Dave Eggers: The Teacher Who Encouraged Me to Write

Thou­sands of pub­lic school teach­ers won’t be return­ing to the class­room this fall, thanks to bud­get cuts nation­wide. And that means more than a few Jay Criche’s won’t get the chance to tap the hid­den tal­ents of young stu­dents. Jay Criche, in case you’re won­der­ing, taught Eng­lish at Lake For­est High School and count­ed Dave Eggers (A Heart­break­ing Work of Stag­ger­ing Genius and What Is the What) as one of his stu­dents. Criche passed away recent­ly, and, writ­ing in Salon, Eggers remem­bers his teacher’s deep influ­ence:

He was kind to me, but I had no sense that he took par­tic­u­lar notice of me. There were oth­er, smarter kids in the class, and soon I fell back into my usu­al posi­tion — of think­ing I was just a lit­tle over aver­age in most things. But near the end of the semes­ter, we read “Mac­beth.” Believe me, this is not an easy play to con­nect to the lives of sub­ur­ban high school­ers, but some­how he made the play seem elec­tric, dan­ger­ous, rel­e­vant. After pro­cras­ti­nat­ing till the night before it was due, I wrote a paper about the play — the first paper I typed on a type­writer — and turned it in the next day.

I got a good grade on it, and below the grade Mr. Criche wrote, “Sure hope you become a writer.” That was it. Just those six words, writ­ten in his sig­na­ture hand­writ­ing — a bit shaky, but with a very steady base­line. It was the first time he or any­one had indi­cat­ed in any way that writ­ing was a career option for me. We’d nev­er had any writ­ers in our fam­i­ly line, and we did­n’t know any writ­ers per­son­al­ly, even dis­tant­ly, so writ­ing for a liv­ing did­n’t seem some­thing avail­able to me. But then, just like that, it was as if he’d ripped off the ceil­ing and shown me the sky.

Over the next 10 years, I thought often about Mr. Criche’s six words. When­ev­er I felt dis­cour­aged, and this was often, it was those six words that came back to me and gave me strength. When a few instruc­tors in col­lege gen­tly and not-so-gen­tly tried to tell me I had no tal­ent, I held Mr. Criche’s words before me like a shield. I did­n’t care what any­one else thought. Mr. Criche, head of the whole damned Eng­lish depart­ment at Lake For­est High, said I could be a writer. So I put my head down and trudged for­ward.

You can read Egger’s remem­brance in full here.

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Life isn’t fair. But some­times, when good peo­ple are remem­bered so warm­ing, it can be beau­ti­ful.

  • Jim Stark says:

    Every per­son has a unique pas­sion, you must love it and used it will, because that is the gift from GOD and can­not be stolen by any­one.

  • A high school teacher pub­lished one of my essays for the entire Junior Class as an exam­ple of good writ­ing. Anoth­er high school teacher pub­lished one of my sto­ries in school’s lit­er­ary jour­nal. It was an extra cred­it assign­ment I’d writ­ten on the way to school (took a whole 15 min­utes). I did­n’t find out until peo­ple start­ing telling me about it. A col­lege pro­fes­sor wrote encour­ag­ing com­ments on my work. “Hope to see you pub­lished some­day,” she said. Is she still alive? My par­ents imma­grat­ed from Hol­land. My first lan­guage was Dutch. Heck, I had nine broth­ers and sis­ters. We lived on a farm. I mar­ried a farmer. I got a late start. But I’ve writ­ten four nov­els and I’m about to embark on my jour­ney to pub­li­ca­tion. Les­son? There’s always hoep. And it’s nev­er too late. Thanks for a great post.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.