Gloria (Cahill) Heffernan ’81 and the Power of Poetry
The literary roots of poet and author Gloria (Cahill) Heffernan ’81, English, run very deep.
As a child, she once discovered an anthology of great poets while browsing the dusty shelves of a Salvation Army thrift shop, and then ran home to memorize two works within that had captured her attention, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and “Polonius’s Advice to Laertes” in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
A spark had been ignited within.
She fell in love with the use of language, and was excited at the prospect of putting her own words together. Heffernan was further encouraged by her mother, who would urge her to “go write a story,” and that is precisely what she did.
Today, her poetry, in addition to several short stories and non-fiction works, have been published in more than 40 literary journals, with her first chapbook, Some of Our Parts, published by Finishing Line Press this past spring 2018. Her first full-length collection, What the Gratitude List Said to the Bucket List, has been accepted by New York Quarterly Books for publication in spring 2019.
Literary seeds watered
Heffernan’s love of writing had been nourished as an English major at Pace, thanks in part to her most significant mentors, professors Muriel Shine, Charles North, and Walter Levy.
She was co-editor in chief of the Pace Press and editor-in-chief of Aphros, the student- produced literary magazine on the New York City Campus, and went on to receive the 1981 Trustees Award at Commencement, as well as the Sarah Willis Creative Writing Award, which is still awarded to students today.
One of the highlights of her undergraduate experience, however, was being inducted as a member of the first class of the Dyson Society of Fellows, the College’s premier honors organization, and one that fosters undergraduate scholarship by providing enriching experiences for students with outstanding academic ability.
Heffernan fondly recalls the first Society of Fellows retreat.
She says, “It was so meaningful to interact with classmates and faculty in a completely different context. The topic was medical ethics and the allocation of scarce resources. It was fascinating and engaging -- no tests, no grades -- just thoughtful discussion about relevant and complex issues.”
Connected with community
Throughout the years, Heffernan has given back to both Pace and society.
From 1988-1990, she served as associate director of Student Life and Leadership at Pace University, and years later, returned once again as an adjunct instructor in the English Department before relocating to Syracuse, New York, to marry Jim Heffernan.
Heffernan believes strongly in the value of engaging senior citizens in the creative process, and has thus developed an ongoing workshop at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, NY, called “Poetry as a Spiritual Practice.” In existence for two years, it has attracted a steady group of participants over the age of 60.
Heffernan says, “The greatest satisfaction for me as the facilitator is the fact that several of these women started with the same trepidation. ‘Well, I have never written poetry,’ they said.” One of her students is now an “unstoppable font of poetry,” and another, who initially felt uncomfortable even reading poetry, is working on an autobiographical collection of poems as a legacy for her daughters.
Due to its success, she will also be teaching the workshop at the Fayetteville Senior Center this fall 2018.
The ties that inspire
Her first advice to students can be summed up in one word: read. She says, “I have often heard students say that they love to write, and when I ask them who their favorite writers are, they don’t have anything to draw on.”
She also asks students to recognize that not all their learning takes place in the classroom, as college is an opportunity to make life-long friends.
Heffernan and the late Sheri Goldhirsch, with whom she served as co-editor-in-chief of the Pace Press student newspaper, shared their work with each other for years, with Goldhirsch always being the first to read her new pieces. She is also one of the three key figures in Some of Our Parts, which also focuses on her mother and sister.
Referring to Goldhirsch, she says, “I can’t think of Pace without thinking of Sheri.”
“The collection is a tribute to each of them, a celebration of their lives, and an acknowledgment of the fact that I wouldn’t be who I am if not for them,” she says.