Markham Harris


I chose creative writing as a major at the University of Washington by default; I entered the "U" as a "psych" major and washed out, as predicted, in statistics. I took creative writing because I enjoyed it, never thinking that I might one day have a career as a writer.

It was the Fifties, and Parrington Hall as an old building even then-smelling of dust, books, baking radiators in the winter, and of cherry blossoms in the spring. I remember how the stairs were worn down from would-be writers who climbed them decades before I did, and who must have had the same dreams. Parrington was always redolent of excitement and ambition.

We had professors who had already achieved glory: Archie Binns, Grant Redford, Theodore Roethke and Richard Eberhard-who taught us to love poetry in his modest way; most of us didn't realize he was a major poet himself. He shared with us outrageously personal anecdotes about Dylan Thomas and Marianne Moore.

My favorite teacher, however, was Markham Harris, who taught short story and novel writing. He wore tweed jackets, smoked a fragrant pipe, had suitably shaggy eyebrows for a professor, and listened with genuine interest as 20 of us sat around a long, scarred oak table and took turns reading what we had created. He never criticized in a negative way, although some of our efforts might have warranted it. He discouraged such criticism from other students. He opened the doors of possibility wide to our nascent talent. He asked only that we write-which, after all, is the first step to glory-10,000 words a quarter (most of my 10,000 were written in crash creative orgies over the last weekend of the quarter). That was when I learned the true finality of a deadline.

A decade later when I ran into Mark Harris, I was married, with four little kids, and selling true-confession stories as fast as I could write them. I was almost ashamed to tell him what I was doing with my talent. I shouldn't have been. Mark smiled and said, "I'm proud of you. You are actually making a living from writing, and you're one of very few of my students to do that. I consider you one of my true successes!"

As I've moved on from true confessions-through fact-detective magazines-and, finally, to the New York Times best seller lists, I often think of Markham Harris. He not only taught us how to write, but he cheered us on all the way!--Ann Stackhouse Rule, '53

Ann Rule is the author of 15 books, including such bestsellers as The Stranger Beside Me, Bitter Harvest and Small Sacrifices. A Rage to Kill-an anthology of 10 criminal cases, all but one with a Washington state connection-will be published in July. In November her book on a murder involving staff in the Delaware governor's office, ...And Never Let Her Go, will be released.


Photo by Leslie Rule

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