My father was an English professor at the University of California Santa Barbara. I grew up in a house stuffed with books. I was driven to school in an old Datsun stuffed with books. My dad and mom read to me from Winnie the Pooh, and later gave me The Martian Chronicles for my birthday, and told me I could read the Agatha Christie novels on the bookshelf, but not the John D. MacDonalds. At the dinner table, Dad read from The Hobbit and had us kids guess the answers to Bilbo’s and Gollum’s riddles.
When I was older, Dad introduced me to the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, and A Canticle for Liebowitz, and Elmore Leonard. He told my children tales of King Arthur until their eyes rounded with awe and they believed that they, too, could be such heroes. He instilled in me a bone-deep understanding of the worth, and the wonder, of literature.
At UC Santa Barbara he taught Chaucer and Beowulf. And American Lit, and plenty of other courses. To thousands of students. And he made a lasting impression. I know, because he died on this date in 1998, and in the years since, I’ve heard — out of the blue — from many, many of them. They’ve written to tell me how much his courses taught them, and what an inspiring teacher he was, and how he was patient and helpful with their work. They’ve mentioned him in newspaper movie reviews. They’ve held onto the books assigned for his classes — and even a syllabus.
One of my dad’s former grad students recently found the mimeographed sheet above. It’s from Winter Quarter 1974-75. She sent me the photo and then the syllabus itself. She kept the assigned reading, of course — no way was she going to let go of those books.
The syllabus is faded and full of holes. The back is scribbled with student utility bill calculations. And it’s a gift. It’s a chance to touch something new from my dad, after so many years.
At the bottom of the page, the syllabus reads: “The Age of Exuberance.” May we all live with that spirit.