Leonard S. Elman ’52 endowed a visiting writer fund in The College of Arts and Sciences to honor the memory of his brother, Richard ‘55. Rob Enslin recently caught up with Leonard—a retired New York City attorney and charter member of The College’s Board of Visitors—to discuss the creative writing program and the importance of giving back.
How did you become interested in the creative writing program?
My brother, Richard, graduated from Syracuse University three years after I did. When the Hall of Languages was renovated in 1979, I made a donation to the library in the English department in honor of him and my parents. I think it was the first time I dealt with the English department, which is home to the creative writing program.
After my brother's death in 1997, my wife, Elise ['52], and I established the Richard Elman Fund, which is part of the Raymond Carver Reading Series. Every year, the fund enables a distinguished author to serve a two-day residency at SU.
I should add that I’ve always liked writers, although I’ve never been involved with them, professionally. So in memory of my brother, we were able to raise approximately $100,000—some of it from friends and colleagues of his--to get the Elman Fund going. I’ve since gotten to know several people on our creative writing faculty, including Christopher Kennedy [G’88], Mary Karr, and George Saunders [G’88].
Why is the creative process—and by extension, the liberal arts--important? I imagine it’s made you a better lawyer.
The liberal arts contribute to your general education and well-being, your culture. They also add to the quality of your personal life. I may not be a professional writer, but I’m a professional reader.
How would you characterize our creative writing program?
It’s unique. The quality of students we attract, the results they get while they’re here, the careers they go on to—the program is amazing. … I mean, George Saunders went here.
And Chris Kennedy and Brooks Haxton [G’81], to name a few other SU professors.
Right. And we accept only a dozen students a year out of 600 to 700 applicants. The program is highly selective, and the faculty work very, very closely with the students. For instance, Mary Karr is a celebrated author who’s also deeply involved with the program. The faculty is here not just to write but to teach.