The most fun I’ve since The Call has been sharing the news with the many people who have helped me along the way. One person that I looked most forward to telling was my excellent writing teacher, Ken Smith, a creative writing professor at UT Chattanooga. Ken helped me get published in literary magazines in the early ’90’s, always stressing “aboutness” in my stories. He taught me how to write critiques and how to survive the hot seat in a writing workshop. His was a terrific advocate for my work and a champion of what is my best short story, “Peoples’ Song.” He was the author of the story collections Decoys and Other Stories and Angels and Others. His work appeared in magazines such as The Atlantic, Crazyhorse, Sonora Review, and Tri-Quarterly, and has been featured in the collections Best American Short Stories and Best of the West.
When the announcement of my deal was published in PW, I Googled his email address, intending to let him know that I’d finally reached the goal I’d set more than ten years earlier. What I found wasn’t his email address, but news that Ken had passed away a little more than two months ago at the age of 63. He’d take early retirement due to declining health, but his death was unexpected to most. To me, it was a shock. We hadn’t spoken in a couple of years. Time flies, even for college folks who live their lives in a slow-moving fishbowl, and I had no idea that his health was failing. I’m sorry that I didn’t get to tell him the news because I wanted him to know how much his teaching had helped me. I can’t do that personally any more, so I’ll do it now.
If you’re reading this, Ken, wherever you are, thanks. I’m proud to have known you.