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Wingate history gets poetic treatment in longtime professor’s new book

by Luanne Williams

Dr. Sylvia Little-Sweat, Wingate University’s writer-in-residence, has written a book to celebrate the school’s 123-year heritage.

Copies of The Dream Sustained: A Poetic Journey Through Wingate University’s History were handed out to trustees on Thursday. A limited number of copies of the book will be for sale at Wingate Outfitters. Others may be ordered directly from the publisher.

Sylvia Little-Sweat signs her book, The Dream Sustained.

A Union County native and 56-year veteran of the Wingate classroom, the professor of English penned 89 works for the book, released just in time for Homecoming. Her poems take the reader on a journey from the school’s founding to the present, with acrostic-style tributes to 11 legendary campus leaders and five imagined monologues that give readers a peek at what former principals and presidents may have been thinking when tasked with leading the institution.

In the 73-page, illustrated, hardback book, Little-Sweat offers a Wingate lexicon, a tribute to the Bulldog Spirit and a dozen samples of homecoming haiku. She has written about choosing a major, about Commencement and about mortality, and also includes a look at national events and issues – 9-11, DACA, etc. – through a Wingate lens. Another dozen poems highlight the author’s international travels in connection with Wingate – from W’International and Wingate-in-London adventures to Alumni and Friends excursions.

Little-Sweat says she chose a variety of poetic styles to complement the content of the poems.

“I was very deliberate in trying to do many types of poems, but also spontaneous by letting the content suggest the form rather than the other way around,” she said.

The book is Little-Sweat’s second about the University. She wrote The Chalk Dust Chronicle: A Centennial Celebration, 1896-1996 more than 20 years ago and said poetry was the right choice this go-around.

“I had already written the prose history and had dealt with many facts gathered through research,” she said. “In that book I told the Wingate story by choosing five men and five women from the past who represented the 10 decades being celebrated, and I included other information about presidents and principals and the campus as well. Thus, I wanted to write an imaginative poetic history that would allow me to use my 56 years of teaching and the expansive research to capture the meaning of what our creed has always been: Faith, Knowledge, Service. I wanted to make the intangibles tangible.”

The author said some topics were harder than others to address.

“The difficulty with poetry is that you want to stay as concise as you can be. You don’t want to have an epic poem, but we have a lot of epic history,” she said. “I found one of the most difficult to contain of all the poems was one about sports. Instead of writing about one athlete, I was writing about athletic prowess at the school and trying to capture the Bulldog spirit.”

The book, The Dream Sustained, is open on a table.

Although she began writing The Dream Sustained shortly after being named writer-in-residence in 2017, she insists that she’s been working on it her entire career, having been a Bulldog since she came to Wingate Junior College as a commuting student in 1959. After completing her education degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, she came back to Wingate to teach in 1963. 

“I am so thankful that I was a part of the school’s growth and the terrific changes that have come about in my lifetime,” Little-Sweat said. “This is more than skin deep for me. That’s really why I wanted to be insistent about writing poetry.”

David Storey, Wingate’s creative director and one of Little-Sweat’s former students, provided art direction and design for the book. Mark McGeoch did typesetting and layout.

To learn more about the book, visit Blurb Books at The Dream Sustained.