In 1986, it became clear to me that it was necessary to return to school. My television
viewing had risen sharply, my library had begun to resemble a drug store
magazine rack, and I was beginning to have difficulty employing words of more
than two syllables. I enrolled in a course in reasoning skills. My plan included no
more than to find some respite from mental doldrums. But that first encounter
with my professor’s passion for both the subject matter and the art of teaching
captured me so thoroughly that my entire life has been shaped by it. I am now,
proudly, the first and only member of my family with a university degree.


He wanted to hear what we, the students, thought and felt. After a public school
education based on “colouring within the lines,” this approach revolutionized the
learning experience for me. There was no single point in a “lesson,” but a heuristic
process by which a group of people, he among them, could arrive at a deeper
and wider understanding of the literature and of themselves than would be possible
alone. This placed responsibility fully in our collective hands and made us
accountable to each other. I struggled, then I grew. Nothing has been the same
ever since.

On stage, he opened another door to possibility by extending our relationship
beyond the group to the audience. We were exposing ourselves more than ever
to the unpredictable moment, the essential surprise of being alive, and the actor
must be true to that uncertainty and learn to love it. Performing for people we
had never met, we had to be brave. He handed us courage as directly and palpably
as you hand a kid a hockey stick. Now, nearly twenty years later, I can reflect
on the perennial return of his teaching in my life. In 1999, I took the courage he
gave me into the ghetto of Bushwick, Brooklyn as a teacher of English and

His work empowers each individual voice and thereby unites people in collective
creation across language, age, class and culture. More than creating a model for a
better world, he helps make that world come true.