David Foster Wallace, RIP

Back in 1994, I was working on a second bachelors degree in English Education at Illinois State.  One semester, I was in a class where we were assigned to ready “The Girl With Curious Hair” by David Foster Wallace.  This collection of short stories blew me away.

I was thrilled when, after we read the book, we found out that the author was teaching at ISU, and that he’d be visiting us to talk about the book.

And better still, the following semester, I’d needed to sign up for the basic English-for-English-majors class, and I found that Dave was going to be my teacher.  This was some of the best writing I’d ever been exposed to, and now I’d get to have the author as an English teacher.

It was as cool as advertised.  I know of only three of us in that class who had read Dave’s work, or who even knew that he was an author.  And he didn’t bring it up in class, so we tried to keep our cool.

So that’s my only claim to knowing Dave, a semester’s worth of English class, but it was a great experience, and I treasure the memory of having (IMO) one of the great writers of the last quarter-century teach me.  I still have some of my papers from that class in my desk right now.

As he continued to publish, and I continued to read, I always heard the books in his voice in my mind.  He spoke like he writes in large part, at least in class, and reading his prose it’s hard for me not to hear him speak.  As such, I suppose I felt like my acquaintance with him didn’t end 12 years ago (even though it did), and while I don’t claim that we were “friends”, inside I know I always felt that way and desired that, even as I understood that that was an illusion based on my love of his books.

And so.  Last night before going to bed I saw the item on Yahoo news that Dave was dead of his own hand.  I have no insight on this.  Haven’t seen the man for more than 10 years.  It hurt me to think about, and still does this morning.

If you have never read any of Dave’s work and find you’d like to, I recommend “The Girl With Curious Hair” as a starting point.  Or “Consider The Lobster” if non-fiction is your thing.

Dave was a grammar guy – a “snoot” as he put it in one essay – so if I have made any glaring mistakes in the foregoing, I hope it may be overlooked.

EDIT:  Here’s an excellent piece on Salon.com regarding DFW’s passing.


One Response to “David Foster Wallace, RIP”

  1. I didn’t know he was teaching at ISU 12 years ago, but I suppose I was gone by then anyway. He must have been extremely young, only 34 years old or so.

    Terrible news.

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