The Good Mentor

It’s said that writing can’t be taught. But why not? Tobias Wolff taught George Saunders at Syracuse University, and look where that got George. All the way to the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2017.

Saunders speaks admiringly of Tobias, who once warned him not to lose “the magic.” Early in his career, George’s fiction did wander off track. But Wolff and other mentors brought him back.

People study law, accountancy or medicine. So why not writing? We all need at least one mentor in our lives. My friend Barry found his mentor as he sought to submit his manuscript for publication. It was just right for him.

In 201I, I applied for a memoir-writing workshop at the Norman Mailer Center, Provincetown, PA. It happened that my teacher was the daughter of an ex-serviceman, as was I. Unlike my father, hers was a well-known war novelist who tutored his daughter well. (More of this later.)

This teacher encouraged stories in me that might have been lost on another. She helped me show the particulars of my father’s life that heralded in universal truths about many other war veteran: his injury, his PTSD, his rages, while all the while honoring his honesty, his sense of fairness and his great capacity for love.

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. When we are ready, we will unashamedly seek our mentor. That person, who for one part of our journey at least, is right for us.

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