Indigenous voices will be given greater prominence at the University of Montana through a new guest writer fund created by Lois Welch to honor her late husband, acclaimed author James Welch.
UM will use the James and Lois Welch Distinguished Native American Visiting Writer Fund to bring a distinguished Native writer to campus to teach each spring semester. Going forward, the position will be filled with a large donation included in Lois Welch’s estate plan. The endowment means that their donation will be invested and the income will be available to support the program in perpetuity.
“A gift of this magnitude has never been offered to UM’s Creative Writing Program before, and it will certainly enhance the stature and visibility of the program,” said Professor Judy Blunt, Chair of the English Department. of the College of Humanities and Director of the Creative Writing Program at UM. “But the vision also recognizes the value of literature in the lives of Lois and Jim.”
Lois Welch, who was UM’s professor of comparative literature and head of the creative writing program, said the $ 50,000 a year guest writers fund is a “natural progression” from a number other ways the Welsh supported UM, its writing programs. and the Native American writing community. Their contributions include the Welch Scholarship, which is awarded to students of creative writing, particularly undergraduates of Indigenous descent, and a new James Welch Native American Writers Festival slated for summer 2022.
“Jim would have recognized the tribute and what he can accomplish,” Lois said of the new guest writers program, “but at the same time, he was so humble he could never have stood out. “
Jim Welch spent much of his early years on the Blackfeet Reservation, his father’s homeland, and the Fort Belknap Reservation, his mother’s homeland. His family has moved to various parts of the country.
Welch is one of the Aboriginal authors credited with initiating what has come to be called the “Native American Renaissance” in the late 1960s, a period hailed for the significant increase in the production of works. literary works by Native American writers.
“When Welch’s ‘Winter in the Blood’ made the front page of the New York Times Book Review, it changed not only Native American literary history, but also the canon of American literary masterpieces,” said Kathryn Shanley (Nakoda), professor and chair of Native American studies at UM. “His contributions are visible today in a new generation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers. The Jim and Lois Welch Guest Writers Fund honors this tremendous legacy and brings Jim’s international accomplishments back to Montana. We are grateful for the generosity and vision of the Welsh.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 1965, Jim Welch enrolled in the brand new Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing. There he will meet his mentor and friend, the poet Richard Hugo.
“Jim became a writer because of Hugo,” Lois Welch said. “Hugo was a working class guy and an incredible poet. And Jim thought, ‘if he can do it, I can do it.’
“We don’t pay enough attention to the importance of having a role model,” she said. “It is so important that we have a place where Native Americans can tell their stories and be heard.”
Welch traveled abroad frequently, often accompanied by Lois, who was fluent in French and served as her translator. In 1997 Jim Welch received the Medal of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. He died in 2003 at the age of 62.
The James and Lois Welch Distinguished Native American Visiting Writer residency will begin in Spring 2023. Writers selected for the program may be poetry or prose writers and will teach a graduate creative writing workshop and an undergraduate literature course. Native American, Blunt said.
Visit www.hs.umt.edu/creativewriting/donate.php to donate online or send a financial donation to the University of Montana Foundation, noting the James and Lois Welch Distinguished Native American Visiting Writer Fund on checks, at PO Box 7159, Missoula, MT 59807-7159.