The idea for the Stadler Center originated in 1985, when professor John Wheatcroft ’49, English, proposed a center for poetry that would provide a home for Bucknell's several existing poetry programs. Since the 1950s, Bucknell had been bringing poets of national stature to campus under what was then called The English Department Series of Poetry Readings. In 1977, professors Karl Patten and Robert Love Taylor founded West Branch, then a semiannual magazine publishing poetry and fiction by writers from all over the United States, and a related annual two-day poetry festival. In 1982, Wheatcroft established the Poet-in-Residence program, which brings a distinguished poet to campus during the spring semester. In 1985, he founded the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets (now, the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets), which gathers a dozen promising undergraduate poets from Bucknell and other schools for three weeks of intensive study each June.
Formally established and dedicated in 1988 with the generous assistance of Bucknell alumnus Jack Stadler ’40 and his wife, Ralynn, the Stadler Center for Poetry brought the University's existing poetry programs together under one roof and a central administrative structure. Bucknell Hall, a historic campus building, became the center’s home. A chapel and recital hall in its former life, the hall features an expansive auditorium on its first floor, providing an ideal space for poetry readings. Its basement houses faculty and administrative offices and the Mildred Martin Library & Lounge, which contains a collection of contemporary poetry titles and standard reference works. A major benefactor of the center, Professor Mildred Martin, English, taught modern poetry and fiction at Bucknell for more than 30 years.
At the center’s dedication ceremony, then-president Gary Sojka remarked, “The designation of a particular building for poetry is quite unprecedented on undergraduate American campuses … It’s impossible to imagine a university of stature that does not have strong programs in poetry. The Stadler Center for Poetry we hope, and have every reason to believe, will contribute not only to the strength of this institution, but also to poetry, and in a larger sense to our culture.”
Ensuing years witnessed the foundation of the Philip Roth Residence in Creative Writing and the Sandra & Gary Sojka Visiting Poet Series. The Philip Roth Residence, named for Bucknell’s distinguished literary alumnus, Class of 1954, provides an emerging writer four months of writing time to complete a first or second book, without academic obligations. The Sojka series, funded by the former University president and his wife, brings a distinguished poet to campus for a visit each fall. In 1998, Cynthia Hogue, the center’s second director, established the Stadler Fellowship (originally called the Stadler Internship) which offers a recent MFA graduate training in literary editing and arts administration while providing the fellow time to work on a manuscript.
The center and its programs continued to prosper under the guidance of Professor Shara McCallum, the third director, who formally adopted the center’s first mission statement in 2003:
The Stadler Center for Poetry seeks to foster in a wide and varied audience an appreciation for the diversity and richness of contemporary poetry and the other literary arts. We also provide support for writers at various stages of their development and careers.
In addition to consolidating and honing the center’s programs, McCallum added a second Stadler Fellowship and second Roth Residence, children’s events, and the center's first public art project, the Poetry Path. The center shares Bucknell Hall with the English department’s creative writing program, with which the center closely collaborates.
During the 2017-18 academic year, the newly formed Stadler Center Steering Committee, consisting of center staff and creative writing faculty, moved to expand the center’s name to the Stadler Center for Poetry & Literary Arts. The new name reflects the center’s long-established and recently increasing support for fiction and literary nonfiction in its series and programs. The center also formally inaugurated a fall semester Writer-in-Residence program, which hosts a renowned prose writer, to counterbalance the spring semester’s venerable Poet-in-Residence program.
In 2019, the center welcomed its fourth and current director, Chet'la Sebree. As a former Stadler Fellow, Sebree is well acquainted with the center's programs and community, and its important place in Bucknell culture. At present, the center is a hive of energy and activity, with students, faculty and visiting writers coming and going at all times of the year. Poetry reading and writing groups meet regularly in the Mildred Martin Library, which also serves as a venue for meetings, consultations and quiet study. West Branch publishes three print issues per year and three online issues per year, with the assistance of several undergraduate interns. Bucknell students continue to be enriched by the center's readings and residencies, and poets and writers from around the country continue to profit from its programs.