In 1957, Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature, whereupon Camus wrote this note to one of his teachers:
19 November 1957
Dear Monsieur Germain,
I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honour, one I neither sought nor solicited.
But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened.
I don’t make too much of this sort of honour. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.
It made me think of the teachers who have most impacted my life– in particular, my writing life.
Mrs. Schmidt, you let me interrupt what we were doing that day in sixth grade to declare that I wanted to start a class newspaper– and then you let me run with it. In fact, it was an article I wrote for the A8 Express that I entered into a Young Authors Conference contest that year, an article that won me a “scholarship” to attend that conference, where I sat amongst other 10- to 12-year-olds and thought, “I want to be good at this. I want to be the best one in this room.” Thank you for always, always encouraging my creativity. You’re an amazing teacher, and while I have told you that before, now I’m telling everyone else.
Mrs. Grams, I can remember when you arrived at our high school. I was a junior in high school; you were fresh out of college, newly married, and I was completely smitten by you. My junior and senior year were one giant attempt to please you, and your approval was always so, so ready. You gave me my earliest editorial experiences, and you let me read one of my short stories in front of the classroom. Did you know I first discovered e.e. cummings in your classroom? (I like to think of it as an incredible byproduct of standing near to you.) And when you returned my portfolio to me, it said, “All I can say is KEEP WRITING.” Those words propelled me into college.
Judy Hougen, when I sat in your Intro to Poetry class my first year of college, I was terrified that I would be found out as a fraud. Instead, you took me aside after class one day and asked if you were crushing my poet-spirit. Maybe you saw the fear in my eyes! But you gave me three years of the best (and most intense) writing instruction of my life, and your red pen helped me develop a thicker skin, one I’d need for the harder edits that would come post-college. You talked about writing and faith like they were a knot I’d never be able or want to untie. Your theology around memoir writing has stuck with me for the last decade.
Dear Deb, Betsy, and Judy, thank you for your investment in me. I am a better writer– and a better person— because of you.