Poet and former professor Kathleen Fraser died in Emeryville on Feb. 5 of natural causes, according to a statement from her publisher, Nightboat Books.
Fraser taught creative writing at SF State from 1972 to 1992 and served as the director of the school’s Poetry Center. She inspired students, faculty and beyond with her work.
“[Fraser’s] was a very exciting class I would say,” Elise Ficarra, the current associate director of SF State’s Poetry Center, said. “The energy was sort of electrifying.”
Fraser allowed Ficarra, who was not an SF State student at the time, to sit in on her classes between the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“She really opened my view of what poetry was and could be,” Ficarra said. “It was a place where you could ask questions and experiment and discover.”
Fraser’s work and contributions live on at SF State, perhaps most notably through the American Poetry Archives, which she founded in 1974 by formalizing the Poetry Center’s collections of audio recordings of poetry with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Today, the archives hold more than 5,000 hours of poetry readings on video and audio.
“That is one of the biggest archives of poetry being read in the world — that’s phenomenal,” writer and long-time friend Susan Gevirtz said. “That’s a history of poets reading their work that would not exist without her.”
As both a professor and a writer, Fraser was focused on opening the literary world to be more inclusive of women. She founded HOW(ever) in 1983, a journal dedicated to experimental women’s poetry.
“Kathleen was incredibly generous,” said Gevirtz, who co-edited HOW(ever). “If somebody was interested in what she was up to, she was so happy to talk to them. She was genuinely curious about what other people were up to, especially young women.”
Steve Dickison, current director of SF State’s Poetry Center, agrees that Fraser was intent on including women in the curriculum of poetry.
“There was really an emphasis on going after the patriarchy that was embedded in the university, but also in the world of what poetry gets published, what gets circulated, what gets taught, what gets read, who gets invited to do things,” Dickison said.
Fraser was born in Tulsa, Okla., in 1935 and went on to study at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She wrote more than a dozen books of poetry in her life. In 2015, Gevirtz and Stephen Motika published “Dear Kathleen: On the Occasion of Kathleen Fraser’s 80th Birthday,” a collection of writings celebrating Fraser’s life and work.
Along with teaching at SF State, Fraser also taught at the University of Iowa, Reed College and California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
Fraser is survived by her husband Arthur Bierman, her son David Marshall, her brother Jim Fraser, her sister Anne Bagwell and her niece Beth Bagwell.
She is remembered as an inspiring professor and trailblazing writer.
“[Fraser is] a wonderful poet and somebody who made things happen,” Dickison said. “[She was] just really loved by the people who knew her.”