Teacher and writer John Schultz has died at the age of 84. He had a long association with Columbia College Chicago, where he helped found a fiction writing program that used a unique pedagogy: the Story Workshop method, which he began using in the classroom starting in the 1960s. John probably taught thousands of students over the course of a long career, and he was mentor and friend to many who went on to become teachers themselves. Most of the people who knew him, including my wife Patricia Ann McNair, spoke about him with reverence and immense gratitude for how he taught them to become writers.
Compared to her, and her colleagues at Columbia College Chicago, and his innumerable former students, I only had a passing acquaintance with John. Yet my first meetings with him came around the time that I first met Patty, during my first visits to Chicago, and for that reason this has claimed a special home in my memory.
I remember a party that Patty held at her apartment at the end of 2000, between Christmas and New Year. I was visiting Chicago for the second time, flying all the way from London to spend time with my new American girlfriend. There were maybe twenty people at the party over the course of the afternoon, fiction teacher colleagues of Patty, some former students, some members of her morning aerobics classes. I brought with me a box of Christmas crackers, which were (and still are) a bit of a novelty in the USA. There are a bunch of polaroid photos from that day, in a box that Patty and I still have somewhere deep in a closet, showing people posing with drinks in their hands and crepe paper crowns on their heads.
One of these photos shows me and John Schultz together, our party hats slightly askew. I introduced myself as the new boyfriend, which he was amused by. For some reason, which I can't recall, we quickly got into a poetry reciting exchange. It started with us trying to remember the passages of Shakespeare that we had been required to learn at school. I could still recite about 30 lines of Macbeth that I had learned when I was fifteen. John matched that with 30 lines from Hamlet, which he was recalling from much longer ago. It turned out that we were both keen admirers of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I can still recall the delight in his face as we ended up reciting one particular poem together, each of us picking up the line if the other hesitated for a second. It gladdened me that John seemed to have accepted me as a legitimate suitor to Patty so quickly.
John was editor of a literary magazine called F, and a year after I moved to the States and married Patty, he put one of my etchings on the cover of the magazine. This was one of the first ways in which my art was released into the wild in the USA, and I will always be grateful for that. But more than that, I am grateful that he was one of the first people I got to know in Chicago, and that he made me feel welcome into a world of writers, thinkers, and activists of which he was an integral part and to which he contributed so much.
That Hopkins poem, by the way, was Spring and Fall. In many ways, its sentiment befits the solemnity of the passing of such a man.
Spring and Fall (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.