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Charles Baxter's Retirement Remarks

The beloved professor reflects on the stories he had the privilege to nurture
May 28, 2020

In early May, Creative Writing Program faculty, students, and alums gathered (on Zoom) to celebrate the end of the academic year—and to pay tribute to retiring Edelstein-Keller Professor in Creative Writing Charles Baxter for his dedicated and significant service to the program and to the Department of English. Below is Baxter's response.

Thank you. I want you all to know what a privilege it has been for me to teach at the University of Minnesota for the past 18 years. I’ve had almost incredible luck in the colleagues and students I’ve had here—after teaching at Wayne State, and Stanford, and Iowa, and the University of Michigan, I’ve never had better students or more helpful, thoughtful, and kind colleagues. So a shout-out to my former colleagues, Michael Dennis Browne and Patricia Hampl, and to current colleagues Ray Gonzalez, Maria Fitzgerald, Peter Campion, Sugi Ganeshananthan, Doug Kearney, Kate Nuernberger, and Kim Todd, thanks to you all, and a special thanks to my friend and treasured colleague Julie Schumacher. For many years we operated a sort of Mom and Pop all-purpose fiction school, and thanks to Julie I’ve never been happier as a teacher of writing. She has been a prop and support to me and many others here.

And to my wonderful students. During the time I’ve been here, I’ve read stories of what it was like to live in the time of Herodotus’ histories; what it was like to grow up in Hialeah, Florida, and to get out of there; what it was like to work in the first ever American operating submarine; what it was like work in a call-in 24-hour information service in NYC; what it was like to live in rural Alaska as a bush pilot; what it was like to be an undocumented Latinx immigrant in Los Angeles; what it was like to deal drugs and organize a dogfight in the borough of Queens; what it was like to set fires in the ruins of Detroit for the insurance money; what it was like to live through a prairie fire in Kansas that burned down an entire town; what it was like to have your brother disappear forever on a vacation trip in Mexico; what it was like to aspire to be the jerk-off king of middle school and to get into The Guinness Book of World Records; what it was like to be a serial killer in early 19th-century America, interviewed by P. T. Barnum; what it is like for a young woman in Massachusetts to go deaf; what it is like to live in the aftermath of a plague; what it’s like to go into a drying-out detox facility; what it’s like to live in a rural Montana town where there’s been a strange, mysterious suicide; what it’s like to live and work in a bodega; and many more—hundreds.

All these stories, every one of them, are written for the sake of ourselves and others, our readers, our souls, and our spirit world. Stories are the tribute we pay to our experiences and to the world of the holy spirit in literature, which we are doing our best to write—to tell others what it was like to be alive.

Thank you, everybody. I will miss you, and I will remember your stories.