Turner Cassity, 80, award-winning poet and Emory librarian

Turner Cassity, 80, award-winning poet and Emory librarian

Turner Cassity loved the South, but he rarely wrote about the region in his poetry.

“He didn’t want to be categorized as a ‘Southern writer,’ ” said his cousin, Sylvia Krebs of Douglasville.

The award-winning poet — who was an Emory University librarian 29 years — used voice and tone to cleverly chronicle wry observations about people, places and events. He did it nearly four decades.

From 1966 to 2007, Mr. Cassity published 11 volumes of poetry, starting with “Watchboy, What of the Night?” Two years ago, “Devils & Islands” was published by Ohio University Press/Swallow Press.

“He looked at things in ways most people wouldn’t even think about doing,” said David Sanders, director of Ohio University Press/Swallow Press, who worked with Mr. Cassity on his last three books.

“He was also smart in the sense that he had a lot of personal experiences and knowledge about things that he used lightly, in a humorous way. People who paid attention to poetry recognized his name.”

Allen Turner Cassity, 80, of Decatur died July 26 from complications of a seizure at Emory University Hospital. The memorial service will be in Atlanta at a later date. A.S. Turner & Sons is in charge of arrangements.

Mr. Cassity was born in Jackson, Miss., an only child. He earned three degrees — a bachelor’s from Millsaps College; a master’s in English from Stanford University; and a master’s in library science from Columbia University.

From 1957 to 1958, he was an assistant librarian at the Jackson Municipal Library.

Then he spent two years as an assistant librarian in South Africa. In 1962, he joined Emory Libraries to oversee the serials and binding department. He retired in 1991.

“He loved his job,” said Linda Matthews, former vice provost and director of Emory Libraries. “There are so many bizarre and arcane serial titles that came in a university research library. He took great glee in the most obscure, or what he would call the ridiculous, ones.”

The poet won numerous honors — the Levinson Prize for Poetry; the Blumenthal-Leviton-Blonder prize for poetry, the Georgia Writers Association’s Georgia Author of the Year; and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Millsaps College presented the opera lover with a doctor of humane letters degree.

Mr. Cassity started writing poetry as a teen. As an adult, experiences in the Army, South Africa and world travels peppered his prose.

The South, the poet’s homeland, didn’t.

“He was so very Southern that he didn’t need to write about the region to prove it,” Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, wrote in an e-mail. “He didn’t write about conventional ‘Southern’ literary themes because he represented the more cosmopolitan side of Southern identity. He was also a Southern eccentric in the style of Flannery O’Connor or John Kennedy Toole.” 

In addition to Sylvia Krebs, survivors include a cousin of Forest, Miss.

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