Leaf will keep writing after retirement

2013-05-07T00:00:00Z Leaf will keep writing after retirementBy MARY PICKETT mpickett@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Linaya Leaf, 68, may be retiring from teaching poetry, but not from writing it.

After 23 years at Rocky Mountain College teaching English and theater, “I want meaningful time with my mother and to write,” she said sitting in her Morledge-Kimball Hall office.

Her 88-year-old mother lives off the coast of Washington state on Lopez Island, which Leaf’s ancestors homesteaded in 1863.

She expects her bucolic surroundings to prompt an outpouring of poetry.

During retirement, Leaf also will play with her 3-year-old twin grandchildren, visit her son and daughter, spend time with her three cats and play the piano again.

“I’ll be reinventing myself, or pieces of myself,” she said with a smile.

Poetry has been a part of her life since she began writing her thoughts down at the age of 13.

“I needed a place to be myself,” she said about the world she created with her own words.

Having a poetic name probably didn’t hurt either.

Her first name comes from Linnaea, the flower named after Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish scientist who developed the classification system for plants and animals.

Her Swedish last name was Lüf, which was anglicized at Ellis Island.

Growing up in Oregon, she received a bachelor’s degree from Linfield College, a master’s from Northwestern University and a doctorate at the University of Oregon.

Along the way, several teachers encouraged her writing.

A high school teacher suggested making a magic box into which she could put creative things such as lines of poetry and colors she liked.

A college teacher asked her to send her a poem every Christmas, which Leaf did until the professor died at age 94.

In turn, Leaf has encouraged her students teaching women’s, African-American, Native American and dramatic literatures; Shakespeare; poetry; and freshman writing. She also directed a few plays, including “The Insect Play” and “Twelfth Night.”

Her students will be what she misses the most about retirement.

“I love to teach,” she said. “I had wonderful students. The footprint they put on my life was enormous.”

She admires their creativity and courage to overcome physical and psychological obstacles and the loss of loved ones.

She also will remember their trust, heartfelt generosity and the risks they took submitting writing to her.

Some students made her rhinoceroses, an animal she considers magical, in periwinkle, her favorite color.

She had the surprise of her life last New Year’s Eve, when several Rocky students, who had been in the area for a wedding, arrived at her mother’s home on Lopez Island and serenaded her.

As much as she’s looking forward to retirement, it still gives her qualms.

“It’s scary,” she said. “You never think you won’t be teaching.”


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