Professor Adams

I thought this blog would be a retrospective about my creative writing groups, but it evolved into something else. You just never know, do you?

#gailgallowayadams #susanstrasser #susanstrasserblog #amwriting

In my sophomore year of college at West Virginia University (W.V.U.), I learned that the English department was going to offer a new selection of courses and that you could earn a certificate or minor in it: the Creative Writing Concentration. Five three-credit courses, and it was official. I was in! And my first class did not disappoint.

Professor Gail Adams vibrantly was full of spirit in my Short Story class. We spent little time on other writers, and most of the time on ourselves and developing our craft for once! So refreshing as an undergraduate English major, where I’d spent hours upon hours reading others’ novels, short stories, poetry, and written research papers and analyses on them.

I always remember Gail’s class and her teaching style. She is small, maybe 5 feet? But she has a grand presence. She told us that she used to be a ballet dancer when she was young, and she perfected her posture. But she also had this bizarre habit of hardly ever looking at us, her class, i.e., her students. Her head, her gaze, her chin was always towards the ceiling. She meant no offense. I think that she was just trying to give herself leverage and to perpetually raise her own sights and not see at her vertically-challenged level, which standing up, was only a bit higher than us sitting in our desks! But her spirit! Her spunk! In her ongoing narrative of her life (yes, she was one of those professors or teachers, but I found it highly enjoyable) she told us about how when she was young, she was a ballerina. As a young adult, she quit ballet, and was ecstatic to be able to eat again.

“Oh! I could eat! I grabbed this, I grabbed that…” she said, gesticulating wildly to an banquet table she imagined in front of herself.

As a compulsive overeater, I could very much relate.

And she mocked herself and her shape for being slightly rotund, but smiled the whole time. I guess that she had been practically starving herself, and that it was unhealthy, and hell yes, I’d be— who wouldn’t be?— happy for that reprieve as well.

Professor Adams was so damn likable.

But her best story is the one about being published. Ah, the long awaited dream of any writer! To be famous! To be rich! To see your brand new books as the new book display when you walked into a bookstore! (This was the 90s, remember!) But Gail talked about the excruciating agony of handing off your manuscript, your work, everything you’ve been poring over for weeks, months, or maybe even years to a… publisher. Gasp!

“It’s your baby!” she gestured wildly again, arms outstretched to some invisible force in front of us, the fictitious, imaginary energy that was going to suck up our typed or handwritten pages like a spaceship from a science fiction movie, how difficult it would be to let your project go into someone else’s hands. (I mean we did save files on “floppies” in the 90s, but still!)

In two months, I will be doing that myself, with my largest project ever: an approximately 150,000 word manuscript to my trusted editor. The fear comes and goes. But it is not the unknown anymore. I have been around the block several times now with writing groups, performances, editors, and publishing.

And I think of my earliest writing teachers at W.V.U. like Gail who inspired me and am grateful. With panache and entertainment the whole way, nonetheless!

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