Friday, May 25, 2007

Kurth Sprague, 1934-2007

I was with immense sadness that I learned today of the passing of one of the great teachers in my life, Kurth Sprague. If I ever learned anything of writing in my life -- and those who read this blog may find that claim to be debatable -- then Kurth and Bill Stott and F.J. Schaack were certainly, in part, responsible.

Kurth Sprague taught me to write simply and clearly and with a confident voice. He taught me that writing was real work, and like real work, an important part is showing up every day and doing it. He taught me that whatever it took to make it happen -- having exactly eight sharp pencils or a well-oiled typewriter or a bottle of bourbon or a pot of coffee or a pack of Luckies or a Chopin record -- whatever got you in the zone to write, do it and get about the business of writing.

He was the first person who led me to believe that I could actually make a living being a writer. He encouraged me to listen to myself, take some chances and -- sometimes -- ignore what other people said because what did they know anyway. He helped me greatly on the journey to becoming myself.

He was a true gentleman, a product of the the Eastern establishment who would have been right at home in the Oak Room with the Algonquin Roundtable. I remember the first day he strode into class, a tall imposing figure in a seersucker suit with a straw boater. He looked like a mix of John Wayne and Tom Wolfe, which he, in fact, was. He could recite Swinburne and Shakespeare by heart, but was also proud to say that he was a member of the last horse cavalry unit in the U.S. Army. I will always treasure the memories of sitting in his basement office, smoking cigarettes and absorbing his wisdom. He would start sentences using phrases like, "Ah, yes, I remember back in the bourbon days ...."

Since I found out about Kurth's passing, I've been pouring over over my old notes and writings from his class. One thing I had forgetten -- I used to write everything in longhand. I've found tons of old yellow legal pads. Boy, those days are way over. I've also been trying to find my old journals to use the words I wrote down back then. But those words are buried somewhere in my office here, and I suppose it doesn't really matter, because, like another old prof, Bill Goetzmann taught me, it's not about what happened, it's about what I think happened. And so here it is.

After all these years, I still can't believe how sad this makes me. The worst part for me is that Kurth was living right here in Fort Worth when he died. I wish I could have talked to him one last time to say thanks. But this will have to do.

Kurth, thanks for everything. You will be missed. To read his colleagues' rememberances, check out Bill Stott's blog.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Sprague was indeed a treasure. As an engineering student at UT I was loathe to be taking my requisite sophomore lit class from a full professor, nevermind one whose class was going to be "all poetry, all British." It's not overstating the facts to state that Kurth changed my life, caused me to realize I could be both left and right brained without fear.

You are truly missed Dr. Sprague. Ride a horse for me in heaven.

Steve-O said...

Well put. Thanks for your comments.

Trace Crutchfield said...

Sprague was a wonderful teacher. He loved to talk of horses and King Arthur but was just as wise about tomorrows problems. Posessed of thundering voice and the silky giggle he is one of the few memories of UT that seems important as far as education goes. that wont soon be forgotten. He convinced me it was all possible.

sad news yet a beautiful post steve-o