The Barbara Hoffman English Award–Planets, Tea & Word Magic

by Annette Fisher, Information Literacy Librarian

Barbara Hoffman—I Knew You Well

For 13 years the Library and English Dept. have jointly awarded the Barbara Hoffman English 160 Writing Award to outstanding English 160 students who demonstrated the qualities of excellent writing dovetailed with excellent library research skills. As time goes on though, like the Swedish story of the King who won a great war and the people only knew the King’s name and nothing about the war itself, Barbara Hoffman will be entwined with the Award and people will wonder:

Who is this Barbara Hoffman? Bless her– I have just won $75. In her name.”

To begin, Barbara was a young woman of 26 when she joined the English faculty and she stayed for 39 years. She passed away in 2007, just a few days shy of her retirement. Quoting from her Presidential Scholarship Honoree citation: Barbara Hoffman was “an Assistant Professor of English, whose brilliant, imaginative, informed, ever-curious mind has inspired, encouraged, and spurred nearly two generations of students to discover and unleash the power of their own creativity.”

People majored in “Barbara Hoffman.” I did. It meant rearranging my schedule to fit in her Oriental Literature class, Poetry, or Creative Writing class. There was a lot of work, a lot of reading, and a lot of writing in the classes but the payoff was enormous—a whole new way of looking at the world. Take her “Planet Day.” Winners of the planet competition inspired the judges by taking creativity to the highest power. Extra points went to the planet that knew that gummy bears mixed with raisins and crushed graham crackers were the “best food ever.” Or, hip- hop interspersed with Gregorian Chant only assaulted human ears.

There were other lessons besides the powers of the planets’ senses; there was the sheer power of words. Pretty words like sizzling and sassy vs. their hard-core ‘b’ and ‘d’ alphabet brothers with hard sounds like brazen, dreary, and dungeon.  Words, just words. The whole political landscape is built on words. I often thought Barbara missed her calling—wordsmith to the presidential contenders or showing a political hack writer pundit how the game is really won.

Lucky for us, Barbara chose the trenches (as she called it), the slow, laborious process of teaching freshman how to write. In fact, her colleagues named the English 160 Award after her. Barbara shunned publicity and never came to the English Honor Society Teas where the winners were awarded, but knowing Barbara, I know she beamed inside knowing that writing, indeed the writing process, was recognized and would live on in this special Award.

Barbara’s credentials included: A.B. from D’Youville College, M.A. from the Catholic University of America, A.B.D. from Duquesne University, and a certificate from Jerusalem Biblical and Archaeological Institute of Israel. She was awarded the Sears Foundation Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award and was a Marywood CASE Professor of the Year in 2006. And for us old-timers, Barbara memory lives on at Hoffman’s Hollow, a.k.a. the ravine behind the science building where nature and literature joined forces to inspire the muse in each of us. And of course, when we sip tea, after all, the Tea Ceremony was a inspirational not-to-be-forgotten ritual in a Barbara class. Barbara studied the Tea Ceremony with a master in New York City and it showed.

Finally, Barbara loved books. Obviously. But you need to know that Barbara loved libraries with the smell of books, the card catalog made of wood, the big dictionary stands. So, what did she do when the library catalog went on-line? Why, she gave the card catalog a proper burial complete with a priest performing the last rites.

Barbara believed in the spirit of all creatures. Most of all, Barbara believed in each student. I am a better student because I was Barbara’s student. I value words and books and the spirit of students because Barbara, like the ever-wise teacher, inspired her students to claim the best in everything. And, this is why, winning the Barbara Hoffman English 160 Writing Award is so special; it is a manifestation of the best in the freshman student who values writing and library research.

Barbara would be beaming.

Barbara Hoffman

View this year’s 2016 Barbara Hoffman Award winners and first place essay.

For a taste of Barbara’s poetry, check out her (1979) Cliffs of Fall from the Marywood Library.

(Photo Image: Courtesy of Jim Frutchey, Marywood University Archives)

One thought on “The Barbara Hoffman English Award–Planets, Tea & Word Magic

  1. Jeanne Kunz Hugenbruch says:

    When I was at Marywood in the mid-70’s, I was never fortunate enough to get into even one of her classes. Not once during my three years there. So I would attend anyway, for no credit.
    After I married and left school, I would still drop into her classes when I was in the neighborhood.
    And when I returned to finish my degree at the age of 27, I was assigned to her Freshman English Class. Finally, I finally had a class with Ms. Hoffman.
    And what did she do?
    After just a few short weeks, she exempted me.
    “You’re a writer.” she said, “You don’t need this class.”
    I was honored and disappointed at the same time.
    One of the best teachers I almost never had.


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