Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Does academia suffer from a deficit of barroom brawlers?

Harry Crews, writer and professor of creative writing, University of Florida

"Crews poured himself into his students’ work with the same energy that he did his own. In class, he would amaze students by offering page-by-page suggestions on minor details about their stories, from memory. Even after the class concluded, he was known to run into students in the hall and offer comments on work the student hadn’t thought about for months. 
His rough exterior camouflaged a deep compassion for his students. The fledgling writers in his classroom poured their souls onto the page. Crews understood that vulnerability, and the responsibility that came with accepting it. "They are bringing me their blood and bone," he liked to say. 
To attend a Crews lecture, students would say, was to witness a performance, or a sermon. Former students, looking back from a window of 30 years, remember him pacing back and forth across the stage, waving his arms as he proclaims the virtues of a particular passage by Hemingway or O’Connor. Or they will describe a night sitting around a table in the dark corner of a bar, where the discussion had moved after class, Crews holding court, buying round after round of drinks and regaling his students with stories, each of which tried to answer for them the essential question each needed to answer: What does it take to be a real writer?
There is a belief in some parts of higher education today that the student is a blank slate, and the onus is on the professor to produce an educated, employable graduate. Anything less is a failure.
If students learned anything in a Crews classroom, it was that the opposite was true. Success, whatever that might be, was 100 percent dependent on the student. It was right there in a Crews course syllabus: "I hope you will not do yourself the disservice of thinking that you are an empty vessel that it is my duty to pour full of knowledge.""

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