One subject I always had a passion for was English. I loved reading and I loved writing, so even if I happened to be majoring in Psychology or Exercise Science, a literature or writing course was always part of my repertoire.
In 1989 I enrolled in Jane Smiley's creative writing class. I didn't know much about her published work at that time, and frankly didn't really care. The only reason I took her English 301 class was because it happened to fit into my schedule. By the end of her class, however, she had instilled a passion for writing that's still with me today.
By the way, I found out she was quite a writer. Three years after I took her class, her novel, A Thousand Acres , won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Jane was tall and unassuming. I once heard her say she wore khaki pants and a white or chambray button-up shirt every day. Not having to think about what to wear freed up space in her mind for more important things. She also had a thing for Tootsie pops.
She taught us the art of putting words together to make sentences, paragraphs, pages and books.
She showed us the power of just one word...
I love somebody.
I love somebody else.
We each had a thick spiral notebook which held our prose from a series of writing sessions, composed the first ten minutes of each class. We were to write constantly, letting the words flow without concern for subject, sentence style, grammar or spelling.
We were taught the word that is highly overused in writing and usually not necessary. Read through something you've written, deleting all of the thats. You will see what I mean.
Jane encouraged us to write about the things and people and places we know. She encouraged us to make the ordinary extraordinary by writing about it through a microscope. "Don't write about the carnival," she'd say. "Write about the blue horse on the carousel that leans a little to the left."
She helped us do that by taking us on walks around campus, suddenly saying, "Stop! Look! Write about it!" "It" could be a tree, ISU's beloved Campanile, or a gutter full of trash.
These days, Jane Smiley has become a poster child for the far political left. And she doesn't fill the role very eloquently. I think she uses her ability to write as a way to name call and bash the current Administration in a flowery and descriptive way. Name calling and bashing, no matter how well it's written, just isn't cool.
I don't like the kind of writer she's become, but I still appreciate the kind of writer - and teacher - she was to me.
And, I know