LAVERNE HARRELL CLARK (1929–2008)
LaVerne Harrell Clark was the first Director of the Poetry Center and during her tenure (1962–1966) she began the tradition of photographing the Center’s readers and visitors. Although self-taught, she had an unerring eye for the perfect glance or the unguarded moment. She was able to catch the spirit of the poet, whether the occasion was serious or celebratory. She caught literally thousands of poets in their time at the Poetry Center and later, wherever she went, LaVerne would search out poets to add to the collection. Her collection of photographic portraits was a real achievement and the gift of the collection to the Poetry Center is celebrated in this exhibition.
When asked about how LaVerne would approach poets to have their pictures taken, her husband L. D. Clark said:
- “Directly.... We attended a lot of readings and conventions and conferences. She would talk up the writers and say, “I’m LaVerne Clark.” Her personality was immediately appealing to most people, so she had an easy time establishing direct, warm contact. She occasionally approached strangers, but she didn’t remain a stranger for long. She knew a lot about the writers she photographed. Sometimes I wondered how she knew so much. I don’t know if she made preparations before we went to certain conferences, but she always seemed to have knowledge of the person she was photographing.”
Just as the library collection has grown from 500 books to over 60,000 items, the photography collection that LaVerne developed now comprises thousands of portraits and snapshots of visiting writers from 1962 into the new century. Lois Shelton and Christine Krikliwy maintained the tradition that sprang from LaVerne’s notion that “each writer and poet who visited the Center would leave behind a little of him [or her] self.” Many of LaVerne’s photographs can be seen on the new Wall of Poets (a gift of Carol DuVal Whiteman) in the Helen S. Schaefer Building.
LaVerne published two companion books that document many of her photographs: The Face of Poetry: 101 Poets of the 60’s and 70’s (1976) and Focus 101: An Illustrated Biography (1979). Both of these books were groundbreaking in their own right, combining photographs of contemporary authors with their poems in one case, and with biographical essays in the other.