I’ll be honest. At first, I wasn’t much of a fan. In fact, in the beginning, this particular professor drove me crazy. 

His name was Dr. B., and I had him for Intro to Literary Criticism. First semester of my sophomore year of college. 

And the first paper I wrote for him, I got a big fat “C.” 

I was not used to “C”s in any class really—especially not English. But I visited him in his office. We discussed the paper. I rewrote it. 

I improved. I got a “B” on the rewrite.

I wrote another paper.


The guy, in a word, was tough. Unrelentingly.

I went back to his office. I discussed. I rewrote.

I'll admit it—I cussed a lot, too.

And then, after a few weeks, things really started to click. I started to understand what he was asking me to do. I wrote a feminist paper on The Scarlet Letter, and the first draft of it made him cock his head and say, “I never thought about that before.”

On the final version of that paper, he wrote, “This is a dandy of an essay.” 

I had that thing on the fridge till it crumbled off.

In short, I worked my tail off for Dr. B. I came away with my precious “A” for the course. But I came away with far more than that. I came away with a solid feeling for what literary criticism was. I came away with—get this—loving teachers who were tough. Because, as I found out, there was nothing quite so satisfying as meeting their high expectations. 

I took three more courses with Dr. B.—undergrad and grad level. While I was still in school, I wound up getting a short critical piece on a Howard Nemerov poem published in The Explicator, which I was sure to share with him. 

He asked for a copy to keep. When I handed it to him, he told me, “I’m going to get to point to a big published work someday and say, ‘She was in my class.’” 

I was on cloud nine.

It took several years after leaving college to sell my first novel. When I did, I immediately thought of Dr. B. But when I looked him up, I was saddened to learn that he had passed away just a few months earlier.

The thing is, though, the more time passes and the more I find myself having to rise to new challenges and forge ahead, I think of what I learned from Dr. B., and I know that the truth of the matter is, I'm the one who gets to say, “I was in his class.”


  1. Holly, what a lovely essay with beautiful sentiments. Thank you for sharing.

  2. And I am sure Dr. B is looking down at you and nodding in satisfaction...


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