I am ill-equipped to write an eloquent, moving, personal tribute to Bill Harrison of the sort which — I’m confident — many, many others are writing at this very moment, and for which Steve Yates has already set the bar (not that it’s a competition, of course, but if it were, Steve’s playoff berth would be a lock).
The reason I am ill-equipped for that kind of tribute is that I never studied with Bill directly. Bill wrote and taught fiction; I wrote and studied poetry. The Form and Theory of Fiction course I did take was taught by Skip Hays that semester. I knew Bill, of course, but any conversation I had with him would have been in the corridors of Kimpel Hall between classes or at a post-reading party at his or another faculty member’s house. If he said anything profound to me at those times, I was either too young and dumb to perceive it or too drunk to remember it.
What I did gain from Bill was the opportunity to write, read, study, and live in the writing program he created — an M.F.A. program that, for those of us without M.A.s already in hand, took four years and 60 credit hours to complete. In addition to workshops, we were required to take two Form and Theory courses in our chosen genre and one in the other, at least 12 hours of lit courses, seminars, and a Composition for Teachers course in which a “C” was failing. All of this was capped with a thesis, an oral defense, and a Comprehensive Final Exam which, if memory serves, was approximately 12 hours and 12 pots of coffee long. On top of all that, we taught two sections of Comp every semester, remuneration for which was tuition (nice) plus the kingly sum of $719/month. Summers? You’re on your own, student.
So, here’s my tribute: Thanks, Bill. I loved it. And I stayed for the summers. Because being broke in Fayetteville was better than having it easy anywhere else.