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Lev Raphael

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The Teacher Who Changed My Life

Posted: 05/11/2012 4:14 pm

She retired this week after forty years, the teacher who changed my life.

I had dreamed of being a writer since I was in second grade, but it wasn't until I took my first class with Kristin Lauer at Fordham University that I fell in love with writing itself.

She was my first and best creative writing teacher and was endlessly inventive in her choice of assignments. But more than that, she was a model for how I would teach when I entered academia for a while years later. She did not believe in pointing out everything that was wrong with your work, in bullying you like a coach, in making you tough because "the world is tough."

Her approach was to use humor and encouragement. She worked from the inside out of your story or sketch, making you feel like she was communing with it, and with you.

She said to me more than once that I'd publish and win prizes some day if only I wrote something "real." That was my City of Gold, the mystical goal that I reached with my first publication. It was a story drawing on my own life as the son of Holocaust survivors, a story I needed to tell but was afraid to.

She midwifed that story. I would read a bit to her on the phone and she'd comment and then urge me to keep writing and keep calling her. That story won a writing contest judged by Martha Foley, then-editor of The Best American Short Stories, and was published in Redbook. It wouldn't exist without Professor Lauer's dedication, commitment, and teaching genius.

And I wouldn't have had the career I've had or be the writer I am today, the author of 22 books, an author whose literary papers have been purchased by the Michigan State University Libraries.

This blog is just a small tribute to the gifts she gave unselfishly to me and to other students who were lucky enough to find her.

 
 
 

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