Robley Wilson, Jr., Sanford High Class of 1948, is one of America's most respected writers and educators. Mr. Wilson retired in June 2000 from his position as editor-in-chief of The North American Review, the nation's oldest magazine. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards and is in constant demand as a reader, lecturer, and at writing conferences across the United States. Mr. Wilson has given readings and lectured at more than seventy-five universities.
The son of Robley and Dorothy (Stimpson) Wilson, Mr. Wilson's father was a longtime Latin teacher at Sanford High School. Following his graduation from SHS, Mr. Wilson attended Bowdoin College, working his way to a MFA with Distinction at the University of Iowa. In 1963, he joined the English department at the University of Northern Iowa, teaching there for almost forty years. He has held visiting appointments at Beloit College, Pitzer College, and the University of Iowa.
While in Iowa, Mr. Wilson was appointed Editor of The North American Review, a position he held for thirty-one years. There he spent much of his time reading manuscripts and taking care of daily operations. In 1979 he was awarded an Editor's Grant from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines in New York.
Although Mr. Wilson was both an editor and teacher he managed to find time for his own writing. He is perhaps best known as the author of many short story collections including: The Pleasures of Manhood (Univ. of Illinois, 1977); Living Alone (Fiction International, 1978); Dancing for Men (Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1983), which won the 1982 Drue Heinz Literature Prize; and Terrible Kisses (Simon & Schuster, 1989). His stories have also appeared in various anthologies, including The Pushcart Prize III, Best American Short Stories of 1979, The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction , Fiction of the Eighties: A decade of stories from TriQuarterly, and The Ploughshares Reader: New Fiction for the Eighties. He's an equally accomplished poet with his first collection, Family Matters, published by Blind Cat Press in 1980. In 1986 Mr. Wilson won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for Poetry, for Kingdoms of the Ordinary (Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1987). He was a 1983-84 Guggenheim Fellow in fiction, and received what is perhaps his greatest honor in 1996 when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (who give the Academy Awards) awarded him a Nicholl Fellowship for Land Fishers. His latest work, The Book of Lost Fathers : Stories is scheduled for release in June 2001.
Mr. Wilson currently resides in Orlando, Florida.
SANFORD &endash; Robley C. Wilson, Jr. comes from an academic background. His father was a longtime Latin teacher at Sanford High, and Wilson himself taught at the college level for over 40 years.
Besides his teaching credentials, Wilson served as editor-in-chief of the North American Review, the nation's oldest literary magazine, for almost 30 years.
Wilson has also won several major awards for his literary work, and he is in constant demand as a reader a lecturer at writing conferences across the United States.
With such an impressive resume, one might assume that Wilson was a good student, diligent in his studies.
At least at the beginning of his academic career, that was not the case. Wilson says that he actually dropped out of college twice before finally returning to school to finish his degree. "I had a strange college career," says Wilson.
Despite that inauspicious start, Wilson has gone on to become one of America's most respected writers and educators.
Now Wilson has another honor to go along with his literary prizes. For his achievements in the field of literature and education, Wilson has been selected as a member of the Sanford High School Hall of Fame Class of 2001.
Wilson says that he was pleased to learn that his alma mater had chosen to honor him by electing him to its hall of fame.
"I was flattered and charmed in a funny way," he says.
Reflecting back on his high school days, Wilson says that his activities definitely were more on the academic side. "I was one of those non-athletic types," says Wilson.
Wilson says that he served as editor of the school newspaper as well as co-editor of the yearbook. This was in addition to playing tuba in the high school band.
According to Wilson, the toughest part of his high school career was having his father as his Latin teacher.
"It was terrible," laments Wilson. "He gave me the only B I had in high school."
After recovering from the experience of getting a B from his own father, Wilson, who graduated from SHS in 1948, went on to Bowdoin College, where he majored in English with a minor in Russian.
Wilson did not stay at Bowdoin for very long.
