Monday, December 15, 2014

The Holy List of Antioch


If there's one thing my house suffers from more than it does books, it's paper.  I have boxes, bags, and piles of the stuff, and it's particularly hard to organize because every piece has to be read, judged, and filed, stored, or recycled separately.

I was going through a bag of papers yesterday and I came across the above.

It doesn't look like much, does it?  Just a mimeographed list of typewritten names with my own indented and asterisked with the notation "I approve," signed D. Jenkins.

That was my permission to take Honors English 201 despite the fact that it was a sophomore level course and I was a freshman.  This was at the College of William and Mary and somehow, within days of arriving, I had sought out Dr. Jenkins and convinced him that I absolutely had to take the Creative Writing course he taught right away -- now! -- rather than waiting a year.

That took chutzpah.   Also a submission story, which I had either written over the summer and had in hand or else wrote on short order to get into the class.  The story was titled "The Theoretical Man," and it was, of course, science fiction.

There was only one creative writing course in all four years of college, though you could take it for two semesters and it existed only because Dr. Jenkins wrote fiction himself.  It was taught as a workshop.  You were expected to write a story every week, the department secretary typed them up and mimeographed them, and only those who had submitted a story were able to comment on those written by others.  I forget if Dr. Jenkins' critique came before or after the comments.  But I know that every fault pointed out to me was received politely.  After which, I would go to my room and, in a fury, rework and rewrite the story completely in such as way as to avoid making the suggested changes.  If the dialog was bad, I'd write all the dialog out.  If the description was long-winded, I'd find a way to tell the story without describing anything.

It would be something like eleven years before I finally wrote something publishable.  But, my God, I learned a lot in that class!

A few years ago, Dr. Jenkins died and I went to a memorial held for him at the college.  One of his friends commented in his remembrance that somehow he always managed to find the students who had something special.  I hope it's not hubris to think that, in my own odd way, I was one of that that number.  Dr. Jenkins was certainly somebody special to me.


No comments: