What typically serves as a chance for aspiring writers to showcase their work, this semester's first "Writers in the Library" presentation found celebrated novelist Nicholas Delbanco paying an emotional tribute to his dear friend and fellow writer, the late Jon Manchip White.
White, who died in his home in Knoxville in July at 89, was scheduled to talk side-by-side with Delbanco.
The readings were coordinated by Chris Hebert, UT's writer-in-residence, and Marilyn Kallet, the creative writing director at UT. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the "Writers" event.
In his introduction, Hebert expressed his condolences to White's daughter, who sat in the front row.
"While I am delighted that Nicholas Delbanco is here," Hebert said, "I am deeply saddened that White is not."
Delbanco, who has written over 20 books ranging from novels to criticism to textbooks, was also Hebert's teacher and mentor at the University of Michigan.
"Nicholas Delbanco is a man of impeccable style and grace and wit," Hebert said. "He published his acclaimed first novel when he was 23. He hasn't slowed down since."
Although White was not at the event in person, he was there in spirit and in Hebert's and Delbanco's memories. Hebert emphasized White's degrees in English, archaeology, ancient languages and anthropology from Cambridge, as well as the fact that he wrote the BBC's first television screenplay.
"What does a man do with such a wide range of expertise? Whatever he feels like," Hebert said with a laugh.
One of his most important accomplishments was White's founding of UT's creative writing program in 1977 – and more recently – his promotion to the title of professor emeritus of English in the last years of his life.
When Delbanco took the stage, his main concern was not just talking about his work, but celebrating the life of White.
"The vast bulk of what I what I want to do is honor our great, late master," Delbanco said.
Delbanco and White had been close friends for years resulting in an "intimate correspondence," as Hebert described it.
"So substantial is the two mens' correspondence, that for the past year, Nicholas Delbanco and White were working to compile it as a book for publication," Hebert said.
During Delbanco's reading, he read not only from his work, but also through the introduction of the compilation of his and White's letters through their 30-year friendship. Although a somber occasion, Delbanco interrupted himself with quick, joking anecdotes about the two mens' relationship, creating both laughter and tears in the audience.
Delbanco also read from his newest book, "The Art of Youth," set to hit shelves this fall. In his excerpt, he described his journey into writing under the strict regimen of waking up and writing 500 words each morning.
"All young artists, I think, must acquire their own systematic procedure," Delbanco said.
As the talk closed, the air grew subdued as Delbanco again acknowledged the passing of White.
"It grieves me sorely that but one of us has seen (the book of letters) to creation," Delbanco said. "To Jon's enduring memory, I dedicate my book."
Kallet, a long-time friend and colleague of White, presented a ballad of the late writer's life to end the tribute.
"You were our man made of words," Kallet said. "Our writing students are your legacy, too."