Influential Teachers

Saturday, August 25, 2012

An article in The Writer's Chronicle got me thinking about
a teacher. Credit: Elizabeth King Humphrey

Were you born a creative writer or were you taught to be a creative writer? I picked up a copy of the September issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, a publication for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. It’s a publication I read often when I was getting my MFA in creative writing. One article immediately drew my attention: “Borges as Self: Toward Teaching Creative Writers” by Eric LeMay.

There is a line in the article, which I will paraphrase, that poses the question about whether creative writing can be taught or can students be taught to be creative writers. The article discusses various programs and what they may offer writers.

But when I read that, I didn’t look back on my master’s program. I didn’t reflect on an undergraduate poetry class with Kenneth Koch or a graduate workshop with Denise Gess (both incredibly passionate writers). I immediately thought of my high school English teachers.

And one in particular: Marilyn Griggs Riley.

To my knowledge (okay, to my memory!), she didn’t teach me anything about creative writing. I don’t remember the whys and wherefores of points of view or how to create suspense in a novel.

But Marilyn taught me a lot. She taught me about a love of writing. She opened a world of writing that I had never seen before—she wrote the introduction for poetry collections and, later in life, penned a collection of profiles of spunky Western women. Areas for writing that I hadn't considered before. Her enthusiasm didn’t teach me the craft of writing. Her Carol Channing hairstyle didn’t convince me to become a writer (or even influence my style choices).

Her enthusiasm helped me to discover writers I wanted to identify with—and could. Her passion and laughter and encouragement helped me to feel that writing—and being a writer—is an important skill/job/vocation/life.

We kept in touch even after I graduated and she remained a wonderful cheerleader and a fantastic teacher.

In my mind, writers can be taught. Writers can even be taught to be creative writers. But passion is a lot harder to come by. But when you have a teacher who is passionate and believes in you, you can become anything you want to be.

Including a writer.

I enjoyed LeMay's article because he made me think about those personal connections with teachers and their many influences throughout the years.

Do you have a teacher who helped move you to become a writer? Is there someone whose passion set you on the writerly path? Who was he or she?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, NC. Her kids just started back at school, so she is excited for a bit more free writing time. (Ha!)


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I don't have a teacher you helped me in writing...but I have one who was a great role model to me. She was caring and giving to everyone. She was so supportive of me and eventually my husband. She showed us how to be good parents.

Rev. Linda M. Rhinehart Neas, M.Ed. said...

Sister Mary Ralph, CSJ is the person, after my mother, to whom I credit my becoming a writer. Sr. Ralph saw in me a gift...a talent that was lying in wait for the right moment to bloom. She watered that gift with kind words of encouragement, rather than red X's through my work. She fertilized it with introductions to Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Edna Vincent Millay to name a few.

I remember once, Sister Superior came into the class, asking us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I answered I would like to be a writer. Sr. Ralph in front of everyone in the class and Sr. Superior said, "But, Linda, you ARE a writer!" I was only ten, but those words stayed with me the rest of my life.

Great post, Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing!

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