Message from the President ~ May 2019


For nearly forty years, a hallmark of the annual State of the Union speech delivered by the president of the United States has been the assertion that the state of the union is strong.  “After 24 months of rapid progress,” the current president said in February, “our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on earth, and America is winning each and every day.  Members of Congress: the State of our Union is strong.”  President Obama used similar language, as did George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him.  George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter were more guarded, but still optimistic.  For a more candid assessment of the body politic, we have to go all the way back to 1975, when Gerald Ford famously declared that “the state of the Union is not good.”

I mention this history because, with the results of our recent survey in hand, it is now my turn to report on the state of our union—the state of the Robinson Jeffers Association, that is. As interim president, I wish I could declare that our association is in all ways “strong,” but that would be an overstatement. On the other hand, I’m not prepared to say that the health of RJA is “not good,” for that, too, would be an exaggeration. I think we are somewhere in the middle—which means now is the ideal time for self-assessment and for setting new goals for our future.

At present we have about 140 names on our membership list, but fewer than half are current with their dues. Of this number, 52 people responded to our survey (thank you!). A summary of the results compiled by Mick McAllister indicates that around 60% of the respondents have been with RJA for 6–20 years, with another 20% for 21 years or longer. About 40% of our members identify themselves as general readers, 40% as educators, and 20% as writers. Many of our members belong to other organizations with similar interests, such as the Western Literature Association and the American Society for Literature and the Environment; about 50% also belong to the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation.

Nearly 75% of the respondents said they joined RJA to be with people who shared an interest in the life and work of Jeffers. In answer to the question about involvement, 50% said they would like to participate more directly in RJA activities, such as helping with the production of the website or Jeffers Studies.

While Jeffers Studies is generally regarded as one of our most important initiatives, only 20% of the respondents reported that they contribute to the journal, and most of these said only “now and then.” The annual conference is also highly regarded, primarily for the intellectual stimulation it affords, but both frequency and location are open to debate. Critical comments cited the need to engage younger scholars, to communicate more effectively with members, to regularize the publication schedule of Jeffers Studies, and to improve our online resources.

The exact figures for the first seven questions are provided in the survey link below, along with a few representative responses to questions 8–10. Based on the results of the survey, the Advisory Board is currently studying ways to improve all of our initiatives: membership outreach, the annual conference, Jeffers Studies, and the website.

I will share our conclusions and enumerate specific ways you can help in a follow-up report, which will be sent out soon. The next Message from the President will appear in September, and every four months thereafter.

James Karman
Emeritus Professor
Department of English
Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities
California State University, Chico

Click here for the results of our recent membership survey.

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