Friday, December 21, 2007

"People like Alexander Taylor do not die." -- Marilyn Nelson

Co-Founder Of Curbstone Press Dies

Courant Books Editor
3:19 PM EST, December 21, 2007

When Martín Espada heard that his friend and mentor Alexander "Sandy" Taylor, co-founder of Curbstone Press in Willimantic, was near death, he knew what he had to do.

"When I found out Tuesday that Sandy had had a massive stroke, I jumped into my car and drove to Windham Hospital, just hoping he was still alive," the Latino poet and teacher at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst said.

Espada had meant to bring a book of his poems published by Curbstone that Taylor especially loved, but in his haste forgot it. So he recited from memory, in English and Spanish, to Taylor.

"I told him how much I loved him and squeezed his hand," Espada said. "Sandy had a prodigious memory and loved to recite poetry by heart at the top of his voice, so I did that for him. Curbstone Press was my City Lights, my San Francisco. It was a place with a community and a mentor. I learned from him every time we were together."

Taylor died Friday, at age 76. Formerly a teacher at Eastern Connecticut State University, with his wife, Judith Ayer Doyle, he built a press that gained international respect and attention for its commitment to human rights and intercultural understanding, with a focus on works by Latino and Vietnamese authors.

Besides his wife, Taylor leaves three children from a former marriage, Susan Pate of Daytona Beach, Fla., and Anni Stewart of Glens Falls, N.Y., and Peter Taylor, also of Glens Falls.

Founded in 1975 to publish poetry about his experiences in Chile by a friend, James Scully, Curbstone went on to win state and national awards, establish the Miguel Mármol Prize, present Poetry in the Park readings and promote literacy through programs at schools and prisons.

Five collections of Taylor's own poetry have been published, including "Dreaming at the Gates of Fury: New and Selected Poems,'' which reflected his involvement in social protest and anti-war movements. A Bulgarian edition was published in 2006.

Judith Doyle called her late husband "an independent thinker. "We are all very proud of him and his accomplishments."

There will be no funeral, Doyle said, but a celebration of his life is planned for after the holidays, when friends and colleagues can more easily attend.

She said the press will continue its work.

"You can count on it. Curbstone will go on. It will still be a force in the community."

Paul von Drasek, director of sales for Harcourt Trade Publishers, has been a Curbstone board member for 12 years and its chairman for nearly eight.

"Everybody knew a different part of Sandy -- in Willimantic he was a great member of the community and a friend. In Eastern Europe, he was a poet, in Denmark, a translator," he said. "He was a fearless advocate of human rights, ready to go anywhere in support of writing that made a difference. It was all about the mission."

That mission, he said, quoting Espada, "was to give a voice to the unheard."

Taylor's life was remarkable, said members of the literary community here and nationwide.

"He was committed to social justice and to getting young people to read," said Suzy Staubach, manager of the UConn Co-Op bookstore and a longtime Curbstone board member, who will miss "his sense of humor and infectious laugh."

Kat Lyons, coordinator for the Center for the Book at the Hartford Public Library, said Taylor's role as a founding member of its advisory council was invaluable.

"Sandy's passionate commitment to honor with professional integrity -- the literary voice of Everyman -- was stunning: I'd seldom before known such energy and resolve, Lyons said. "What an estimable life Sandy led!"

Poet Joan Joffe Hall said "Sandy's death is a devastating loss for the world of poetry. He was charming, hilarious, driven. He gave many poets their start."

Alison Meyers, former director of the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival and now Executive Director of Cave Canem Foundation in New York, praised Taylor's involvement.

"We'll all deeply miss Sandy -- his inimitable, corny wisecracks, his genuine, spontaneous warmth, his amazing energy, brave politics; and incisive intellect. Sandy was a phenomenon -- not just for what he achieved for Curbstone Press with Judy Doyle, a monumental achievement in and of itself -- but for his service to an international community of writers, whom he inspired and provided with a public voice. Sandy invested in the world -- a rare and precious thing."

Wayne Karlin, whose book "War Movies: Journeys to Vietnam: Scenes and Out-takes," was published by Curbstone, e-mailed to Doyle Friday.

"I'm sitting here in Hanoi thinking of all that would not have happened in the world without his vision," Karlin wrote. "A great loss, but a great life."

For former Connecticut Poet Laureate Marilyn Nelson, Taylor was "a man of conscience, commitment, and courage, a man who believed in books and words and in the efficacy of language as a weapon of truth.

"People like Alexander Taylor do not die."

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