Magazine / People

English Professor Bill Zaranka closes a chapter at DU

“I’ll always be a part of it,” retired English professor and former provost Bill Zaranka says of DU. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Former English Professor Bill Zaranka, who served as DU’s provost from 1989–2001, says he doesn’t really know how he ended up in the job. It certainly was not part of his plan. As a writer, all he wanted was isolation and huge blocks of free time — the exact opposite of being an administrator.

“The University was having a tough time during the 1980s, and Chancellor Dwight Smith asked me to serve as dean,” recalls Zaranka, who retired from the University at the end of spring quarter 2011. “I thought it would be for two or three years — 20-some years later I finally came back to English. It still does puzzle me that somehow that happened.”

Dan Ritchie, who served as chancellor while Zaranka was provost, says Zaranka was extraordinarily committed and always put the University before himself.

“Bill understood as well as anybody could that the future of the University was all about quality,” Ritchie says. “It was about delivering in our academic programs and all of our programs the highest possible quality, and if we did that and did it consistently we would be enormously successful.”

A poet from Elizabeth, N.J., Zaranka came to DU in 1969 because it was one of only two schools in the country that offered a PhD in creative writing and literature at that time. After earning his degree in 1974, he taught as an assistant professor for three years at the University of Pennsylvania before returning to DU in 1978 to chair the creative writing program.

He published two volumes of original poetry, Blessing (Wayland Press, 1986) and A Mirror Driven Through Nature (Sparrow Press, 1981). His trademark style — a combination of parody and poetry — led to his best-known work, a parody of The Norton Anthology of Poetry called The Brand-X Anthology of Poetry (Applewood Books, 1981). It spanned the beginning of English literature to about the 1980s.

“I’ve always loved writing poetry and always had a fondness for listening very hard to other poets who have exerted strong influences on my own work,” he says. “I enjoyed imitating the great poets I loved in a humorous way, one that pays them profound homage.”

As he returns to the discipline from which he came, getting back to unfinished poems and anthologies that need updating, Zaranka also plans to immerse himself in his myriad avocations, including astronomy, composing, geology, machining and videography.

Even with so much to keep him busy, he says it was difficult leaving DU.

“I’ll always be a part of it,” he says. “My sons went to DU. I’ve been very fortunate to see it go from where it was when I first came to the glorious thing it is now: a beautiful campus and wonderful faculty, tremendous administration, great physical plant and highly selective, excellent students. It’s going to be hard to leave the people and the place.”

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