Former Students’ Recollections of Classes Taught by Famous Authors

This week, we read a wonderful essay at The New York Review of Books from a former student of Vladimir Nabokov, a juicy read for anyone who wishes that they could have taken one of the genius writer’s classes (i.e., everyone). Inspired, we hunted around for more first-person recollections of classes taken with famous writers — whether they were famous at the time or only later on. Read through a few of the ones we found after the jump, and add your own memories (if you’re lucky enough to have them) in the comments.


Edward Jay Epstein on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lit 311 class at Cornell, 1954

About six feet tall and balding, he stood, with what I took to be an aristocratic bearing, on the stage of the two-hundred-fifty-seat lecture hall in Goldwin Smith. Facing him on the stage was his white-haired wife Vera, whom he identified only as “my course assistant.” He made it clear from the first lecture that he had little interest in fraternizing with students, who would be known not by their name but by their seat number. Mine was 121. He said his only rule was that we could not leave his lecture, even to use the bathroom, without a doctor’s note.

He then described his requisites for reading the assigned books. He said we did not need to know anything about their historical context, and that we should under no circumstance identify with any of the characters in them, since novels are works of pure invention. The authors, he continued, had one and only one purpose: to enchant the reader. So all we needed to appreciate them, aside from a pocket dictionary and a good memory, was our own spines.

Read the rest at The New York Review of Books