Alan Archer Stephens, an acclaimed poet and founding faculty member of the College of Creative Studies at UCSB, died late last month at the age of 83.
Stephens, who passed away on July 21 after battling a lengthy illness, began teaching at UCSB in 1959 and directed the CCS literature program until his retirement in 1989. A product of the American West, he was born in Greeley, Colorado in 1925. Stephens was well known for his literary explorations of his homeland and, according to fellow CCS professor Bruce Tiffney, had a lasting impact on American literature.
“Alan Stephens was a widely recognized poet of the American West, whose words evoked a clear, dry-air vision of the ordinary,” Tiffney, dean of CCS, said in a prepared statement. “He was also a reverentially remembered instructor in CCS and in the Department of English. Fortunately, his many students had the opportunity to celebrate his influence and his life at a special event held in his honor in March 2006. While he is gone, his spirit will live on in the words and imaginations of those whom he taught, and who in turn will inspire generations into the future.”
Stephens earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Colorado in 1950 and his master’s degree from Denver University in 1951 after being discharged from the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1946. Before getting his Ph.D. in 1954, Stephens founded Swallow Press where he was a publisher for 25 years.
Prior to joining UCSB’s faculty in 1959, Stephens was an assistant professor of English at Arizona State University. There, Stephens received a Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing to study at Stanford University for a year with poet and literary critic Yvor Winters.
In his over three decades of teaching, Stephens radiated an unusual brilliance, fellow emeritus UCSB English professor John Ridland said.
“[Stephens was] unique in every way – as a colleague, as a writer and as a teacher,” Ridland said in a statement. “From 1967 to his retirement, he was the mainstay of the Literature program, teaching not only Renaissance poets like Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, George Herbert, Robert Herrick and John Milton, but modern writers, such as Thomas Hardy, Wallace Stevens and Ernest Hemingway.”
Other colleagues of Stephens have said that Stephens’ poetry lent remarkable clarity and praise to descriptions of nature in the Western landscape. John Wilson, an emeritus UCSB English professor, said in a press release that Stephen’s prose paid special attention to “our creeks, streets, houses, beaches, mountains, schools, parks, trees, flowers, birds and beasts, and people.”
Stephens was an author of several volumes of poetry, and was a heavy literary influence on his students. Moreover, his poetry has been included in several anthologies.
Stephens is survived by his wife of 60 years, Frances Stephens; their three sons, Alan, Daniel and Timothy Stephens; and his brother, David. Stephens is also survived by six grandchildren and one great-grandson.