I’ve alluded many times here and during public presentations that my one and only creative writing teacher (in 1977) did more to harm my future writing career than he did to help it along. That experience hardened my thoughts on such classes and drove me to the world of the self-taught writer. The punch line in this section of my presentation is that the cranky old guy died before I had a chance to show him my first published novel.
I never mentioned the instructor’s name in public because I thought it would be unfair to him and his family. After all, he was quite well-respected among science fiction writers (and short story writers in general), and I’m confident that my experience was unique.
So, imagine my surprise when I received this email out of the blue:
My Name is [his name]. Avram Davidson was my Godfather. Long story but I would love to schedule a call. I understand you had him as a professor at William & Mary?
The URL for his email appeared to be from a law firm. My first thought: Oh, crap. Schedule a call? Could there possibly be an upside to that? So I wrote back:
It’s rare that I get startled by an email. I guess the world truly is small. Nearly half a century has passed since I last saw your godfather, though he was indeed my instructor when he was writer-in-residence at W&M. May I ask what you’d like to talk about?
Thanks for getting back to me. The short of it is I inherited Avram’s literary estate recently and I am getting my arms around it. I started a podcast and I have been interviewing authors who knew Avram. I really wanted to interview a student of Avram’s to see what he was like as a professor. I found a picture of [fellow student at the time] and that he was a student. I am sad to say he passed away a few months ago. His wife mentioned that you were a student so I wanted to see if we could connect.
I’ll be honest with you here. I didn’t realize how raw a wound this was until I started weighing the pros and cons of even responding further. What would be the point, right? Then again, forty-plus years is a long enough time to get over things, and on balance, I’ve done okay in this writing world. I think the godson’s efforts to keep Avram’s memory alive and vivid is truly a noble mission, and there is no doubt that I interacted with Avram in a way that I would want to know if I were the godson. I won’t share the entirety of my response, but here are the pertinent parts:
Here’s my dilemma: Avram hated my work. He told me, in fact, that I had no talent and that he had no interest in hearing from me again. Given the work in evidence at the time, I suppose he had a point. I assure you that I harbor no ill will for him lo these many years later, but he really hurt my feelings at the time. In fact, my final discussion with Avram derailed my projected writing career for well over a decade.
That last sentence is as unfair as it is factual. Avram delivered the truth as he saw it. The fact that I absorbed it as a gut punch was on me, not on him. I know that he meant no harm. Now that I’m 23 books and four screenplays into a 25-year career, it’s entirely possible that my success (whatever that means) is tied directly to his giving me, well, something to prove.
So, I’ve shown you my hand. I’d be happy to participate in your podcast, but you need to know that it would not be an elegy to your godfather. Nor would it be a hit piece. I was a 20-year-old dreamer from a troubled background with a love of confrontation. I wanted to write commercial thrillers in the vein of Alistair MacLean and Frederick Forsythe at a time when Rod Mcuan and Richard Bach were all the rage. Avram loved edgy, experimental writing, and I was exactly not that.
Whether we do this thing or not, here’s what I want your takeaway to be: Avram made an impact on his students. He made a difference. A week rarely goes by when I don’t think back to those sessions in his tiny, underlit apartment, sipping sherry while noshing on cheese and crackers. And Herman, the dog. He was a sweetheart.
In crafting that response, I discovered something: Whether I like it or not, Avram Davidson truly did give me something to prove. In thinking back on that class experience as a whole, I realized that I made some long-lasting friendships. Of all the classes I took over my four years at William and Mary, his is without doubt the one I remember most vividly.
Is this what closure is–a concept that I’ve never much believed in?
I’ve since spoken at length with the godson on the phone, and our conversation was delightful. I learned that Avram Davidson was a doting godfather and a very nice man–when he wasn’t cranky, as he was occasionally wont to be. He was, you know, human. I cannot wait now for the opportunity to reminisce in the podcast.
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, is closure.