A Tribute to Wyatt Prunty

Mary Jo Salter

Fall 2019

The new Sewanee Inn—it was like a dream. Although Wyatt wasn’t its actual architect, I gave him credit. There seemed nothing in town (and nothing in my life as a writer, either) that wasn’t raised up by his influence. As I think over his career, it seems a story of elevation-by-imagination.

In July 2014 the new Inn was only weeks old, and I could hardly believe the gourmet food and the Swiss chalet fireplace and the soaring atrium. I felt ancient that I could remember nearly two decades’ worth of summers at the old Sewanee Inn. My daughters (and Wyatt always made kids feel welcome) loved the all-starch menus: corn with mashed potatoes with biscuits with breaded protein of some sort, covered in floury gravy and followed by cake. The old Inn had been one of those motel-style, one-floor establishments: not much to raze. Once the tall, peaked Sewanee Inn was erected, and I could survey the golf course from the great height of my second-floor balcony, I understood my own failure of imagination: the air had been there all along. We had only needed to populate its upper regions, with the help of stairs and elevators. And wasn’t that insight something like Wyatt’s, dreaming up a conference in a small town eight hundred miles from New York, and getting the country’s most gifted literati to come?

Mary Jo Salter is the author of eight books of poems, most recently The Surveyors (2017). She is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

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