Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize winning best-selling memoirist who died two days ago, taught at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan for 15 years. Today’s New York Times has a nice piece about the many successful writers he taught and how he inspired them.
“Frank had us sing salacious folk songs, he had us write courtroom defenses of inanimate objects and recite recipes as poetry,” said Susan Jane Gilman, a former student who has published two memoirs. She describes his English class as “intellectual freefall.”
Fortunate indeed are students who find a teacher, of English (or history or math or computer science) who so inspires them, opens their eye and may start them on a career path they might never otherwise have considered. For many of us, high school wasn’t a hotbed of innovative thinking. Kwana Jackson, who now writes romance novels, wrote on her blog that his class “was where I really started to love the written word and started to crave the writer’s life.”
Other students of his quoted in this piece, now successful non-fiction authors, include Alissa Quart and National Magazine Award winner David Lipsky, whose book about West Point, “Absolutely American,” captured the Holy Grail of criticism, a rave front page review in The New York Times Book Review. It’s a terrific book, and it took enormous talent and hard work to achieve that; a few years ago, his editor told a room full of writers attending the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors it still required multiple, detailed revisions to get it to where he, the editor, wanted it. For a would-be writer, a wild-eyed, passionate, cage-rattling kind of teacher can be your dreams’ launching pad. A great editor, or several, your booster rocket.
Who inspired your young dreams? How did they turn out?