Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Thanks, Daniel Keyes, for Putting Me in My Place

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Thanks, Daniel Keyes, for Putting Me in My Place

Article excerpt

The catalog for spring quarter classes at Ohio University in 1978 included an English class taught by Daniel Keyes. It was my junior year.

Daniel Keyes! I had read "Flowers for Algernon" in high school. I had seen "Charly," the movie staring Cliff Robertson that was based on the book. I was star-struck. I had to get into that class.

I did. And it changed my life.

When I read an obituary about Professor Keyes recently, I began remembering that class, remembering him as an instructor of budding writers, even remembering what I was wearing the first day: all black. I thought that's how a serious writer would dress.

Many professors at OU influenced my love of history, writing, linguistics, political science, urban studies, anthropology and classical studies: Phillip Bebb, Donald Lambert and James Barnes, to name just three. But Daniel Keyes recognized my passion for writing and brought me down to earth with generous and critical advice.

*

One of our assignments was to write a fictional slice of life. We had studied the form and examples by renowned writers but we were left to fill in for ourselves all the details Professor Keyes purposefully omitted.

I set mine on a street corner in New York City as a run-in between two people. I wrote and re-wrote, polished and shined the piece and handed it in proudly. I knew he was a New Yorker, and since I had been there numerous times through my youth and young adulthood, I could show him what I knew, that I was at least a little sophisticated.

He commented on several students' efforts in class, very gently giving feedback and asking us to consider why something worked and why something didn't quite work. He was always so sensitive to the feelings of kids who he knew looked upon him as an example. When class ended and he hadn't mentioned mine, I got up, feeling dejected, but he made the "come over here" motion with a crooked finger.

"Let's talk about your piece," he said, and led me to his office.

From here, I supply the quotes with some license since it was so long ago, but I remember with clarity the basics: "There's nothing at all wrong with your writing," he said. …

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