Being Roger Rosenblatt

I’m a big fan of Roger Rosenblatt. I love his essays on PBS News Hour. I love his soft voice, quiet demeanor, the gentleness of this gentleman. When I grow up, I want to be just like him.

I love the way he writes, the smooth elegance of his prose. He is like that polished English butler of English movies who has everything under control and quietly, unobtrusively, brings the dinner party to the dining room table and serves them roast duck under candle light.

Besides everything else that Roger Rosenblatt does, he writes books. unless-it-moves-human-heartUnless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, just published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, is his latest. He is also professor of English and writing at SUNY Stony Brook. He teaches students how to write. Though, as he says in his essay, “Can I teach them to become professional writers? No. Can I teach them to write better than they do? Yes.’

Tonight, waiting for the ice storm that is about to encase the east coast, I read an excerpted from his now book. It is entitled, “And Then What Happened?” and is in the current issue of The Chronicle Review.

In this essay, Rosenblatt talks about the wide range of backgrounds of his current students. He talks about teaching writing, and talks about why people write. All of this is fascinating. I wish I could take his course, but Stony Brook is out at the end of Long Island, and I have a job, and this blog, which amazingly takes an amazingly lot of work, and also I am writing a novel, and that, too, is labor, if not of love.


What does Roger have to say?

He said so much in this short essay that I am going to order the book from Amazon right after I tell you a few things, then maybe you, too, will buy his book.

His writing course at Stony Brook is focused on short stories, essays, and poetry, and he starts with the short story. He tells his students, “stories are central to life.” Next is the essays, because an essay is the story of an idea or of a true event. And the poem is the story of a feeling.

What he tries to achieve in his classroom is a place where “students feel safe with one another and will trust the group with personal information they use in their writing.”

They will in his class read one another’s work and comment on it. He tells them, “You will never have a situation like this again. Here, in these classes, you have colleagues, people who share everything with you and wish you well. Writing anywhere else is a lonely enterprise.”

Students who feel safe with one another, and who trust each other, will learn from each other. They will, if only for a brief moment of time, become closer than  family.

Roger Rosenblatt then tells a story of how this happens.

In one class, a women read a section of her novel aloud, another woman asked, “May I be your friend?” The first woman answered, “You already are.”


Leave a comment
  • Take a course at Stony Brook ? John, I remeber when you and Harris started Stony Brook in the 70’s. Regardless, ordering Roger’s new book. Ithiught he moved from Quoque, LI to Bethesda recently!

  • I too want to be like Roger Rosenblatt. One of my all time favorite books is his Rules for Aging. If you haven’t read this one and you are approaching geezerhood, Rosenblatt’s advice is just the ticket.

  • Yes, Rosenblatt is a master. I read his short, affecting story of his daughter’s death in “Making Toast: A Family Story” after my wife died. A wonderfully touching addition to the literature on how we grieve.

    David Day, Rochester,NY

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