I wanted to note, with sadness, the passing of Donald Murray who was without question one of my most influential teachers. When I first started teaching journalism and exposition, I turned to his work and his writing to help find my own voice and contextualize my own practice. From the very beginning, his approaches to writing and publishing resonated deeply, and there are hundreds of former students walking around who whether they know it or not got a healthy dose of Murray’s writing pedagogies from me.
The unique thing about him was that he never forgot that there was more to learn about the craft, and he was constantly pushing his own understanding of how words and stories work. Probably the most dog-eared, marked-up, highlighted book in my collection was Murray’s “Expecting the Unexpected” which had the revelatory tagline “Teaching Myself–and Others–to Read and Write.” His understanding of audience was amazing, and one of my favorite passages in the book no doubt eerily prepared me for my life as a blogger long before I knew what blogging was:
“The good writer is always forcing the reader to contribute to the text. What is published is only half–or less– of the text…” (66)
I got the chance to meet Donald Murray many years ago at an NCTE conference in Boston. He was eating dinner at the bar in the hotel I was staying at, and I sheepishly walked up and introduced myself and told him how much of an influence he had made in my life. He was totally gracious, asked me a few questions about my classroom, and showed genuine interest in my work. I left feeling as if I had met greatness.
The article about him in the Boston Globe last week mentioned that, at 82, Murray was looking to take another direction in his work:
…He was about to launch a website where aspiring writers could apprentice with the aging master, extending his career from the days of typewriter carbon copies to cyberspace.
Sad to think what those writers, what all of us will miss from his passing.Technorati Tags: Donald_Murray, writing, learning
I am sorry for your loss. The Tagline of the book has motivated me to buy it. One of the things I find intimidating about blogging is I am afraid that my writing skills are below par.
Thank you again for yet another resource to learn from.
Tom Hoffman says
Your failure over the past few years to make explicit the connections between the work of folks like Donald Murray and the read/write web has been the greatest source of my frustration with your work. We should be foregrounding these connections, not backgrounding them.
Andrew Pass says
Will, Your post reminds me of a comment I once heard about why people study at great institutions. It’s not so that they can learn new content. All you have to do is pick up a book and read to learn. Rather, it’s so that they can sit in the classrooms of great men and women and learn to emulate their values. Will, it doesn’t sound like you had the real opportunity to sit with Mr. Murray, extensively. But imagine if the Web 2.0 had existed when you were a young teacher. You could have communicated with him, as people communicate with you. You’re helping to create the day when people no longer have to go to a great institution to sit at the feet of great people.
Sherri Mancusi says
As a Massachusetts and New Hampshire resident, I have loved Donald Murray’s column in the Boston Globe for many years. In a culture obsessed with youth, it was nice to hear from someone who was a grown-up. When he died, I mourned the loss of that voice – and was somehow comforted by your post. Sometimes, the internet is a very small place.
Mike Nguyen says
I never had Mr. Murray as a teacher. I met him as a UNH student working in the local pharmacy. He proved to me that a writers life is a great life.