IN 1973, ELLIOTT INVITED me to accompany him to Vienna, where the Seminars’ former Fiction instructor, Michael Lynch, was enjoying a position at The American University, in Vienna. Elliott’s trip was paid under the auspice of his delivering a paper on prosody while there. Since he was somewhat infirm and often needed help, he asked me if I’d like to go and deliver my paper on “First Person Narrative”. My wife-to-be joined us for the second week.
My memory of Vienna on this particular trip was that during my waking hours I tended to Coleman. At least until around 10:00 p.m. After several days of this I began arising before sunrise and going out and about in the city while it was still dark in January. Then at night, after 10:30, again, out and about.
The morning I believed that I had discovered the Villa in which Wagner had secreted Cosima von Bulow, I returned during the daylight hoping to see some faintest evidence of Richard, only to find a clothesline with towels stretched from a window to a telephone pole; but no hint of Cosima or her undies.
Elliott was a gentleman who was a natty dresser, and whom had always cut a fine figure. Despite his insistence upon identifying himself as bi-sexual, he did arrive in Baltimore to begin his career at The Johns Hopkins with a lady friend in tow, whom he put up at the hotel which then stood at the corner of Madison and Charles. He was shortly chastised by the department head for this not quite acceptable situation, and the lady moved over to Washington, D.C.
I believe it is impossible to say just which criteria Elliott Coleman responded to in any given application consideration. The fact that Charley Plymell suggested to him that I would be in Baltimore on a given day in April and that he agreed to interview me, was perhaps enough. Charley had proffered Dreams of Straw, a chapbook of poetry published by the Auerhahn Press in San Francisco, and that probably helped. But Charley had a way of making a case for me that probably goes far beyond my purview.
What I do know is that Elliott was subject to suggestion. I believe this is why he eventually tried to avoid his former students. When they came to him for a loan he could never say, “No.” Consequently, he loaned money over and over again and as far as I know was never paid back a cent of many tens of thousands of dollars.
Elliott Coleman was to my mind one of the nicest, most genuinely open-minded individuals I’ve ever met. He was generous to a flaw. Two weeks before he died he would still lurch excitedly toward his thick Random House dictionary to look up a word in order to make sure of its proper use and to experience the serendipity that might occur during the process. His directorship of the Writing Seminars was a calling which he served graciously for over thirty years. His frequent statement was that, in the final analysis, writing can’t be taught. His hope and intention was just to provide an environment conducive to the expression of that craft.
Roxie Powell is a retired Youth Coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of the City of Baltimore. He writes short stories and a few poems, still climbs mountains and drives too fast, travels.
This essay is part of
of work by and about Elliott Coleman.