a year —“unless you’re passionate about leisure” —and that those interested in continuing academic or creative work “locate what in your current set of commitments can be extended and even expanded; commit yourself to at least one conference a year where you will be a presenter.”

“This,” he says, “will give one’s work a ‘social’ reality that will make up for the absence of the ‘classroom.’

“Why am I still working so hard?” he asks, repeating a question from the UB Reporter. “I’m not sure I regard it as ‘work.’”

He’s grateful he was a member of the UB English department which, he says, always encouraged creativity and where he was surrounded by fellow writers.

For Wolf, “writing is a form of living.”

And as a character in “The Ambassadors,” a novel by another Wolf hero, Henry James, says, “Live all you can.”