By Nancy Cook
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Provincetown swells from 800 to 3,500 people in the summertime
as residents and visitors return to this long-time fishing village and arts
colony. But this year, former poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner,
Stanley Kunitz, is missing. He died in May, leaving behind his Provincetown
home and famous garden. Residents and friends are still sorting through his
Provincetown wakes up after Memorial Day, when weekend revelers flood
Commercial Street and the patio at Bubala's by the Bay is filled with people
drinking mid-day. Although the streets are abuzz with activity, Provincetown
has long been known as an arts colony with famous literary residents such as
Eugene O'Neill, Norman Mailer and Stanley Kunitz. Kunitz belonged to this
artistic tradition, but friends say he stood out because he so generously
helped other artists and the community.
: "He was old-line in understanding that you need to
contribute to another generation."
That's Marcene Marcoux, who served on the board of the Fine Arts Work
Center. Kunitz helped found the center in 1968, along with the visual
artists Hans Hoffman and Robert Motherwell.
He later supported the center both intellectually and financially. The
cavernous room where authors lecture is named after him. He did this in
addition to founding Poets House in New York, teaching at major universities
such as Columbia and Yale and winning almost every literary prize including
the Pulitzer, the National Book Award and the National Medal of the Arts.
Local gallery owner, Berta Walker, says Kunitz used his artistic stature to
fundraise for the center.
: "He was such a strong national presence. When Stanley Kunitz
was affiliated, the National Endowment listened. A lot of funding in the
early days came because Stanley was affiliated."
The Fine Arts Work Center originally started as a way to bring to emerging
artists to Provincetown. In addition to summertime workshops and readings,
the center gives fellowships to 20 artists. This allows them to live
rent-free in the wintertime, work in private studios and receive a stipend
of $650 per month. With real estate prices so high on Cape Cod, the center's
director Hunter O'Hainan says the affordable housing is a legacy unto
: "Provincetown is going through a transition that affects
young artists and writers, or any artist and writer for that matter. They're
not exactly high income producing occupations, and the real estate prices
More than anything, friends and colleagues say Kunitz brought together
seemingly random people. His long-standing friendships with visual artists
led to the formation of the Fine Arts Work Center. Friends say he always
invited passersby into his garden. And Chris Busa, the editor of the
magazine Provincetown Arts, says even Kunitz's funeral showed his ability to
befriend a wide swathe of people.
: "When I went to his memorial a couple of Sundays ago, half of the
people were his gardener or his carpenter. They weren't just literary
people. He knew a range of society and cared about them. He felt that all
work is honorable."
Kunitz would have turned 101 this summer. The Fine Arts Work Center is
planning a memorial event in the Stanley Kunitz Common Room, and the town
has declared July 29 Stanley Kunitz Day. But his legacy also lives on in the
work of fellow artists.
Mary Oliver, another Provincetown resident and Pulitzer-Prize winning poet,
wrote an entire verse dedicated to him. In it she discusses his Provincetown
garden and how effortlessly he tended to his plants, "like Merlin strolling
with important gestures." She goes on to write:
But now I know more
about the great wheel of growth,
and decay, and rebirth,
and know my vision for a falsehood.
Now I see him coming from the house -
I see him on his knees,
cutting away the diseased, the superfluous,
coaxing the new,
knowing that the hour of fulfillment
is buried in years of patience.
Broadcast July 20, 2006
Nancy Cook reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations.