By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff
Tufts University will hold a memorial tribute tomorrow to an English professor and acclaimed poet who apparently took her own life Friday.
"We are deeply saddened that her voice has been silenced too soon," he wrote.
Digges, who in 1996 won the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Award for her collection of poems "Rough Music," was found unconscious Friday afternoon on the ground outside the football stadium at the University of Massachusetts Amherst by practicing lacrosse players. She previously had been seen at the top of McGuirk Alumni Stadium, according to university police.
She was taken to a Northampton hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
"Based on the existing evidence, police believe it is a suicide," said university spokesman Ed Blaguszewski. "There is no evidence of foul play."
Digges, 59, lived in Amherst near the campus but was not affiliated with the university, Blaguszewski said. Her car was found nearby.
Digges was teaching two Tufts classes -- a creative writing poetry course and a seminar called "The Architecture of the Imagination" -- that were coming to a close next week.
A professor at Tufts since the mid-1980s, she had published two memoirs and four volumes of poetry. At tomorrow's tribute, Tufts faculty and students are invited to share their memories of Digges or read passages from her writings.
Lee Edelman, the chairman of the Tufts English Department and a long-time colleague, said Digges wrote "with a passionate intelligence that never lost sight of the complexities of experience or of the unfinished business with which we all live."
Digges had two sons and two stepsons, Edelman said. She was the widow of Franklin Loew, president of Becker College and longtime dean of Tufts' School of Veterinary Medicine, who died of cancer in 2003.
Digges, who was raised on an apple orchard in Missouri, loved animals and volunteered at a shelter, the university said. She also traveled often to East Africa, where she worked with children at an orphanage at the foot of Mount Kenya.
She graduated from the University of California, Riverside in 1975, received a master's in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1982, and a master's in poetry from the esteemed Iowa Writers Workshop in 1984.
Digges's writings garnered a wealth of honors, including the Pushcart Prize, and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She taught graduate writing classes at New York, Boston, and Columbia universities.
Her first book of poetry, "Vesper Sparrows" won the 1987 Delmore Schwartz Memorial Prize, awarded to the author of the best first book published in the past two years. She also wrote a memoir, "The Stardust Lounge: Stories from a Boy's Adolescence," about her son Stephen's teenage years.
A forthcoming book of poems, "Dance of the Seven Veils" was scheduled to be published this fall, the university said. She was also working on a historical novel based on the life of Sarah Winchester.
Tree Swenson, executive director of The Academy of American Poets, said Digges was widely respected by her peers, and her death is being mourned across the poetry world.
"Her poetry is so luminous, her images are so vivid and memorable," Swenson said. "I think that comes from keen observation of the world, and careful reflection."
Digges was a less regular presence on the poetry reading circuit than many of her peers, Swenson said. Instead, she stayed a step apart, immersing herself instead in her family life and the natural world around her, she said.
"She kept to her life," she said.
Edelman said Digges brought the same "clear-sighted rigor" that distinguished her writing to her work as a colleague and teacher, along with a "rare and unwavering warmth."
On his website, Edward Byrne, an English professor at Valparaiso University and editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review, posted three lines from Digges's poem "Broom."
"Once I asked myself, when was I happy?
I was looking at a February sky.
When did the light hold me and I didn't struggle?"