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USD prof professes love, gets sued

A University of South Dakota professor was sued for allegedly basing his poetry book "67 Mixed Messages," pictured here, on a woman who was formerly a student at USD.

A University of South Dakota professor ended up the target of a lawsuit filed last month in Davison County after he published poetry that was allegedly based on his attraction to a former USD student.

Edward Allen, an associate professor of English, first encountered Suzi Grace at USD in Vermillion through one of his students, according to court paperwork. Grace was not a student of Allen's, according to the lawsuit, but Allen allegedly became enamored with her, wrote a poem professing his love for her and gave it to her.

Grace felt the poem wasn't appropriate and threw it away, the lawsuit says.

Grace graduated from USD in 2005. She never dated Allen, according to the suit.

In 2006, Allen published a book through Ahsahta Press in Idaho titled "67 Mixed Messages." The 74-page book is a sequence of sonnets he wrote about a character named Suzi Grace. The first letter of each line on every page spells out "I Love Suzi Grace," a form which is called an acrostic poem.

The lawsuit names Allen and Ahsahta Press as defendants and says neither asked Grace's permission to use her identity in the book.

Although the suit is being dismissed at the request of Grace -- "on the basis that all issues between the plaintiff and defendants have been resolved" -- she was suing for invasion of privacy by misappropriation of identity, invasion of privacy by false light, libel per se and defamation. The lawsuit paperwork does not say why it was filed in Davison County instead of Clay County, where USD is located, and Grace's lawyer declined to comment. The lawsuit says Grace is a resident of Minnehaha County.

The suit, filed on Grace's behalf by the Lynn, Jackson, Schultz and Lebrun law firm of Sioux Falls, states that Allen's sonnets are about a student at USD named Suzi Grace who lives in a trailer house and enters beauty pageants. Grace both lived in a trailer and entered beauty pageants while attending USD.

The suit also states Allen wrote "inappropriately and untruthfully about Grace's social life in Vermillion" and that he "writes sexual and other inappropriate statements throughout '67 Mixed Messages' about Grace that are not true."

In his statement about his book on the Ahsahta Press website, Allen says his main character desires Grace, but the character isn't sure of his own sexuality. He also states the character is bisexual.

The words in the poems "are spoken in the voice of someone who is pulled so strongly in multiple directions that he is unable to narrow his desires down to the point where he can do anything about any of them."

Even though Allen used the full name of a USD student he knew and placed the line "I love you, Suzi" in each sonnet, he says in his statement that he hopes the ambiguous sexuality of the book's main character will make the character's "fantasies seem less creepy."

Allen's statement says the sonnets are merely his way of playing with different forms of writing and that the book should be "a celebration of sexual diversity."

Allen is a native of the East Coast, having come to the Midwest to seek his doctoral degree in Ohio and eventually becoming a professor at USD in 1996. In his author's statement, he writes, "I've lived in Vermillion, South Dakota, for almost 10 years now. By now, much of my East Coast snobbery has melted away -- except that I still wince when I hear otherwise educated people use the word lay when they mean lie."