Today’s post comes from the news I received yesterday that an old creative writing professor of mine, Christopher T. Leland, passed away.
This kind of news always comes at curious times, and this is no exception. I have been in education for roughly eight years now, and just recently took a position in a Creative Writing BFA. This is has brought about much reflection as I have looked back to the courses I took in my undergrad, trying to find some inspiration for my own curriculum.
I have thought about the course I took with Chris many times over the past three months, and I remember it very well.
Chris was excellent at working with newbie writers. The course I took with him strictly focused on student authored writing and peer critiques, and over the semester he taught us much about reading with a critical eye and providing quality formative feedback. He had a ponytail and a fringed leather jacket (the jacket could just be my fragmented memory, but that’s how I picture him). He had an earthy kind of energy and as you can imagine, he had a laid-back style while teaching. After class, he was willing to share a beer with you while listening to your youthful dreams and aspirations, offering just enough advice to keep you grounded without crushing your dreams. Great guy.
I was in that classroom about 20 years ago, and although I would never take another class with him it didn’t matter, because he pointed out something that I would never forget.
Professor Leland once said something to me about my writing. He told me it was “clever, but not smart.” It was an honest appraisal. He was right. Over the next two decades, I have kept them in mind whenever I set upon a writing project. I honor it as best I can.
He was only my teacher for one semester but such is the infinite influence of a great educator. His brief critique lives on and I am certain I will pass this advice onto one of my students, who in turn might do the same.
And with only a few words, immortality.
Peace to you, Professor Leland. You were one of the good ones.