Dialogue on Writing: Rethinking ESL, Basic Writing, and First-Year Composition

By Geraldine Deluca; Len Fox et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 16
The Listening Eye: Reflections on
the Writing Conference
Donald M. Murray

Donald M. Murray, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Hampshire, continues to write in retirement. He publishes a weekly column “Over 60” in the Boston Globe, and this year he has published Writing to Deadline (Heinemann) and the fourth edition of The Craft of Revision (Harcourt). He has also completed the seventh edition of Write to Learn (Harcourt), and A Twice-Lived Life—A Memoir of Aging has recently been published by Ballantine. He is working on a novel and a collection of poems. The article that follows is from College English, 41, September 1979.

It was dark when I arrived at my office this winter morning, and it is dark again as I wait for my last writing student to step out of the shadows in the corridor for my last conference. I am tired, but it is a good tired, for my students have generated energy as well as absorbed it. I've learned something of what it is to be a childhood diabetic, to raise oxen, to work across from your father at 115 degrees in a steeldrum factory, to be a welfare mother with three children, to build a bluebird trail, to cruise the disco scene, to be a teen-age alcoholic, to salvage World War II wreckage under the Atlantic, to teach invented spelling to first graders, to bring your father home to die of cancer. I have been instructed in other lives, heard the voices of my students they had not heard before, shared their satisfaction in solving the problems of writing with clarity and grace. I sit quietly in the late afternoon waiting to hear what Andrea, my next student, will say about what she accomplished on her last draft and what she intends on her next draft.

It is nine weeks into the course and I know Andrea well. She will arrive in a confusion of scarves, sweaters, and canvas bags, and then produce a clipboard from which she will precisely read exactly what she has done and exactly what she will do. I am an observer of her own learning, and I am eager to hear what she will tell me.

I am surprised at this eagerness. I am embedded in tenure, undeniably middle-aged, one of the gray, fading professors I feared I would become,

-271-

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