The Professor

“I hope you are all aware you’ll need at least a B minus in order to pass this class,” my professor says. “Anything lower, and you’re out of here.”

At 84 year-old, he is a writer with little commercial success, who speaks proudly of the times he has made students cry. He told me he considered becoming an alcoholic after reading the first paragraph of my first story.

He likes to put us in categories. F is the disappointment. C is the Asian. J is the Chekhov of Africa. D is the Russian who needs to work on his English. K is the Liberal Yalie. And, for reasons that I don’t entirely understand, I’m the “cool one,” prone to mawkish sentimentality in my writing.

Our stories follow a similar categorization. We’ve either written a work of Literature destined for the New Yorker, or unreadable dung which we should throw in the trash.

“Would you let us know if we’re at risk of not passing?” I ask.

Though grades don’t mean much in an MFA program, I still have a vestigial fear of getting anything lower than an A.

“Maybe if there was a transaction involved…” he says to me, smirking.

I am not sure if I heard correctly, but K’s white face confirms it. F squirms in his chair. J looks at his feet. The last story we workshopped was about a boy who gets on his knees to pay rent.


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