Charles W. Johnson graduated from DePaul University in 1999, where he received his B.A. in English. He recently wrote an an article on his personal blog The Vociferous Envoy - a blog featured on the very popular Chicago Now website - in which he reflects on his time at DePaul and a special relationship that helped bring him to where he is today.
Why I Write My Blog -
A couple of weeks ago I told you how I write, now I will let you know why I write or at least who taught me how to write. Trust me as much as some of us may have seemed to come out the womb writing, there were plenty of people to shape us, motivate us and tighten up our style.
I'd be remiss not to mention all of the great educators from Saint Columbanus in Park Manor, Paul Revere Elementary In South Shore, Seven Holy Founders in Calumet Park and of course Brother Rice in Mount Greenwood.
But its at DePaul University where writing took over my life and I realized not only did I have a gift but I needed to work on it. Now I'm no scholar, I started at DePaul University as a "Bridge Student" meaning I came in early that summer in a program that basically meant I was probationary.
But through that program I had tutors and mandatory study hall and that got my study habits right. It also got me on track with my writing and by the autumn quarter (yes DePaul is on a "three quarter system"), I was really into writing for my classes. It was right after that I switched my major from Marketing to English because it was clear where my talent was and where my passion was. And I really sucked at business math.
It was my sophomore year, when I got through all the first required classes and I took Creative Writing and the professor was Dr. Peter Vandenberg. He was the first professor who had us critique each others work. Which in the fall of 1995 meant making copies of your work at Kinkos and bringing enough for everyone in class in a cardboard box.
That process was eye opening (not going to Kinkos at 11 at night after my shift at Montgomery Wards), but having your classmates "talk about" your work. You quickly learned your strengths and weaknesses and Dr. Vandenberg would give you positive feedback but not enough to let you get full of yourself.
I came out of that class knowing I had some work to do but I was eager to write, I had the next writing class and I forget the professors name but she changed my life as well, I had written this 20 some page interracial, romantic comedy that made of some my classmates uneasy. The professor liked it and said it would be better if I changed it from third person point of view to first person point of view. And I had like two days to do it.
I rewrote the whole story overnight, literally. I took that challenge personally and wrote straight through for six or so hours and re did the whole story line by line and she was right, it was so much better with 1st person point of view. I got an A on the paper and never wrote in third person again.
My third year at DePaul was my most challenging, by the spring of 1997 I had lost two grandparents in the span of nine months and was writing like some deranged author. And I had my next class with Dr. Peter Vandenberg, it was Rhetoric a 300 level class that even had some graduate level work in it. This was a small class, I think nine of us and met at 10 in the morning Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was one of the hardest classes I ever had. Dr. Vandenberg challenged us every class, this was no "Creative Writing", it was ethos, long readings and lots of discussions. There was no hiding, you read, you wrote, you spoke, you sometimes felt dumb.
But what changed me was another challenge by Dr. Vandenberg. We had a writing assignment and I had just had a racial incident at my job at Montgomery Wards (basically a black law enforcement officer was a customer and asked me to break a cardinal rule so he could shop the way he wanted to, I refused and he questioned my blackness), the incident devastated me but my management backed me up. I told Dr. Vandenberg about what happened, he told me write it for class.
Whoa, okay but I did it and of course the class critiqued it (and I had to relive the incident), I never felt more "naked" before a class before or since. But after that I was fearless with my writing.
After that I had two more classes with Dr. Vandenberg (pictured is my last class with him "Rhetoric Of Graffiti"), or as he says "I majored in Vandenberg", and yes in the years since he's become a great friend but I will never forget his lessons in the classroom and even the time he took out of class for me. I remember at one point I wasn't writing as much and he told me "Shakespeare doesn't write much now either", but he was happy I was taking more time to read.
This past weekend the legendary former basketball coach of University of North Carolina Dean Smith died and basketball icon Michael Jordan mentioned how Coach Smith taught him about the game about basketball and life. I know what he means because Dr. Vandenberg taught me such much through writing and I'm no Michael Jordan but having a great mentor who is also a excellent friend is beyond words and its why I write.