Bibliophile finds LEB 'a natural fit'
Important writing remains thought provoking and relevant over the passage of time, characteristics that inspired Dan Boeckman to assemble a notable collection of Southern literature.
"Literary criticism interests me, particularly the work of Robert Penn Warren, Alan Tate, John Crowe Ransom and Donald Davidson," says Boeckman, who serves on the SMU Libraries Executive Board (LEB). "Their way of thinking about literature is still very valid."
In the 1920s and '30s, the writers developed the New Criticism – literary analysis based on the text itself rather than on non-textual influences and connections. They also were members of a movement referred to as the Fugitives or Southern Agrarians, which emphasized the importance of the nation's roots in agriculture to maintaining its traditions and culture, especially in the South.
Boeckman explains a local link to the Agrarians: Well-known Dallas scholar Louise Cowan was a doctoral student of Donald Davidson at Vanderbilt University. Some consider her an heir to their legacy of literary criticism.
Also a respected collector of Latin American and contemporary art, Boeckman began accumulating books by Agrarian authors as a freshman at Sewanee, The University of the South. A volume of essays by Andrew Lytle, a gift from his mother, sparked his interest. Lytle, now deceased, was a professor at Sewanee and editor of its prestigious literary magazine, The Sewanee Review. He and Boeckman became good friends.
"He encouraged me to go to graduate school, as much to be part of a community of scholars as anything else," says Boeckman. "He also introduced me to [Pulitzer Prize-winning author] Peter Taylor, who became a friend."
Another teacher who became a mentor and remains a close friend is Luis Martin, SMU Professor Emeritus of History who now conducts a lauded lecture series at the Meadows Museum. At the urging of his father, Boeckman spent the first semester of his junior year with the SMU-in-Spain program led by Martin. The historian's gift for bringing the present into sharper focus by deconstructing the past made the immersion experience "truly life-changing," he says.
After graduating from Sewanee with a bachelor's degree in English, Boeckman heeded Lytle's advice and earned a master of fine arts degree in fiction from Columbia University.
While building a successful career in real estate development – he serves as president of Turtle Creek Holdings, Inc., and partner in Boeckman Investments – he continued to collect works by the Agrarians. In a 2006, his collection comprised 700 titles. Seven years later, it has expanded to 3,000 books and now includes other themes in Southern literature, as well as contemporary Southern writers. Like Lytle, a number of the authors he favors also have become his friends.
With a passion for the written word, Boeckman describes his involvement with SMU's libraries as "a natural fit." He says he appreciated libraries as "wonderful, quiet places to go to study" as a student. Now he values the University's library system for its role in preserving historical documents and artifacts and providing important research resources.
"My family has a long history of interest in libraries, which I share," he says. "And, as a book collector, I have gotten to know many of SMU's librarians and administrators, and it is a pleasure to be associated with such knowledgeable, quality people."