Late SF State Instructor Leaves her Legacy
Late SF State Instructor Leaves her Legacy
March 2, 2007 8:56 PM
Friends and former students of late SF State Spanish professor Dr. Gladys Blacut gathered recently to remember her vibrant spirit and pay tribute to her work as a poet.
In the Japanese Memorial Garden outside of Burk Hall on the last Thursday in February the rain stopped for two hours while former students gathered around a vase of white gladiolas and read passages from Blacut's bilingual collection of poems “Reflections/Reflexiones.”
“Two years after her death I wanted for her poetry legacy and the humanity and social awareness in her work to live on,” said organizer Raquel Montenegro, a graduate and former student of Blacut in the Spanish program. “I knew she would love the flute and being outdoors.”
Born and raised in Bolivia, Blacut moved to San Francisco’s Mission district in 1963 and earned her master's degree from SF State in 1977. The political upheaval and social struggle she experienced in her native country became central to her poetry, which she wrote in both English and Spanish.
The event began at 4 p.m. and ended just as the sun began to set, while about 20 of the many people the esteemed professor touched in her long history at SF State came and went in her honor.
The poems were read one stanza in English, followed by the next stanza in Spanish. Between poems, 24-year-old SF State music major Julie Myers performed solo flute pieces she specially chose with the themes of Blacut’s work in mind.
Poems read from her collection included “AIDS,” ”Immigrant,” “The Conquest” and “Reflection.” In the collection’s introduction she wrote, “The theme of most of them is humanity, which suffers from war, hunger, disease, and a total lack of respect for human dignity.”
“I like poetry especially when related to social issues. That’s what makes poetry when you are going through pain and you have to find a way to release and share your pain,” said SF State social work major Zully Batres, 28.
Myers said it was the underlying theme of the struggle and plight of the downtrodden in Blacut’s poems that resonated the most with her after she first read them.
“Her work is reflective and somewhat still but still you could sense an inner fire in her and an energy to the poems,” said Myers, who tried to imagine her spirit and what Blacut would have liked to listen to in choosing the pieces she played.
Her spirit, according to those who knew her, was incomparable.
“She was a little tiny lady and people were always surprised when she started talking because her presence was so commanding,” remembered Montenegro. "She filled the room with her energy.”
“She was an extraordinary thing,” agreed former student John Tallon, 76.
While weakened by the breast and liver cancer she battled with until her death at age 67, her students remember her resilience and strength of will. Tallon recalls being extremely touched when Blacut went out of her way to find his lost grade weeks before her death.
“If you needed support she always had time for you and she was full of knowledge.” said reader and former student Ximena Ruiz, who went on to receive her Ph.D. in Hispanic languages and literatures from University of California, Santa Barbara.
Adan Garcia-Bugarin, 30, a Spanish and industrial design major read several poems and remembered Blacut's strong character the most.
“I like the way she was very resolute. If you made a mistake she was not afraid to correct you,” he said.
Over her 20-year career at SF State, Blacut taught beginner, intermediate and advanced conversation and grammar Spanish classes as well as a seminar in Mexican revolution prose. For some of her former students, she leaves behind a profound mark as an instructor.
“She was very inspiring as a teacher, as a mentor to encourage people to have a love for teaching,” said SF State Spanish instructor Eleanor Marsh.
Sandra Sung called Blacut her role model in the classroom as she herself hopes to be teaching by next year.
“When I felt discouraged she helped me to march forward and not give up,” said Sung. "I visualize her when I’m teaching.”
The reading was a last-minute affair, organized in nine days. Montenegro hopes to make the memorial poetry reading an annual tradition that introduces people to Blacut’s work.
For those who knew her, like Spanish graduate student Luis Chaffo, 28, the event was a chance to honor a beloved friend.
Chaffo made sure to come and read despite the rain and not feeling well and after he finished his second poem, described Blacut as he best remembers. “All I can say is she was an angel.”
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