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Fresno State faculty members gather around Philip Levine’s wife as she cuts the ribbon to the new Philip Levine Reading Room, Friday, May 5, 2017. The room contains a collection of Philip Levine’s books and has pictures hung that were provided by his wife, Frances. Pictured left to right, Peter Mcdonald, Dr. Joseph Castro, C.G. Hanzlicek, Frances J. Artley, Dr. Lynnette Zelezny, Gloria Montez, Dr. Saul Jimenez-Sandoval. (Daniel Avalos/ The Collegian)

The passion of poetry lives on through Levine

The Philip Levine Reading Room opened on May 5 in honor of the late poet laureate who died in 2015.

“It was a journey of exploration, a journey of discovery, a journey of poetic imagination that brought us to this room,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.

The idea that started more than three years ago finally became a reality. The room will offer a space for students to excel in their crafts as young writers.

“This room is going to be that sacred space in which students reflect on the meaning of life,” Jiménez-Sandoval said.

The reading room, located on the second floor of the Henry Madden Library, overlooks the Peace Garden. Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro said that the room has potential to influence the student’s reflection on the future.

“This space was waiting for this purpose,” Castro said. “Our students, faculty and staff can come read, reflect and write.”

Castro said that the knowledge obtained at Fresno State can help students make an impact in society.

“I’m confident we will continue to produce extraordinary leaders here at Fresno State because of the incredible faculty we’ve had, like Phil,” Castro said.

The room displays Levine’s personal collection of books as well as different photos of Levine along the walls, many of which were provided by his wife, Frances.

Peter McDonald, of the library administrative offices, helped organize the room with his staff.

“This room will really provide a space for contemplation and workshops. It just has a beauty that’s wonderful,” McDonald said.

He read the inscriptions left in Levine’s books from different people Levine knew throughout his life.

“Every book on the shelves, I shelved. I was in here alone with Phil. What was remarkable in shelving those books was to read the inscriptions,” McDonald said. “For 40 years, you realize what a role he played in modern poetry and the respect that the world of letters – the world of poetry – gave to Phil.”

The opening included poetry readings by C.G. Hanzlicek, professor emeritus of English and Gloria Montez, a student in the Master of Fine Arts program.

Montez, who is graduating, didn’t think she would physically see the room finished. Standing in the newly constructed room made her feel very happy to be a part of a new chapter at Fresno State, she said.

“It’s very nice to see the community so happy about it,” said Montez, who helped catalog Levine’s books.

She is also the recipient of the Philip Levine Scholarship in Creative Writing that is awarded to one student every fall in the MFA program.

“It’s really awesome. He’s like a rockstar of the poetry world, and I’m really glad to be a part of it. I’m honored,” Montez said.

She said she hopes hopes the room will serve as an inspiration for those who have a passion to explore their knowledge.

“I think it’s going to empower them and help them find their voice,” Montez said. “It’s definitely something to look up to.”