My Favorite Teacher: Stephen King
by Joan Hall Hovey
The year was 1984, a lovely summer’s day and I was sitting in the packed, buzzed audience waiting for Stephen King to appear. To say I was excited is an understatement. Uncool? Totally. I’d bought my hardcover copy of his book Different Seasons for him to sign. I wouldn’t be denied. I had all his books in hardcover – Carrie, Cycle of the Werewolf, Danse Macabre, Salem’s Lot - there would be many more to come. He was my hero in a time when I was already much too old to be star-struck. I’ve read that it is mainly teenagers who are addicted to Stephen King’s work, and I was hardly that. Though probably immature. I’m at a much more more advanced age now and that hasn’t changed, and I hope it never does. Stephen King was the Elvis Presley of the literary world.
I hadn’t had a novel published yet; that was still a dream, floating somewhere above the horizon. But I’d written and published some articles and short stories, enough to make me eligible for a travel grant through the NB Arts Council to London, England to the writers workshop at Polytechnic Institution on MaryleboneRoad, aptly across the street from Madam Tussauds wax museum. Stephen King would be a panelist, along with authors P.D. James, Robert Parker and some others. I was eager to hear all the celebrated authors, but I’d flown all this way from New Brunswick, Canada to see and hear Mr. King.
He came into the large room through the back door and I swear I knew the instant he did. You couldn’t miss the rising buzz of the audience, of course, the shifting of bodies as people turned to look, but I also felt the change of energy in the air. On stage, Stephen King joked about his ‘big writing engine’ and I had heard (within my third eye – yes, it can hear) its power, its purr. Or maybe there’s more to it.
As he talked to us about writing, he spoke about seeing with that third eye. The eye of the imagination. He told us to imagine a chair. Then he said it was a blue chair. I saw it clearer now. He added the detail of a paint blister on the leg of the chair. Now I saw it close up, with my zoom lens. We hung on his every word. He was funny and brilliant and entertaining, and we learned. Everything he said was not necessarily something brand new, but were reminders to pay close attention to details. To always tell the truth in our writing. I even got to ask a couple of questions. And his answers to all our questions were thoughtful and insightful. I try to pass along a few of those lessons to my own students.
Stephen King has been teaching creative writing to aspiring and even established writers for decades, long before his wonderful book On Writing came out. Such a gift to writers that is, regardless of the genre you write in. I am gushing. I don’t mind. It’s true.
I have been fortunate to have had many highlights in my life – an anniversary trip to Niagara Falls with my wonderful husband, the births of my children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren – a trip to the Bahamas with my eldest son – my own first novel published and several more after that - and I have to say that that workshop in London, England, where Stephen King spoke to us about writing, is right up there. Thank you, Mr. King.
I want to leave you with a quote from an interview with contributing writer for the Atlantic, Jessica Lahey, published in The Atlantic, Sept 2014. She asked him if teaching was craft or art.
“It’s both,” he said. “The best teachers are artists.
Stephen King is an artist on every level. He tells the truth. In his fiction. And in his teachings.