"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Jim McPherson: An Appreciation

Jim McPherson, Pulitzer-prize winner, professor, and “one bad motherfucker” (as his business card read, a remnant of his time in a band called The Bad Motherfuckers), died yesterday. He was funny. He was kind. He was intelligent--far beyond books. He was my professor during my last semester at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he taught for many years. His office smelled comfortingly like my dad’s, of tar-stained, dust-covered pulp. In a place where “what’s on the page” predominated most craft discussions, in Jim’s classroom, “who are you” took precedence.  Jim led discourse on identity, on community, and, to a degree, on our moral responsibilities as writers. In dissembling our view of ourselves, individual or at-large, he enabled us to experiment further with our work, a product of newfound confidence in self, and at base, what our work meant. Jim spoke softly, and I struggled often to hear his words, words that would pass all understanding. In a recent move, I regretfully tossed all of my story notes from Iowa, mourning today that I don’t have Jim’s specific wisdoms to reread, wrought in what now seems like gold. Jim once said that in trying times, he turned to literature for solace. This morning, there it was: Crabcakes, Hue and Cry, Elbow Room, and, with it, the memory of Jim’s sly smile and wide heart.

Marion Bright, General Manager

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