Honorary Degree Citation: Nicholas Delbanco
With nearly a half-century of teaching experience and 28 books of fiction and non-fiction published, you have made a profound and lasting impact on modern American literature. Born in London and educated in the U.S., with many forays further afield, your writing exemplifies a cultural breadth and sensitivity to language that is uniquely your own.
A graduate of Harvard and Columbia University, you began your teaching career here in Vermont, in the Department of Language and Literature at Bennington College for two decades. Here you launched and directed the college’s first summer writing workshops, focused on the notion of an literary community as a fellowship, a guild.
Vermont is where you wrote three volumes of non-fiction and 11 novels, and provided the setting for five of those novels, including the masterful Sherbrookes trilogy recently republished together in a revised edition. Your remaining novels have ranged widely, from Provence to Barbados, drawing on your own roving experiences, adding richness and color to your work in the tradition of Thomas Mann and Ernest Hemingway.
Meanwhile, your non-fiction has played an exemplary role in expanding the reach of modern literature, earning the esteem of that literary fellowship to which you have dedicated your long career. Most recently, The Art of Youth: Crane, Carrington, Gershwin and the Nature of First Acts explores the exuberance of artists who create great work at young ages, a bookend to your previous study titled Lastingness: The Art of Old Age.
As the long-term director of the MFA Program and the Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan, you have ensured that a generation of writers received the greatest mentorship and support. Your generosity toward the careers of other writers, as chair of the fiction panel for the National Book Awards, as a commentator on television and radio, earn you admiration as a “writers’ writer.”
Your preoccupation with technique, and your very personal, allusive style have been compared to Rilke, Nabokov, and John Updike, your teacher and friend at Columbia, and you have shared this gift in countless workshops and publications over the decades. Nicholas Debanco, the Robert Frost Distinguished University Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan, for your supreme craftsmanship as a writer in keeping with the mission of Marlboro College, it is our pleasure to confer upon you the degree: Doctor of Letters.