Remembering Honig

December 7th, 2011
Professor and poet Edwin Honig, who died last June, was my teacher fifty years ago in a magical writing course I'll never forget ("Poet, Professor, Knight," Obituaries, September/October). I was a young high school English teacher on a graduate scholarship back then, with a third child on the way. I had already signed up for Lit courses that fall of 1960, but riffling through the course catalog I spotted Advanced Composition. A dull title, to be sure, but the description was intriguing: "Will involve the completion of a full-length manuscript or novella. Permission of instructor." The course was taught by Honig, who had been a student and colleague of Edwin O'Connor at Harvard. Because I'd read O'Connor's novel The Last Hurrah, which was based on the life of Boston mayor James Michael Curley, my Irish was up, and I rushed over to the old English Department offices in Van Wickle Hall.

The professor was in, so I ap- proached the tall, lanky man with piercing green eyes, who sort of hung there brushing back a strand of dark blondish hair from his forehead.

"Well, ah...," he stammered when he learned I was a high school teacher. "This course is...ah...a course for advanced writers...ah...not your typical English comp course." He grinned amiably. "I use the title Advanced Comp as a Beatnik repellant."

I had the presence of mind to press on him a couple of writing samples, and the next day English department chairman Ed Bloom caught up with me: "Edwin Honig liked your material. He wants you to join his class."

Edwin Honig's writing class set me free. Every week we'd drop a chapter or so in Edwin's box by his office and he'd distribute copies and we'd exchange and "crit" and write and revise and rewrite. The weeks flew by.

Edwin Honig was the teacher who made me think. I ran into him occasionally in the years that followed. When my wife and I once dined with him and mutual friends, I thanked him for that incandescent year. He said in his self-deprecating way: "When it came to my writing seminars I always followed Autolycus's playbook in The Winter's Tale: 'That when I wander here and there, I then do most go right.'" Rest in peace, beloved teacher Edwin.

Paul Fletcher '61
Bristol, R.I.

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November/December 2011