Members of the University community gathered at North Quad on Friday to participate in an all-day reading marathon in honor of the late Matthew Kelley, a Sweetland Writing Center and Lloyd Hall Scholars Program lecturer.
The marathon, along with sponsor donations, raised $5,270 for the wife and child of Kelley, who passed away unexpectedly on February 7 at the age of 41 after delivering a lecture in Rackham.
Ann Ruggles Gere, director of Sweetland Writing Center and a coordinator of the event, said the marathon was inspired by the Dance Marathon program on campus as way to help the Kelley family.
“(We were) trying to think of something that we could do,” she said. “Matt left a wife and four year old child who really don’t have a certain source of income, so we wanted to do something that would help them and at the same time honor Matt.”
Additionally, the event featured a ceremony to celebrate the recipient of the Matt Kelley Award for Excellence in First Year Writing, an award named in his honor because he was passionate about celebrating and honoring excellence in undergraduate writing, Gere said.
“He was a faculty member here at Sweetland, and a really outstanding teacher who made a big difference in many students’ lives,” Gere said. “Matt was really at the heart of establishing the first year writing prizes.”
Elizabeth Allison, an LSA freshman that was in Kelley’s LHSP class and the recipient of the Matt Kelley Award for Excellence in First Year Writing, said Kelley encouraged her to write her award-winning essay.
“He’s basically just one of the most brilliant and inspiring people I’ve ever met,” she said. “I’ll never forget about him as a teacher— I don’t think I’ll be as lucky to have someone as brilliant as him. Especially as a first year, coming in and having someone like him be your teacher at a huge school meant a lot.”
Gere added that Kelley worked to publish a collection of student writings that had won awards last year and organized the committee for this year’s competition.
“He really believed that student writing can be very good … and that (students) could be excellent and that excellence should be rewarded,” Gere said.
Throughout the marathon, attendees read and listened to various selections from Jack Kerouac’s novel “The Dharma Bums”, which Kelley’s wife chose because it had been one of his favorite novels, Gere said.
Naomi Silver, associate director of Sweetland and a coordinator of the marathon, said Kelley was passionate about the initiatives of the University and had a sense of humor that made him fun to work with.
“(He had) a very wry sense of humor but also irreverent,” she said. “He cared really deeply about what the unit was doing, he was very involved in the institution but he didn’t totally identify with it in a way that some people do… he was really fun to work with”
Clare Levijoki, an LSA senior that participated in the marathon, said she didn’t know Kelley personally but said that she feels “like writers are a community (that) support each other.”
“I think its a great way to remember professor Kelley and especially this particular book, because I feel like it had a lot of his philosophy on life, so its exposing people to that and also raising money for his family,” Levijoki said.
LSA Freshman Raymond Arroyo, a reading marathon participant and a student of Kelley’s, said that the late lecturer had a knack for making what is traditionally boring into something interesting.
“He really inspired me as a writer,” Arroyo said. “You just knew that he was willing to go as far as he possibly could for every student he had so I thought as his student I should go as far as I possibly could for him.”