I only met Lester Goran once. A professor at the University of Miami since 1960, he was the man behind the Creative Writing Program and at the age of 85, still taught an advanced creative writing course. I had the privilege of attending his final lesson before he passed away Thursday.
On the first day of class, I took the seat beside his at the long conference table, determined to get on his good side and daunted by the impressiveness of his Wikipedia page. As introductions were made, I felt like I was meeting one of the great writers you’d see painted on the wall above the cafe in Barnes and Noble.
Age had not dulled the sharpness of his mind. This man was a real, been-there-done-that, wise-to-the-bone kind of guy who, with a twinkle in his eye, gave me the impression that he wasn’t the type to put up with excuses and certainly wouldn’t let his students settle with their own.
He stretched back in his chair and looked at each of us, this group of hopefuls, this classroom of receptive newborns able to hold pens. I took out my journal and started scribbling nearly everything he spoke.
“A situation is not necessarily something that occurs,” he began. “It’s part of the narrative. The main interest in your story is the narrative, and the more you tell me what the character is thinking, the more you are failing at the narrative. The character is described entirely by their contact. Don’t waste people’s time with descriptions of the drapes. Understand the character on the basis of what he or she does. And the main rule about flashbacks is to leave them out.”
Reading back on it now, I see that what he said of writing is true of life. I only wish that I could have had the opportunity to work further with this great author and instructor, but his character was apparent in his contact with the lives he touched, his ability to entertain and the many narratives he broadened and inspired.
Lester Goran is an example of someone who aspired to be, and so became. In teaching, he extended himself to thousands of students who took his words with them as they waded through the muck of everyday life in order to reach higher ground. He was proof that in the land of permanencies and promised outcomes, where your body eventually betrays you, the excellence of your experiences will not.
We write for fear of losing ourselves, or worse yet, society losing us, but Lester will not be lost. His essence remains because he didn’t just write for the public – he wrote for mankind.
When class ended, we were all stunned into silence, in awe of his wit. The sly look on his face proved that he was amused with himself, or perhaps life, and he had right to be. It was a worthwhile lesson.
Hunter Wright is a sophomore majoring in creative writing.