“We regularly ‘gloat’ about the program”

by Holly Schaffer, Community Relations Manager

It’s called GLOAT—short for Great Literature of All Time—and it’s been an ongoing program at Oro Valley Public Library since 2002, when Dr. Bill Fry, a former, longtime English teacher presented a lecture on Edgar Allan Poe—complete with a bust of Poe. It’s been going strong ever since. The program regularly attracts 60 to 100 attendees each month—including customers from the far eastside who trek across town to listen and join the conversation. In 2020, he presented Mark Twain: Father of Modern Comedy—it was standing room only with 108 people in attendance!

I had the opportunity to attend the program in March 2023. Dr. Fry had selected nature poets to welcome the arrival of spring. He opened the class by reading an Arizona Daily Star article about the super bloom happening in the western United States, including our beloved Picacho Peak, after a wet winter in 2022.

His words flowed smoothly as he discussed the work of author, poet, and essayist John Elder, “the definitive scholar,” as Dr. Fry noted. As he talked about Elder’s work, participants eagerly took notes. He asked them to name some nature poets. Someone said Dickinson, to which Dr. Fry replies, Ah, Emily Dickinson, the love of my life.”

The program continues with Dr. Fry reading the works of various nature poets and a lively discussion on the topic. He told me that when he was a student teacher someone told him, “When you teach poetry, teach them to love poetry.” He does exactly that.

He wants people to be aware of nature. “When I’m aware, I feel part of something larger than I am,” he said while reflecting on watching the sun set behind the Catalina mountains.

I spoke to one participant, Claire, while I was there. She has been attending the program regularly for ten years. She said, “Bill has enriched my retirement years in a way I could never have imagined. In particular, he introduced me to many women writers who wrote in the early 20th century and then gradually fell into obscurity. I particularly enjoyed his presentation on The Harlem Renaissance.”

In a 2008 article in the Oro Valley Marana Magazine, reporter Christy Krueger said, “Fry’s popularity is due in part to his contagious enthusiasm.” After fifteen years, I can attest that it still holds true. His enthusiasm is as contagious as ever.  

The program was established with the support of Jane Q. Peterson, who formerly managed Oro Valley Public Library. Jane said, “Dr. Fry makes the authors come alive for everyone in the room. Attendees soak in everything he says and, after most presentations, flock to the front to continue the conversation with him. He is a scholar who knows his material, a teacher who knows how to engage students, a gentleman who never undermines the comments of others, and a charmer who never forgets a name.”

Jumping back to the 2023 lecture I attended, Dr. Fry had everyone read Dickinson’s A Narrow Fellow in the Grass. He stopped before the last four words to let participants guess what Dickinson was writing about. They said, “It’s a snake.” He reads the end, “Zero at the bone.” They are correct. It sparks a discussion about local author Erec Toso’s memoir Zero at the Bone. The conversation continues even as the clock winds down.

After more than two decades, the program still captivates audiences. I have no doubt that it will do just that for years to come.

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