Hearken to the Beat of the new Scots emperor

October 6, 2006

At first glance, Beat poetry and the task of raising £350 million for Edinburgh University have nothing to do with each other.

But both are close to the heart of Young Dawkins III, Edinburgh's new fundraising mastermind.

This weekend, Edinburgh will begin its £350 million fundraising campaign, the third largest in the UK after those of Oxford and Cambridge universities. And it will be the task of Mr Dawkins, vice-principal for development, to ensure that the target is reached.

Mr Dawkins, who joined Edinburgh 18 months ago, was previously president of the University of New Hampshire Foundation, where he launched an ambitious five-year $100 million campaign (£53.5 million). It raised $105 million in just over three years.

He is all one would expect of an American with a distinguished record in fundraising - personable, dynamic and astute. Less expected is the fact that he is an accomplished Beat poet who dreams of staging his performance art at the Edinburgh Fringe.

His entry into higher education fundraising and the Beat scene were both unplanned. He became a journalist after graduating in English literature from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

"When I was a boy, my father used to read Rudyard Kipling aloud to me, and the cadence and tone of the language just set my imagination ablaze," he says. "I knew from when I was a very young boy that I wanted to learn all I could about words and how you write them and how you say them and how you understand them."

Mr Dawkins had done some fundraising as convener of United Way, a community-based action group. When his alma mater announced that it was seeking help with its first big capital campaign, his father, also a Dartmouth graduate, suggested he apply.

"I said, 'I'm really not interested and not qualified.' With that, he (his father) called a friend at Dartmouth and said, 'I think my son would be great, give him a call.' I've never looked back," Mr Dawkins says.

"I've been doing this for more than 23 years, and I can honestly say I really love this work. It's never felt like work to me. I think it's a privilege. You get to work with some of the most intelligent people you'll meet both inside and outside the university."

At Dartmouth, he felt that for a career in higher education, he should have a postgraduate degree. His former professor urged him to take creative writing, and his tutors included influential figures such as Cleopatra Mathis, Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris.

His writing was put on the back burner as his career progressed. Then, for a dare, he entered the annual competition run by the Seacoast Writers' Association and won first prize for poetry.

But the turning point came when he was walking by a bar one evening and saw a notice saying: "Beat Night, spoken word and music". "I thought, I wonder what that is, and I walked upstairs and there was this incredible jazz band playing. An extraordinary American poet named Annie Farnsworth was reciting a poem. The room was very crowded, the music was playing, it was a late, soft, summer night and I just said, 'Wow, this is it.'"

He has been heavily involved in establishing an annual jazz and poetry festival in New Hampshire, where he has performed The Emperor of Scotland , a work inspired by his move to Edinburgh.

"It imagines that Scotland has suddenly become independent, and I've been asked to take on the job of emperor," he laughs.

The Beat poets first put readers alongside live jazz musicians in the 1950s, and the combination creates something magical, he says.

"You walk out on a stage. You've done no rehearsal at all with the band. The band doesn't know what you're about to read. You don't know what the band is about to play. It places an absolute premium on listening to each other," he says.

And Mr Dawkins claims that the emphasis on listening in Beat poetry helps him with the day job.

"I think it is that ability to listen really carefully that is most important in my work for the university. If you let them, people will tell you exactly what their dreams are.

"My real job is to serve as an information broker between the university and the people who care about the university and education in general."

The fundraising campaign has 33 priorities, from an £11 million investigation of the ageing mind to a £10 million boost for the Centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies and £7 million for the recladding and refurbishment of an unsightly multistorey building. There is a £15 million target for undergraduate scholarships and £20 million for graduate, doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships.

The Scottish Executive, major charities and private enterprise will be key targets for the campaign, but Mr Dawkins says that one of the greatest areas of growth will be individual giving.

"Scotland has a great tradition of philanthropy, and we thinkit's our obligation to make the case intelligently and comprehensively to those people who are in the position to invest in the health and future of the university."

olga.wojtas@thes.co.uk

I GRADUATED FROM

Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in the US, twice. My undergraduate degree is in English literature and my graduate degree is in creative writing

MY FIRST JOB WAS

newspaper delivery boy and golf caddy. It was a busy summer

MY MAIN CHALLENGE IS

finding a decent hot dog in Scotland

WHAT I HATE MOST IS

prejudice of any kind, but especially sectarianism

IN TEN YEARS I

want to be as happy and having as much fun as I am right now

MY FAVOURITE JOKE

A man comes into the emergency room with two badly burnt ears. The doctor takes a look and asks how it happened.

"Oh," the man says, "I was ironing a shirt when the phone rang."

The doctor nods and says: "Yes, I can see that happening. But how about the other ear?"

"Well, I had to call an ambulance, didn't I?"

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