Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Love and Gratitude For Goran

for LG


Lester Goran was born in Pittsburgh in 1928. Growing up in the slums of Pittsburgh’s Oakland section, Goran found solace and comfort with his pen and paper. Upon publication of his first novel, The Paratrooper of Mechanic Avenue, the New Yorker attributed to Goran “the vitality and true perspective of a born novelist” and said his “first novel gives reason for rejoicing.” Goran published eight novels, and three short story collections, including Tales from the Irish Club, a New York Times Notable Book in 1996. Goran memorialized his ten years teaching with and translating for the Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer in his memoir The Bright Streets of Surfside (1994). 

In 1965, Professor Goran began the first of three creative writing majors at the University of Miami.  He also began the first interdisciplinary major, bringing together Speech, Drama, Communication and English.  Lester was among the first to write UM course descriptions for Women Studies and Black Studies.  He served as a faculty representative and then later as the Board Chairman on the UM Publishing Board and oversaw all publications from literary magazines to the Hurricane, UM’s student paper.  And in 1991, he organized and established the MFA Program and was the first to welcome our graduate students in 1992.

Throughout his career at UM, Goran continued to write books and has a prolific list of novels and short story collections.   In 1960, when his first novel, The Paratrooper of Mechanic Avenue was published with Houghton Mifflin, Goran said, “Sometimes I think that everything I’ve ever seen or heard has little other purpose than to be shaped into a novel.  I have been around soldiers and politicians, burlesque people and teachers, gamblers, barbers, businessmen, housewives – everywhere the hustle is on for about thirty cents worth of affection and one more dollar.  I have stood on the edges (but sometimes in the middle) listening, dusting dirt from the shoulders of old suits, delivering a pitch, contemplating love, Shakespeare, Henry James, or Sean O’Casey.  I wonder that everyone who has ever learned the alphabet hasn’t decided that the world is a novel.  It is a large incomprehensible, exciting world.  I am glad I write it in.”

This passion for the world as novel was part of Lester Goran's vision everywhere he went, especially into the classroom where he coached, guided, admonished and lectured young writers on the practice of writing literary fiction and nonfiction.  For more than 50 years, he impacted his students in life changing ways.

Chantel Acevedo, author of Love and Ghost Letters, and an MFA graduate of 1999, says she’s a writer today mostly because Lester said she could be.  In her classroom, she finds herself saying something and later realizes she’s echoing Lester.  MFA alum Vanessa Garcia writes, “Studying with Lester has taught me to put my feet on the ground, my heart in the work, and get my head to try and bring the two together. He makes you want to kick the drive factor into fifth gear while remembering that the trick is not to burn the tires but bring it back down and ride through the hard stuff.”  Melissa Cantor, another of Lester’s students who graduated in 2005, says, “His insights have shaped the way I approach any work of fiction (most of all, my own), and his example and teachings are with me even when my own conscience fails: inspiring me, encouraging me, demanding more of me. The greatest lesson of all, however, has been his generosity - with his time, with his honesty, with his wisdom.” 

Perhaps Melissa Matteo captures Lester’s spirit best when she writes, "Lester is from the Old School.  Capital O.  Capital S.  When you walk into his classroom, you know: 1) Cut the bullshit.  2) Start the fight.  As far as I can tell, these are the only two rules Lester abides by.  But they are pretty much the only rules you'll need when you are sitting in the old school...or on a bar stool...or in front of a blank sheet of paper, trying to make it bleed.  Thank You Lester.  Capital T.  Capital Y." 

I have come to know him and to see the breadth and impact of his work.  Lester Goran focused on the writing, always the writing, and he has passed the legacy to those who also see the world as a big messy novel waiting to be written. 
     85 years old and he was writing and teaching like he was 58.  And then, last week he told me, "We are all vanishing into the field."    Early Thursday morning, February 6, 2014, his bright light went out.  All week long, I have been thinking of him.  Farewell, LG.  Thank you for everything. I am missing you.