Meet the Donor Hoping to Infuse American Values Into the Lost Art of Writing

Here at IP, we've previously looked at how some foundations are working to revive the "lost art of writing." As a bonus, this topic allows me to don my "crotchety old man" persona. As I noted back in March when looking at the Penguin Random House Foundation's Creative Writing Competition for New York City high school seniors:

Kids these days. With the social media. And the texting. And the emojis. It's enough to make old timers fret for the state of the country, and even more alarmingly, the lost art of writing.

But it turns out that donors aren't just concerned about the mechanics of writing—that is, if an 18-year-old can make the distinction between a malapropism and a meme—but the underlying values of the writing itself. 

One such donor is Columbus, Ohio businessman, real estate developer, and author Donald L. Jordan, who recently gave a $3 million gift to establish and endowment for fostering the art of writing at Columbus State University (CSU). The school will use the money to establish three initiatives:

  • The Donald L. Jordan Prize in Traditional American Writing, which will be open to published and unpublished writers nationwide. This manuscript competition will award annual prizes for the entries that "best represent the traditional American values of responsibility, gratitude, generosity, faith and love," according to the release.
  • The Donald L. Jordan Endowed Professorship in Creative Writing, which will supplement a CSU Department of English faculty member's salary. The faculty member will teach courses and oversee the Donald L. Jordan Prize in Traditional American Writing as well as a writing conference "every two to three years on campus to publicize writing that honors traditional American values." 
  • The Donald L. Jordan Study Abroad Service Learning Program, which will enable as many as 10 students and two faculty members to participate for as long as two weeks in a humanitarian project in a developing country. The CSU group will collaborate with organizations in that country. "Program participants will engage in life-changing work and, following the experience, will write about how responsibility, generosity, faith, and love can be used for the good of others." 

You probably noticed that each initiative seems to be channeling Elvis Costello covering Nick Lowe. This is no accident. Calling his gift "a small instrument in bringing people back to traditional American writing and values," Jordan hoped it would act as a counterweight against corrosive popular culture. "I am so concerned about the literature in our nation and the direction we are going with the voices kids are hearing and the movies they are seeing," he said.

Looking ahead, Jordan said he hopes his initial gift is just the tip of the iceberg. "I'm a behind-the-scenes guy. I'm not looking to make a big splash for me, but I hope others would join me in this. If we could grow that endowment, we could do a lot more. The bigger that prize, the better writers we will attract."