THURSDAY NIGHT, BUILDING D
Smith knew that we, his students, felt that much was at stake those Thursday nights in Building D. And he knew that we were right: beyond our egos and flirtations, but not excluding them, something fundamental was at stake. A simple story, for example, could be of the highest value and mystery. We learned it from his careful listening, his playful but serious eyes – how closely we tried to read them -- and then from his voice talking on fiction, mingling with the sounds of crickets or a passing couple’s small talk outside in the darkness.
Deep friendships began there with him. The worthiness of writing as a way of life began there. Two nights I remember especially. One was my first night in his class. The times were chaotic and I was pretty daunted sitting at the farthest end of the long table. But as the class went on, I felt (understanding came much later) that Smith was showing us a way to be ambitious and humane at the same time. I wanted to write, I guess more than I knew. That would take practice and time and, OK, embarrassments, but there could be honor in it.
Then there was the night he read a story of mine (not my first) and gave me some of the highest praise I’ve ever gotten. Afterwards, he further complimented me by inquiring about my general circumstances. Walking home by myself along University Avenue, I was happy almost to the point of disorientation, even, were I more expressive, of dancing on the sidewalk. To have been understood in the thing I was trying to do and to have been complimented by the man whose compliments I most valued – I just felt very, very lucky. And I was.
Smith has been a great friend to me over the years. I know my feelings are reflected in the feelings of many others, many more than I know. He is in our lives and hearts, which for many of us he opened.