Local poet gives WNC library 1,000 volumes
Appeal Staff Writer
Western Nevada College this year dropped the “community” from its name and introduced its first four-year degree.
Now, thanks to a large gift from a local poet, its library is able to present to the public its first collection.
The gift is “no small one” and may help put the college on the regional map, school officials said.
“Right now we’re growing but essentially still a community college library,” said Ken Sullivan, WNC’s director of library and media services. “Normally we don’t have anything special in our collection – we support our classes – so when they talked to us about the collection, we didn’t know if we’d be interested.”
That all changed, Sullivan said, when he took a look at the college library’s first major gift – more than 1,000 volumes of poetry, the majority featuring Northern Nevada writers.
“We saw this was something special, something that would take a lifetime to accumulate.”
Poet Bill Cowee, 65, a Carson resident for 22 years, in fact, did spend much of his adult life gathering poetry.
With failing health in recent years, Cowee, a diabetic, moved to the Evergreen Mountain View Health and Rehabilitation Center, where he still hosts the Ash Canyon Poets, a writers’ group he helped start two decades ago.
“About 20 years ago, I took a class of poetry at WNCC,” he said. “Several of us decided we were having too much fun, so we formed the Ash Canyon Poets.
“From there I continued writing … and collecting.”
From hobby to passion to career, Cowee is recognized as one of the greatest wordsmiths to come out of Northern Nevada – heady company considering the lineage from Mark Twain to acclaimed children’s author Ann Herbert Scott.
“Cowee’s range of subject matter is broad enough to appeal to anyone,” said Ursula Carlson, an English professor at WNC. “Bill Cowee’s poems are like balm on sore wounds. Read them and rejoice.”
“His poetry is very much grounded in the landscape of the Great Basin and the interior landscape of our hearts and souls,” said WNC English professor Marilee Swirczek. “His poetry cuts down to the bone and gristle of human emotions.”
Cowee, the son of a teacher, attended UNR and USC, earning a degree in accounting and spending the majority of his professional life, “crunching numbers.”
“I worked numbers during the daytime and the alphabet at night,” he said.
It was the kindling of his love for words at WNC in his adult years that he attributes as the reason for his success. Making the decision to donate his poetry collection that much easier, he said.
“WNC has had almost continual classes in poetry for people who want to enjoy it,” he said. “Professors like Marilee (Swirczek) have been very, very supportive of the writing community. I thought WNC would be the logical place to start with this (gift).”
Cowee’s collection, WNC librarian Sullivan said, not only is a valuable resource for writers and aspiring poets, but is also a gift of rare and increasingly valuable books.
“A lot of times we’ll go through and see what (the books) are selling for on Amazon,” he said. “There are some we were surprised to see how much they’re worth.
“Once we go through the entire collection, we will be able to take care of some of the more rare editions – we’re just excited the general public will have this as a resource.”
“We’re very proud to be able to host this collection,” said Anne Hansen, director of WNC’s information and marketing services. “It will be a gradual release to the public, but what a marvelous gift to the college and the community during a season of giving.”
Though health problems have curbed Cowee’s work over the last few years, the poet himself said he’s “not yet done” giving the gift of his words and knowledge.
“He inspired me to write poetry,” said Carson resident and member of Ash Canyon Terry Forde. “He continues to be an inspiration to Northern (Nevada) writers. Some of us have gone on to write books, many of those people wouldn’t have picked up a pen if it weren’t for Bill.”
So what’s next for Cowee?
“I had a stroke about a year ago – immediately after that, I had difficulty writing,” he said. “But I wrote my first piece about a month ago; I’m glad (Ash Canyon) continues to meet here, they help me to keep going.”
• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at email@example.com or 881-1219.