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Poetry powered—and saved—Marc Hofstadter ’67’s life

It was not surprising that Marc Hofstadter ’67 originally intended to become a professor—he was raised in a family of scholars, including an uncle who won the Nobel Prize and two cousins who won Pulitzers.

What was surprising was that, after returning from teaching overseas at the Universite d’Orleans and Tel Aviv University, he decided to chuck the academy in favor of
pursuing poetry.

“I found the academic world exceedingly competitive and goal-oriented,” he explains. “In the world of poetry, I could create however I chose without caring as much whether I won awards.”

Hofstadter credits two “favorable accidents” for cementing his decision: One, he was turned down for a tenure-track position, and two, he came out as a gay man and soon after was diagnosed with HIV. Determined to achieve his dreams, he completed his master’s and became a librarian, first at Rand Information Systems and then part time at the San Francisco Municipal Railway.

“That was a perfect job,” he says, “because it was inherently interesting, yet gave me plenty of time to write.”

Today, Hofstadter is the author of six books of poetry and a collection of essays. While much of his work has focused on simple, direct language, he has recently begun to challenge structural and thematic conventions. 

“For many years I was not an experimental writer but used ordinary sentences, spoke of people and events, and tried to express ideas,” he says. “However, in the past several years I’ve begun writing more avant-garde poems, poems that aren’t ‘about’ anything but that are linguistic and imagistic explorations.”

His next book, Autumnal, focuses on “late life” issues.

“I feel immensely lucky to have lived to age 71, of having lived with my dark brother of HIV for 34 years,” he says. “I don’t know if Autumnal will be my last book, but it might be. Or maybe I’ll live to write its sequel, Wintry.”