May 29, 2024

Princemere Writers’ Series Honors Late English Professor Lori Ambacher

Anne Shearer 24'

Photo Courtesy of Lori Ambacher's Obituary

The English Department held its annual Princemere Writers Series this year with a bittersweet tinge. Visiting authors read in honor of the late Lori Ambacher, a beloved writing professor at Gordon. 

Ambacher had taught at Gordon for 20 years as an Associate Professor in creative writing, literature, and first-year writing seminar The Great Conversation. She had just accepted a full-time contract with Gordon, and was recovering from preventative open-heart surgery when she passed away unexpectedly on June 26, 2023. 

Ambacher’s friend and co-worker at Gordon, Mark Stevick, co-coordinates the Princemere Writers Series. To honor Ambacher this year, he said, they wanted to invite “a bunch of writers who knew her [Ambacher], whom she knew and had worked with in one way or another.” 

Authors invited for the Princemere Writers Series included Nick Maione, Andre Dubus III, and Karen Halvorsen Schreck. “All of those authors were able to speak to who Lori was and their relationships with her,” said English faculty and Department Chair Kerilyn Harkaway-Krieger. The last time Harkaway saw Ambacher was at a meeting to plan the Princemere Writers Series. “Pretty early on in revisiting our plans, Mark and I decided that we wanted to honor her [Ambacher],” said Harkaway. 

Maione was friends with Ambacher for years, as was Dubus. Much of Dubus’s work is set in the northern Massachusetts area. “Lori lived in those spots,” said Stevick, “and so to read his stuff is in a way to see young Lori’s stomping grounds.” 

Schreck befriended Ambacher in college, and the two roomed together as MFA students at SUNY Binghamton University. At the reading, Schreck read some of Ambacher’s poems, along with one written by herself about her friendship with Ambacher. She described Ambacher as “whip-smart and slyly humorous,” and “incredibly self-effacing” in her care for others. 

Bekah Swenson ‘24 noted Schreck’s reading was unique because she “talked about her [Ambacher] in a way that I hadn’t necessarily heard about her before, and when she was young.” Swenson appreciated “hearing her stories, and then also just the deep friendship that they had, as writers and as people.” 

Stevick began the Princemere Writers Series in 1988 as a new Theater Director at Gordon. He invited authors to come read their work, and Ambacher was an early invitee. “She’s got such power and finesse and she’s so compelling,” said Stevick about Ambacher’s writing. The two respected each other’s writing but were also good friends. “She was always keeping track of my kids,” added Stevick, “[she] paid attention to their growth, always asked after them.”  

Harkaway also noted Ambacher’s warmth. “She was one of those people where you felt like when she asked you in passing how you were, she really wanted to know.” Harkaway became friends with Ambacher after Harkaway started teaching at Gordon in 2014. “She was always sharing about students, how her students were doing,” she recalled. 

Ambacher’s students loved her care and quirkiness. Swenson recalled her first creative writing class with Ambacher. “My freshman year, I was in quarantine. And she felt so bad for me that she sent me an email with a little note and sent a picture of her dog to cheer me up.” In a class last year, Swenson remembered how Ambacher “encouraged the shenanigans of the class.” At the beginning of class, “she would walk in and we would have polls up on the blackboard, about, you know, eating crayons and pirate literature, and whatnot . . . she was always so encouraging of us having fun.” 

Student notebooks from Ambacher’s Creative Nonfiction class last spring hold as many funny quotes as they do class notes. One favorite quote from Ambacher was, “The older I get, the more I want happy endings for everyone everywhere. Except Putin. My pastor and I pray for his demise every day.” Swenson also laughed over Ambacher’s comical distaste for certain genres, “she really did not like Amish romance novels.” 

More importantly, Swenson concluded, “she was also just very encouraged by our writing, and I know that she loved her students.” Said Stevick, “Lori was . . . just so attentive to other writers, to other people. I mean her belief in you . . . it was ennobling.” 

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