They say people are often inspired by small things–an encouraging word, a pat on the back, or even a wink. My writing inspiration came from a different set of circumstances.
A few years ago, I along with other former African-American Ohio University Bobcats, was asked to write of a memorable experience while at the school. All wrote positive stories about meeting new friends, the newfound freedom of living in a dorm, fraternities, sororities, etc. I, too, enjoyed the school— maybe too much—which is why I graduated from Lincoln University instead of Ohio University. And although most of my time spent on campus was good, what I remember most vividly took place my sophomore year.
I was assigned a dorm room with a white football player—a nice guy, but not too bright. We took an English Composition class together. He was getting D’s and F’s. I was getting C’s. So, after a few submittals, he asked me to write his assignments. Since I was majoring in business, I recognized the monetary benefits of this budding relationship and charged him five dollars a paper.
I never thought I was much of a writer, so I accepted a C as an appropriate grade. To my surprise, the first paper I wrote for my roommate received a B. His next submission received a B+. One paper even received an A-. Meanwhile, I was still receiving C’s, although I spent much more time on my papers then his. During the course, it became evident that the prof hated football, so it had nothing to do with my roommate’s athletic abilities.
My dilemma was that I couldn’t tell the professor I had written my roomie’s compositions. Instead, I asked him what I needed to improve to get a better grade. He responded, “Everett, you are on the verge of a B. Keep up the good work. if you write a high-quality final paper, you may very well receive a B in this class.”
My final grade was a C. My roommate’s, a B. I was pissed but also motivated. Roomie was elated and gave me an extra ten dollars. But he had given me something even better. Through him, I found I had potential. Plus, the venture was a business success. My parents were sending me fifteen dollars a month, so the thirty-five dollars I made writing allowed me to leverage my bets at the pool table and simultaneously assuage my disappointment with the grade I was given.
I never thought much about the professor over the years. He was only a bump in the road. There will always be people like that. I guess I should thank him in a way. Although I’m sure it was contrary to his intent, he had planted a seed.
Events like the composition course happened several times in my life. But instead of derailing me, they only made me more determined. That resolve afforded me the opportunity to achieve some successes in life, including the publication of two award-winning novels. I wonder how the good professor would have graded my works of fiction, Snake Walkers and A Long Way Back?