At Vassar’s Thompson Memorial Library, there is currently an exhibit displaying a collection of children’s books by the late Nancy Willard, who, along with being a faculty member at Vassar for almost half a century, was also a prolific author. She wrote children’s books, poetry, and novels, and a selection of these popular books are now commemorated in this exhibition.
The collection of Willard’s books spans decades and hints at the author’s tireless work ethic behind the books. In conjunction with a memorial service held previously following her passing, this exhibit serves as an open memorial for one of Vassar’s central community members. Willard retired in 2013 but had been teaching on campus since 1965. She died in February of this year, a grave loss for Vassar and the generations of students she instructed. This exhibit, planned before Willard’s passing, is not just a showcase of some of her works, but it is also a testament to how the community here at Vassar engages with itself through both remembrance of a person and through exploration of the works they left behind.
Willard reached international acclaim and popularity with her breakthrough book “A Visit to William Blake’s Inn,” which won the Newbery Medal in 1982. This book, which is on display in the library, transposes Poet Wil- liamBlake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” into a form for children. This is not to say that the book dumbs down any of the themes brought up by Blake; Willard deftly parses the works of Blake into a form that preserves the fantastical quality of his works without getting bogged down in details. This is to say that Willard shed new light on one of England’s foremost figures.
Additionally, the works on display illustrate the theme of Nancy Willard’s role as both a teacher and artist. The exhibition style is a very understated one: The books rest two to a case, with one opened and one closed. There are no plaques or descriptions accompanying…