The literary world just lost one of the most amazing people in this world.
I don’t write this because I’m a huge fan of his work. He was my Prose II instructor at Illinois State. When he first walked into our class, everyone had this look of awe on their face. I had no clue who this guy was, because the instructor wasn’t listed on the sign-up schedule. I had heard his name thrown around in classes, and knew that there was a class dedicated to his works, but still couldn’t match a name to his face. I guess I should have figured it out, with all the people in my class picking their jaws up off the floor. On the first day, he said that the second part of class was going to be dedicated to works dealing specifically with social sexual taboos. And if stories about rape, child molestation and cross-dressing was an issue, moral or otherwise, the person needed to drop the class.
Two weeks in to the class, after all those who weren’t going to stay ditched out, he handed us the syllabus with his number on it and said, “If any of you have a problem with any assignment, I want you to call me. At ANY time.” He and I sat after class discussing religion and how it changes the course of society. He pushed my writing, especially my course writing, in a whole new direction. He told me to quit writing for my Professors, because being “professional” did not suit me and encouraged me to take a more personal style – which worked. I also remember him looking at me with amazement, when I’d show up to class after driving 12 hours from Atlanta to Normal, just so I could make it to his class. Our first assignment, was a plot analysis of Pulp Fiction and how the anti-chronistic style changed the plot. I failed that paper. But having started in reading Infinite Jest, I completely understand the purpose of that paper and what he was trying to achieve. And I still have all the stories from the second part of class, uncomfy for some, but they were damned good cultural criticisms.
I think the best part of him, was the fact that all the other professors and instructors showed up to class in their suits or “Sunday best”, and he showed up in ratted sweat pants, two ratted shirts with holes in different places, hair pulled up into a bandana and secured with a toothed headband and a ponytail elastic. His shoes were usually mud-caked boots, left untied with the soles falling off in different places (till he got new ones he wore the exact same way). He really was an amazing person and I don’t think the obit really tells everything about him. But he’s one of the rare people in this world, whose passion played out in their actions. I know I have missed him all these years, and I will continue to miss him now.