The book - the first edited collection of Stevens' work to appear in nearly two decades - has received highly favorable reviews in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Review of Books and The Nation. It was also selected by National Public Radio as among the best books of 2009.
Serio says he is both humbled and "sort of excited" by the publicity. "It's a great way to end my career at Clarkson."
The book is published by Alfred A. Knopf, which asked Serio to edit the collection and write an introduction. "Knopf was Stevens' publisher throughout his whole life," Serio says. "For them to have asked me to do this is quite an honor."
Like the subject of his edited volume, Serio is thoroughly at home in the world of the written word.
The Clarkson humanities professor has devoted much of his scholarly life to writing about the poet who arguably stands alongside Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams as one of America's most important modern poets. Serio's output is impressive; he has published six books related to Wallace Stevens and his poetry, and has served as the editor of The Wallace Stevens Journal for 25 years. He has also served as publisher and editor of nine other books, including two volumes of poetry by Virginia Clarkson.
But Serio is also quite comfortable in the world of the spoken word. For more than three decades, he has taught Stevens, along with other influential poets and writers, to generations of Clarkson students.
Today, in an era of tight budgets and dwindling job placement numbers, the humanities have come under fire. But Serio remains convinced that a foundation in the humanities is essential. "A strictly vocationally oriented education is not good for society," he maintains. "Learning to interpret short stories, a poem or a novel develops critical thinking skills as well as the imagination," says Serio. "That benefits both the individual and society."
Serio has taught Dante and Frost to hundreds of Clarkson engineering majors, as well as students in the sciences and in business. He observes, "In the last few years, there have been more humanities majors and minors as the department has grown."
Still, Serio says whatever the audience, the rewards are always there. "Sometimes you have to approach the material a little differently, depending on the composition of the class and how much exposure the students have had to literature. I have learned a lot from my students. There have been many great moments in the classroom and I cherish them."
At the end of the academic year, Serio will retire from Clarkson after 35 years. "I have spent my career with my nose to the grindstone, occasionally looking up and experiencing incredible rewards. It has been delightful."