In February, 1949, halfway through his freshman year, Wilson dropped out of college and returned to Sanford to work for the former Sanford Tribune. "Much to the chagrin of my father," he says.
Wilson describes his decision to drop out of college as "the arrogance of the young."
"I was a writer, " continues Wilson. "College had nothing for me."
However, after finishing the summer working at the Tribune, Wilson elected to give college another try.
In September, 1949, he returned to Bowdoin, but after just six weeks, Wilson dropped out of college again, returning to his job at the Tribune.
Wilson says that his job at the newspaper was "a great learning experience."
According to Wilson, he began his career as a proofreader, but when one of the regular reporters took ill, Wilson filled in and began his writing career.
Wilson covered a wide variety of stories during his tenure at the Tribune, even writing a column entitled "Sand in My Shoe."
In fact, it was this column that eventually got Wilson in hot water. It actually cost him his job at the paper.
According to Wilson, in the spring of 1950, he wrote a column that was critical of the followers of the Rev. Billy Graham, causing an uproar among the paper's readership. As a result, Wilson says that he was given a choice, give up your column or leave the paper. Wilson chose the latter.
Wilson was not out of a job for very long. According to Wilson, his next job took him to Raymondville, Texas where he got a job on the staff of the Gulf Coast Weekly.
Wilson was not there very long before national events interrupted his career.
"I was there four months, then the Korean War caught up with me," says Wilson.
Wanting to avoid being drafted into the infantry, Wilson enlisted in the Air Force, where he was stationed in Germany for two and one-half years.
After leaving the Air Force in 1955, Wilson returned to Bowdoin to finish his long-delayed college career. Graduating cum laude in English in 1957, Wilson went to graduate school at the University of Iowa.
After earning his graduate degree, Wilson taught at Valparaiso University in Indiana for five years.
In 1963, Wilson returned to Iowa, where he joined the faculty of the University of Northern Iowa, teaching English and creative writing. Wilson remained on the faculty at Northern Iowa for close to 40 years.
In 1969, Wilson was named the editor of the North American Review, a position he held for almost 30 years before he retired to Florida last June.
During his tenure at Northern Iowa, Wilson also became an accomplished writer. "I've always been writing," he says.
In 1977, he published his first book, a collection of poetry, which won the prestigious Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for Poetry.
Wilson received another honor in 1983 when he won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize for his collection entitled Dancing for Men.
In 1986, Wilson earned another great honor when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him a Nichol Fellowship for a screenplay he wrote entitled Land Fishers.
According to Wilson, Land Fishers, which has not yet been produced, is the story of a divorced woman who is marooned in her Iowa home by a flood. Two men, a father and son, who use the floods as an opportunity to loot abandoned homes break into the woman's house thinking it is abandoned.
Wilson says that the story is about the relationship that develops between the woman and the two men. "It would be a nice family film, " he says.
As a condition of accepting the $25,000 fellowship for Land Fishers, Wilson says that he had to write another screenplay.
His second screenplay, which has also not yet been produced, is called Paradise, and it "takes place in a town very much like Sanford," says Wilson.
Even in retirement, Wilson continues to be a prolific writer. He says that his tenth book, titled The Book of Lost Fathers: Stories is scheduled to be published in June. According to Wilson, five stories in that book are set in the fictional town of Scoggin, Maine, which is based on his memories of Sanford.
Wilson says that being retired has given him the luxury of having more time to concentrate on his writing.
"That's the whole point of retirement, isn't it? To do what you want full time," says Wilson.
While he still writes poetry, Wilson says that he prefers to write fiction, especially short stories. "Short stories are what I think I'm best at," he says.
Looking back, Wilson says that even though he has spent most of his adult life away from Maine, he still has fond memories of his old hometown. "Sanford's probably been the best part of my life," says Wilson.
Wilson also has a piece of advice for current students at SHS. He encourages them to expand their minds by reading.
"Throw away your TV set," says Wilson. "Read anything you can get your hands on."
Comments? Corrections? e-mail
© 2004 Sanford High School