Sunday, June 26, 2011

On Introductions and Mustaches

I teach nonfiction workshop here at OU and I was (uh, this was back in May) telling my students about how they needed come see Tobias Wolff read at our Lit Fest, because—well—they needed to come see Tobias Wolff, when one student turned to me and asked the dreaded question—


To be fair this question was asked in all sincerity by one of my top students. He was not asking in the sense of why I gotta see Tobias Wolff but in the spirit of a genuine desire to know. And so I wanted to give the inspirational Dead Poet’s Society response his question deserved. I grasped for all the words in the universe—

And answered: blahbalhblahbubbblahbalhblahbubbblahbalhblahbubbblahbalhblahbubbblahbalhblahbubbblahbalhblahbubbb

It turned out, that I was on call to introduce the very Tobias Wolff for Lit Fest, and, with the permission of my student (although I did change the name for this blog post), was inspired to write this introduction below.

As a grad student, or as an instructor, or (ideally) as a famous writer, you might be summoned to perform an introduction. So here’s my sample, for what it’s worth. Also, hey, this might inspire your summer reading list.

The Top Ten Reasons Why You, Jarod Schulzendorfer, Should Be Here Right Now Listening to Tobias Wolff

10) Tobias Wolff is one of America’s great short story writers, having penned such anthologized classics as “Bullet in the Brain “In The Garden of the North American Martyrs,” “Soldier’s Joy,” among others

9) His novella The Barracks Thief won the PEN/Faulkner Award for 1985 And was selected this year by David Sedaris as his recommending reading for his spring tour.

8) Wolff is not only a fiction writer, but a pioneer in the field of memoir, applying techniques of storytelling to nonfiction. In 1989 he helped transform the genre by having Chapter One of his memoir This Boy’s Life by opening with a semi truck careening over a ledge.

7) In addition to This Boy’s Life, the story of his childhood, Wolff wrote the memoir In Pharaoh's Army which records his U.S. Army tour of duty in Vietnam.

6) Wolff is an award-winning teacher, having worked for such universities as Stanford and Syracuse where he has mentored writers we love such as George Saunders and Mary Karr.

5) This Boy's Life became a feature film, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, as a young Toby.

4) Jarod Schulzendorfer, in case you “wondering about how you are doing in the class,” you are doing just fine. Any student that emails me before spring break about what he should read automatically begins the class with an “A.”

3) As a teenager the author completely fabricated all his applications to exclusive prep schools, from writing his own letters of recommendation, to forging transcripts, to inventing a swim team for his high school and changing his name to Tobias Jonathan von Ansell-Wolff, III.


And…number ONE, the top reason, Jarod Schulzendorfer, why you should be here—and I apologize for ending on this—

Sweet mustache.

To which Mr. Wolff replied, “You don’t ever have to apologize for complimenting my mustache.”

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