After 34 years of teaching at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the English department's creative writing professor Dr. Dave Jauss is retiring. He's devotedly guided generations of students (myself included) through fiction and poetry workshops, teaching them the tools that make a good story.
It's a perfect space, Jauss believes, to teach writing. Stories incubate on two fronts: first, at a classroom level, where students share ideas and experiences, and classmates' feelings boil together. But stories also cook with years, so that the longer one's lived, the more advantages she has when writing fiction, which, Jauss says, is ultimately about the effects of time on people. UALR, then, is a great place for fiction writing students, whose classmates range across all demographics, including age. In the single fiction class I took with Jauss were several mothers in their mid-30s, coming back to school so they could one day teach classes of their own; students in their mid-to late-20s there to finish the degrees they began as teenagers, and a retired copywriter from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette named Bill.
Most books on the craft of fiction say, "write what you know," but in his introductory speech to the class, Jauss — who always sat behind a particle-board table, wearing either a short- or long-sleeved buttoned-up shirt and blinking at his students behind silver-rimmed glasses and a short white beard — argued for another guiding principle: Once you've discovered the things you know, you have the power to write into the things you don't. People who have a little more life experience understand this better than students who are young and steady on the traditional four-year route, Jauss thinks. Writing beyond ourselves is how writers discover things about themselves they didn't already know; this, he says, is how they discover their secret selves.
Jauss' ideas about writing come with well-earned authority. He has won two Pushcart Prizes and an O. Henry Prize, and has been anthologized in "Best American Short Stories." He's been granted a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, three fellowships from the Arkansas Arts Council and is a recipient of the Porter Fund Award for Literary Excellence. He taught the poets Lynda Hull and David Wojahn, and studied under Stephen Dunn, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2000. Dunn would ask him to read and comment on his work when they were at Southwest Minnesota State together, and they still often exchange their writing. Jauss' collection of criticism, "On Writing Fiction," is taught in more than a dozen creative writing programs all over the country.
When he first started working at UALR in 1980 after graduating from the University of Iowa (then and now the most prestigious creative writing program in the country), Jauss became the editor of the influential American literary magazine Crazyhorse. His professors at Southwest Minnesota State, Dunn and Philip Dacey, had been editing the magazine when he was an undergraduate, but it had jumped around since then and, though well respected, had become bankrupt and homeless by 1981. The editors reached out to Jauss, who raised enough funds with the help of Little Rock lawyer and writer Sandy McMath to pay off the magazine's latest debts and relocate the journal to Little Rock. Crazyhorse couldn't afford to pay its editors, and so on top of the four classes he taught every semester, Jauss read over 1,000 short story submissions every year for the next two decades without extra pay. The magazine published Bobbie Ann Mason, Andre Dubus and Dan Chaon within the 20 years he worked on it.