Jack Brenner
Lois Hudson
Charles Johnson

In the spring of 1977, I took a "Beginning Short Story Writing" class from Jack Brenner in the UW's English department. Professor Brenner was soft-spoken, self-effacing, a thoughtful and honest man. Perhaps his finest trait as a teacher of writing was his ability to articulate the innate dignity of fiction, its grandeur of purpose and meaning. He also parsed fiction's esoterica-point of view, landscape, symbolism, and so on-presenting each as a distinct and separate art to be cultivated systematically. The central notion of his class, it seemed to me, was that story writing was a worthwhile pursuit, fundamentally and intrinsically so, but only if the writer pursued it zealously, with real devotion to the details.

I also took courses in fiction writing from Professor Lois Hudson. Professor Hudson's voice was mesmerizing-slightly nasal, suggestive of the plains, flat and poetic simultaneously. Her office in Padelford Hall had the feel of a second home somehow, a den stuffed with manuscripts, a haven and sanctuary. She would lean across her crowded desk, a sandwich in her hand, her eyes aflicker, and direct me in no uncertain terms to look in the stacks at Suzzallo Library for a particular story by Chekhov. I was grateful then-I remain grateful-for how closely and sincerely she read my work, and for the seriousness with which she approached my stories. Her gift as a teacher was a human gift, the ability to suggest to students that their talents were noted, appreciated. "You have the vision," she sometimes said, as if vision-the writer's vision-was a rare and mysterious quality. I, for one, believed her. She intimated that artistic fulfillment could be achieved through persistent, diligent effort.

Professor Charles Johnson, when I first knew him, was a hip young man in a black leather jacket who stood at the blackboard with a cigarette behind his back, ranting about Kant and Heidegger. You had to look and you had to listen-he was incapable of speaking in dull fashion. He was also a vast repository of knowledge and a writer who had studied with the legendary John Gardner-in short, Professor Johnson was charismatic, scholarly, and impressive. He brought to class a comprehensive metaphysic, a theory of the art of fiction, its meaning, purpose and value. He also brought an ambitious set of exercises, handed down from Gardner. Theory and craft went hand in hand. Neither had meaning without the other. Character, plot, symbolism, setting-they were all in the service of something larger. Yet fiction's lofty aims could not be achieved without attention to the nuances of craft. Even the humblest of tools needed sharpening. The writer should neglect nothing.

Looking back, I am immensely grateful for these three mentors, each of whom took teaching seriously and seemed to understand how crucial it is, how much is at stake at every moment in the classroom. I carried them with me as I embarked on my own teaching career, and I carry them with me still, every day, as I work on stories and novels. I like to think of teachers as standing on one another's shoulders from generation to generation, a great web knitting the world together. In this conceit, these three held their places well, did not neglect the past or the future, and strengthened the fabric of humanity. I remain grateful to them.-David Guterson, '78, '82

David Guterson's newest novel, East of the Mountains, was released in April. His first novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and spent more than a year on the New York Times best seller list. A film version will be released this December.


Photo by Chris van Houts.

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