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Written in Stone

'Stone Canoe' founder Bob Colley got his start in A&S

Feb 8, 2016 | Article by: James Longstaff


Photo of Bob Colley

Bob Colley

Editor's Note: Bob Colley has deep ties to the College of Arts and Sciences, having served as an adjunct faculty member in the Syracuse University Humanities Center. He also was as a teaching assistant in the Department of English, where, in addition to the Department of Philosophy, he pursued Ph.D. work. As founding editor of the Stone Canoe arts journal and a former associate dean of University College, Bob has collaborated with many of A&S' leading thinkers and researchers. He recently rejoined the board of the Arts Branch of the YMCA, a longtime partner of the Humanities Center.


Facets. It’s an apt noun when applied to Bob Colley because there are so many of them to this man. From his student days working in the blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel to his tenure as an associate dean of University College (UC) at Syracuse, where he founded the award-winning literary arts journal Stone Canoe, Bob has pursued many endeavors.

Take his summer work while in grad school, at Scribners in New York City—the house of Maxwell Perkins, legendary editor of Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe. “It was the key to my later editorial work,” says Bob, who earned an M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education from Syracuse.

In those years, he established a literary magazine called Maelstrom, featuring the poetry of fellow writers. Helping others get their work before the public has been a pursuit of Bob’s for decades.

He studied English literature at Syracuse. Taught it there, too. And at Onondaga Community College.

At UC, Bob started out as an academic advisor. He also directed independent-study degree programs, the first of what are now known as low-residency programs—programs that guide students toward a degree, while holding down a full-time job near campus, across the country, even abroad. A highlight for him was developing distance-learning packages for U.S. Marines deployed in the Desert Storm campaign.

Bob also worked with faculty to initiate the University’s first online undergraduate courses.

Then there was a course in business ethics that he taught in Syracuse’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Bob built it around the idea that literature could serve as a “moral education.” Students read plays and novels, then applied the ethical lessons they learned from them to business problems.

Not long ago, Bob started his own publishing imprint, Standing Stone Books. He also serves on the board of the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, near Ithaca. “It’s something like the Millay Colony or Yaddo,” he says, referring to two other artist retreats in Upstate New York. “It provides opportunities for New York State artists and writers to have a summer residency with housing and meals, and the freedom to get their work done.”

He’s also in his second term as a board member of the YMCA Arts Branch, home to, among other things, the Downtown Writers Center (DWC).

Buffalo born and raised, Bob has had a lifelong interest in the state, particularly its writers and artists. Ten years ago, he founded Stone Canoe, which, after a successful run at Syracuse, is now published by the DWC. Already, the journal has racked up numerous “IPPY Awards” from IndependentPublisher.com.

The name “Stone Canoe”?

“It comes from a Native American story from Upstate New York,” Bob explains. “According to Iroquois tradition, the Great Peacemaker came to the area by crossing Lake Ontario on a white stone canoe.”

Bob says he is happy to have the publication at the DWC. “It continues our original idea for the magazine, that of casting a wide net, to encourage people who wouldn’t really consider getting published,” he says. “The DWC perpetuates the Stone Canoe mission of being a community-oriented publication. It’s a good fit.”

He continues: “With each issue, we’ve reached far and wide for contributors with a connection to Upstate New York. In works on the arts, writing, and social commentary, we’ve continually mixed the beginners with the famous and established. We’ve had some great work from kids who are 16, 17 years old. We've also featured at least one incarcerated writer in each issue; people who’ve immigrated to Upstate; and people with physical or psychological difficulties, who’ve overcome great odds to produce interesting work.”


Photo of Bob Colley and dogs

Colley at home in Pompey, N.Y.

To Bob, the most unique thing about the arts in Upstate New York is the “people’s love of this region.”

“They have a strong sense of place, which we try to identify in Stone Canoe. “There’s a vibrant and diverse artistic community here. A friend of mine said—and I take it as a sincere compliment, ‘Stone Canoe has captured the newness and thereness of life in Upstate New York.’”

Bob’s advice for aspiring writers?

“Read.”

His most rewarding experience in a career of writing, editing, and publishing? “Helping people get their work out there and exposed to others. It’s exciting.”

There are more than a few other facets to this man. Like his forthcoming book of photographs, Scotland and the Hebrides, capturing, graphically, the beauty of the land of his ancestors.

Meanwhile, Bob is training his two Border collie pups for agility competition; plays tennis; and enjoys the classics, blues, jazz, and rock. While awaiting the spring thaw and the re-launching of his sailboat Wavesong, he hopes to pick up his Stratocaster guitar again.

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Contact Information

Rob Enslin
rmenslin@syr.edu
315-443-3403