Retiring is not a common word in a writer’s vocabulary. Just ask Gerald Locklin, professor emeritus of English, who has remained as prolific as ever since his last year of teaching at CSULB in 2007.
“I write whatever comes to mind and when I have the time to write,” he said. “I started out being a fiction writer and I still enjoy writing it, but fiction requires more time, especially novels. It’s a lot harder to publish fiction than it is to publish poetry, because poetry takes up one page and little investment on the part of the publisher. And, the more you are fortunate enough to have people paying attention to you, the more of your time goes toward promotion of things you’ve already written, though it does take time away from the actual new writing, which I keep doing, certainly.”
It is an impossible task to accurately count how many poems and other literary materials Locklin has written (even he isn’t sure), but, according to the website www.geraldlocklin.org, he is the author in both traditional and electronic print of over 125 books, chapbooks, and broadsides of poetry, fiction and criticism, with over 3,000 poems, stories, articles, reviews and interviews published in periodicals. For several years, he served as a poetry editor of the Chiron Review.
Garrison Keillor, the renowned American author, storyteller, humorist and radio personality, often performs Locklin’s work on his daily National Public Radio program, “Writer’s Almanac.” All three of Keillor’s “Good Poems” anthologies feature Locklin’s poetry. He is often invited to give readings across Southern California and is a well-known fixture at Venice Beach’s literary center, Beyond Baroque.
According to the views of the French publisher 13E Note Editions, who has scheduled a collection of his short fiction for publication on May 7, Locklin is “Le dernier des damnés” (“The Last of the Damned”).
“I’m supposedly the last of the beat generation, the Bukowski generation, the American underground writers,” Locklin commented with a smile. “I think I’m about the only one of them who has managed to hold a job in the university system while being an underground writer all of these years. Damned or not, I loved my decades of teaching in the classroom.
“I figured out the other day that I’ve probably done about 50 years of teaching because I started as an assistant in 1961 at the University of Arizona and was there for three years,” he continued. “My doctoral program was in literature and then I went straight into teaching. I came to Long Beach State in 1965 after a year at L.A. State. I taught for, I think, 39 or 40 years. I taught until I was 62 plus five half-years of teaching. And I still lecture occasionally.”
While Locklin has completed his Faculty Early Retirement Program, students, old and new, continue to flock to his door for advice and direction. He enjoys access to his old CSULB office, which he shares with two former students who are now experienced lecturers, teaching a class when the budget allows and voluntarily consulting on theses and other written works.
“I love the students, and a lot of them still ask me to help them with their writing—sometimes it’s a thesis,” he said proudly. “A lot of my mentoring is informal, though. I don’t think anyone ever appointed me to be a mentor. A girl last week wanted me to talk with her about literature and my writing because she was getting rejections. I talked with her about two hours. A lot of times, for writers, the rejections can beat you down.”
Locklin’s contributions to the campus go beyond the classroom as well. He has made significant gifts to the University Library’s Special Collections, which is curated by University Archivist and Records Manager Kristie French, including letters and other materials from German-born American poet, novelist and short story writer Charles Bukowski, with whom Locklin shared a close friendship until his death in 1994. Locklin wrote a memoir of that friendship titled “Charles Bukowski: A Sure Bet,” which was published in 1995.
“I had over 50 letters from Bukowski that I donated to Special Collections,” he said. “The people who knew him are dying off. He was a good friend, and I was the only person in the academic life who knew him from 1970 on. Long Beach State was one of the only universities in the country that not only welcomed his work or condoned it, but held it up as a positive influence. Even today, he’s not universally accepted at universities. Over the years, I’ve received lots of communications from graduate students who would like to do a thesis on him but just can’t put a committee together at their university.”
Locklin also donates funds for the Gerald L. Locklin Writing Prize, which is awarded annually to a student for three poems, a short story or an essay. As a nod to the University Library, award entrants are required to visit Special Collections as part of the qualifications for the contest.
In addition, he has donated to the Robert J. Brophy Fund, Robert Marman Phi Beta Kappa Scholarship, William T. Shadden Memorial Awards for Poetry (a competition for which he also serves as a judge), among others.
“I’ve had a wonderful relationship with CSULB,” Locklin stated. “I wanted to be loyal to the English department and support my colleagues by supporting a scholarship. I also wanted to support the University Library because it’s been so hospitable to me. Librarians are just wonderful to writers. They love writing, and they’re very non-judgmental. Right from the start, I became aware of how much librarians were doing for my work, and they may have been among the few who even knew of it.”