The Creative Writing Program in the Department of English owes its stellar roster of visiting writers to the Edelstein-Keller Endowment and the generosity of Ruth Easton (née Ruth Edelstein). Ms. Easton was born in North Branch, Minnesota, attended the University of Minnesota for one year, and finished her education at Macalester College and the Cumnock School. She then began a successful career as an actress. She appeared on radio and on Broadway with Walter Huston, Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, Eddie Cantor, and Al Jolson.
In 1985, Kenneth H. Keller, then president of the University of Minnesota, discussed with Ms. Easton his plan to launch the University’s first capital gifts campaign—in particular, his hope that the first major endowment specifically benefit the Department of English. As a result of this discussion, Ms. Easton made a significant gift which President Keller arranged to match with an equal sum from University resources, and the Edelstein-Keller Endowment was born.
Ms. Easton named the endowment in honor of her brother, David E. Edelstein, and his closest friend, Thomas A. Keller, Jr. (no relation to President Keller).
The first Edelstein-Keller Endowment visiting writer was Isaac Bashevis Singer, who visited the Twin Cities campus in May of 1985. Subsequent visitors include Grace Paley, Adrienne Rich, Edward P. Jones, Yusef Komunyakaa, J. M. Coetzee, Sam Shepard, Colson Whitehead, Vivian Gornick, Tobias Wolff, and the current writer-in-residence Charles Baxter. The Edelstein-Keller Endowment also made possible the conversion of the Department of English’s M.A. in English and Professional Writing to the M.F.A. in Creative Writing in 1996.