As an undergraduate in the early 1980s, I applied for admission to my university’s creative writing program. Ultimately, I took just two courses, both of them taught by a novelist named Jerome Charyn.
Here’s a short biographical sketch of Charyn from his own website:
Jerome Charyn is an award-winning American author. With nearly 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life. Michael Chabon calls him “one of the most important writers in American literature.” New York Newsday hailed Charyn as “a contemporary American Balzac,”and the Los Angeles Times described him as “absolutely unique among American writers.” Since the 1964 release of Charyn’s first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, he has published 30 novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year. Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture. Charyn was Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at the American University of Paris until he left teaching in 2009.
When I knew him, Charyn looked something like this.
It was an improbable association: Bronx-born, Jewish author of daringly inventive fictions, a true man of letters, on the one hand, and literal-minded, earnest, eager-to-please child of the rural Deep South, on the other. Still, somehow it worked, at least from my perspective. Charyn was exceedingly kind. He took an interest. He insisted, for example, that I bring to his office a street map of New York City, so that he could mark on it all the places I should try to visit during my time in New Jersey. Walk down this street, he told me. Cross this bridge. Stop at this cafe.
And he was an excellent teacher. He had the knack. In response to one of my stories, he prompted the class to discuss at length my use of the word “cacophony” in its concluding paragraph. At another time, he asked simply, “Is this a short story?” Moreover, he always tried to protect us from one another. One student would say something cutting, and Charyn would always find a way to dress the wound and ease the pain, in a way that modeled for the rest of us how to be civil and supportive of one another.
Hearing NPR’s Scott Simon interview Charyn brought those times back to me. I challenge you to listen to his remarks about I Am Lincoln and not think to yourself, “What a lovely man.”