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A Mission, A Market and A Dream: 35 Years With Gary Fincke

Ernest Hemingway once told F. Scott Fitzgerald to "write the best story that you can, and write it as straight as you can." Gary Fincke, the Charles B. Degenstein professor of English and creative writing and founding director of the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University, has undoubtedly heard "Papa" Hemingway's words and conveyed them in his own way to generations of young writers. After all, the honesty and directness espoused by Hemingway come naturally to the no-nonsense Steel City native whose blue-collar upbringing cemented his "straight talk" approach to writing, teaching and life.

"Just wind me up and put me in a workshop; I'm ready," says Fincke, in one of the more colorful ways he's described himself. But, at its core, the statement is as true as anything that could ever be said of the man. It's in Susquehanna's creative writing workshop classes that Fincke found his bliss, and built a national reputation for himself and the university.

Fincke's 35-year career at Susquehanna embodies the university's new strategic plan, aptly titled Susquehanna 2020: Thriving at the Intersections of Mission and Market, that was endorsed by the Board of Trustees last June. In it, the program Fincke nurtured from its infancy to maturity is specifically called out: One of Susquehanna's historical strengths has been our ability to understand the market and to develop niches where mission and market intersect. We know that many of our current successes-such as our thriving creative writing program-grew out of the entrepreneurial visions of forward-thinking faculty and staff. ... The goal is to have the successes become beacons to attract and retain more students and serve as models for other initiatives.

The Writers Institute has certainly become one of those beacons at Susquehanna, but like the basis for any good story, the road to success has been a long and winding one. And now, with the program where he'd always dreamed it would be, Fincke has decided it's time to entertain the idea of retirement.

In January, Fincke handed the reins of the Writers Institute over to Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Glen Retief, and took sabbatical leave for the spring semester. He'll return to the classroom in the fall for at least one more year of teaching because, as he readily admits, "It's a lot to walk away from." And Fincke has never been one to rest on his laurels.

Juggling teaching, a prolific writing career and the administrative duties of an academic directorship, not to mention a family-his own and the one that grows from the writing community he and his colleagues foster-has been the norm throughout Fincke's career. During that time, he also spent 21 years coaching men's tennis at Susquehanna.

"I'm genuinely curious about how I'm going to feel next fall to come back and only teach. I've never done just that," Fincke says. "Theoretically, I can go play golf some afternoons, but that's not me.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not very good with leisure time," he says, stating the obvious with the quintessential deadpan style for which he is known.

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