Department of English Newsletter

Pete Dexter, a 1969 graduate of the University of South Dakota, joined the USD Department of English as a writer-in-residence this academic year. Dexter, a Hollywood screenwriter and National Book Award-winning novelist, was born in Pontiac, Michigan, and lived in Vermillion for three years as a young boy and again while attending college at USD. Dexter was a columnist for several daily newspapers in the United States, including the Philadelphia Daily News, the Sacramento Bee and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In 1981, he began writing fiction. His first of seven novels, God’s Pocket, was published in 1983. Deadwood followed in 1986. His 1988 novel, Paris Trout, received the National Book Award for Fiction. An accomplished screenwriter, Dexter’s screenplays include “Rush,” “Michael,” “Mulholland Falls” and “The Paperboy.” The week before Dexter moved to Vermillion from his home of the past two decades on Whidbey Island in Washington State in October, he spoke on the phone with a staff member of the dean’s office of the USD College of Arts & Sciences. Loquacious, engaging and frank, Dexter talked at length about his time as an undergraduate English student at USD and his approach to interacting with students as a writer-in-residence. A change in life circumstances last year caused Dexter to seek out a new living and working arrangement where he could interact with colleagues and students, or “kids,” as he calls them. As a college town, Vermillion fit the bill. “I’ve always liked being around kids,” he said. “I get surprised sometimes by how smart and perceptive and unexpectedly kind they can be.” He recalled his own undergraduate years as an on-and-off- again student who took eight years to earn his degree—leaving Vermillion when the weather turned frigid and returning when the temperatures climbed. Although he remembered one professor who seemed to take pleasure in demeaning students’ work—“If he had a good day, he made two people cry”— others he stayed in touch with and evoke more positive memories. Fred Manfred, author of Lord Grizzly and other novels set in the American West and Great Plains, could not have been more different than the previously mentioned faculty member, whom Manfred succeeded. “Fred was not only a real novelist, but he was open and helpful,” Dexter said. “He was about 12 feet tall and he was a little clumsy in all ways. He had his kind of an innocence about him that you just loved.” Alumnus and Author Pete Dexter Joins Department as Writer-in-Residence Newsletter Spring 2020 D epartment of E nglish continued on page 2