Sunday, February 7, 2010

Farewell to a Teacher

I found out on Friday that my college writing teacher, Elizabeth Christman, passed away in her home town of St. Louis at the age of 95.

Miss Christman (after I graduated she invited me to call her Liz, but I could never quite get used to it) was the first person to assure me that someday I would have a novel published. Her encouragement was no small ego-booster: She had been a literary agent with Harold Ober Associates in New York for 20 years. At the age of 55, she went back to school for her doctorate and eventually became a professor at the University of Notre Dame. For the next 20 years, she inspired students to keep writing, keep sending out manuscripts, keep collecting rejection slips, keep dreaming... but most of all keep writing!

Generous with her time with both current and former students, Miss Christman was my writing coach during my first attempts at a novel more than 30 year ago. She even sent the manuscript off to some of her old contacts in New York. That novel didn't sell, but she wouldn't let me pout over the rejections. "Get used to it," she said. "And keep writing."

I did. And when I found out last May that, at long last, one of my novels was going to be published, Liz was one of the first persons I thought of. I looked forward to the day that I would be able to hand her a copy. Sadly, we're going to miss that day by a few months. But I can almost see the smile and hear her saying, "Told you so. Enjoy it. And keep writing."

Another of her many grateful students, renowned journalist Melinda Henneberger, has written a tribute that captures her life story beautifully. It's a story you should read, whether or not you're a writer. To read it, click here.

Thank you, Miss Christman. Your life's work lives on.


  1. What a blessing to have had a teacher like this. I have one or two of my own. One from college with whom I ought to re-establish contact.

    May Miss Christman rest in peace and rise in glory.

  2. Thank you for your lovely comment, PJ. And, yes, re-connect with that teacher. Soon.