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Dan Curley

Despite my lifelong interest in reading and my more recent fiction-writing efforts, I was inexplicably focused on getting a business degree at the University of Illinois. For some reason I took only a handful of literature classes and only two rhetoric classes, one of which was just a generic required freshman writing class.

But one of the more rewarding classes I ever took, I realize now, was that other rhetoric class. It was a narrative writing course taught by Dan Curley, whom--I only learned much later--was a fairly renowned short-story writer. Curley was quite a character. Curmudgeonly, sometimes sneering at the class, sometimes being crusty-with-heart-of-gold helpful. His wardrobe--battered old sweaters, dark wool slacks, boots--wasn't markedly different than that of many of the homeless people seen around campus, a resemblance made even more pronounced by his greasy, unkempt hair.

But he had generally positive things to say about my writing. (You'd think such encouragement would have inspired me to get serious about my writing well before reaching my mid-thirties. But for some reason this wasn't the case.) He particularly liked a line from one of my stories--"Sorry doesn't change things"--and told the class he'd like to have that written on a sign to hang in his office. I actually considered having one made for him, but never got around to it.

What I liked best about Curley was his refreshing, humorous and occasionally brutal candor. I remember him reading one of my classmates' stories aloud. It was one of those self-absorbed memoir-masquerading-as-fiction pieces so endemic to undergrad rhetoric courses. The story consisted entirely of a girl sitting by a lake with her boyfriend, with her talking endlessly of their relationship and future together, and the boyfriend quietly listening. (To the girl/writer, he was listening intently and compassionately, but to everyone else--especially to Curley--it was obvious he was bored to tears.)

After several tedious pages of the girl's monologue, Curley stopped reading, put down the manuscript, and leaned back in his chair. He took off his glasses, rubbed his tired eyes, put the glasses back on, and crossed his arms in deep thought. Then, partly to himself and partly to the class at large, he sighed and said one of my favorite quotations of all time:

"No, no, this doesn't work at all. I think the guy definitely would have been trying to cop a feel by now."

March 28, 2004 in Books, Memoir | Permalink

Comments

What a great blog! The only thing I don't get is why the professor enjoyed your line so much--"sorry doesn't change things?" Really?

Glad to have found your site.

Posted by: Adam Robinson at Mar 29, 2004 4:04:52 AM

I don't know if he really liked it that much, or if it was just one of the many offhanded comments he made during class. Maybe he had just recently been screwed over by someone trying to escape by saying "Sorry..."

Posted by: Pete at Mar 29, 2004 8:03:12 AM

Thanks for this remembrance of Professor Curley. I took his writing class in, must've been 1977. It was interesting to see how the writing of every student in that class improved over the course of the semester. He was a very good reader; your stuff would never sound as good as when Dan Curley read it aloud.

Posted by: Gisele at Apr 8, 2007 10:12:34 PM