November 30, 2009
By JOE SIMNACHER
The Dallas Morning News
Jack Elliot Myers worked throughout his adult life to write poems to get closer to people. For more than 30 years he shared his poetic insights with students at Southern Methodist University, where he had served as director of creative writing for seven years.
Mr. Myers died Monday at his Mesquite home of complications of liver failure. He would have been 68 years old Sunday.
He received many honors for his work, including being selected as poet laureate of Texas in 2003-04. He was also co-founder, with his wife, Thea Temple, of the Writer's Garret in Dallas.
A memorial service will be early next year, after SMU classes resume.
A thrust behind Mr. Myers' teaching was to help young writers overcome the notion that creative writers were separated from much of society, his wife said.
"There's almost a poetic snobbery out there and that bothered him," Ms. Temple said. "He felt that writing was so basic to being human and that he wanted to connect with people on a deep level, and he wanted them to connect with him.
"He was all about putting poetry in common speech and making it accessible. He felt that if you had to shroud it in mystery and elusiveness that you were missing the point."
Mr. Myers was born in Lynn, Mass., and grew up in Winthrop Beach, near Boston, where he developed an early passion for language.
In his 20s and 30s, he studied poetry on his own, supporting himself with a variety of jobs, including coffeehouse manager and house painter.
Mr. Myers started his formal higher education at the University of Massachusetts, where he earned a bachelor's degree in English literature in 1970.
He moved to Iowa City, Iowa, where he attended the Iowa Writers Workshop.
Mr. Myers earned a master's degree in poetry writing from the University of Iowa in 1972.
In 1975, he moved to Dallas, where he joined the SMU faculty, and became program chairman of the English department.
Mr. Myers had been on medical leave from SMU for about a year, his wife said. Cancer treatments had damaged his liver, she said. He last taught at SMU in the spring of 2008.
He was the author of 18 books of and about poetry. His most recent collections include Routine Heaven; a college textbook, The Poet's Portable Workshop; and The Glowing River: New & Selected Poems, winner of the 2001 Violet Crow Award for best literary book in Texas.
His As Long As You're Happy, a 1985 collection of his poems, won the National Poetry Series.
Mr. Myers also edited anthologies.
In 1994, he and his wife founded the Writer's Garret, a nonprofit literary center in Dallas.
His honors included two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and multiple university residencies. He was co-vice-president for the Associated Writing Programs from 1993 to 1995.
Mr. Myers had been married twice before.
In addition to his wife of 16 years, Mr. Myers is survived by two sons, Ben Myers of Columbia, Md., and Seth Myers of Plano; a daughter, Jessie Myers of Plano; a brother, Marshall "Monk" Myers of Sarasota, Fla.; two sisters, Sandi Myers Bender of Delray Beach, Fla., and Ellen Fontana of Marina Del Rey, Calif.; and one grandchild.
Memorials may be made to the Writer's Garret, P.O. Box 140530, Dallas, Texas 75214-0530.
Details of his memorial service will be posted on the Writer's Garret Web site, writersgarret.org.
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