I knew Paul Violi as a teacher of two ways of writing. As my expository writing Prof. he could be INFURIATING – there’s a hole kicked into the wall of my apartment that will attest to the veracity of this. He was unflinching in demanding excellence – he kicked my butt every class, every assignment, never couched his criticism never did me the disservice of saying my work was good enough, always seemed to believe that I could do better. I came out of that class confident in my writing abilities as honed by Paul. Being Paul’s poetry writing student was one of the most exciting and expanding experiences of my life. He was generous but not sloppy with approval so getting one of those side-long glances with a smirk and a nod was like winning the lottery. He was a great teacher in all the ways teachers should be great.
The most important thing I know about writing in general I learned from Paul. Paul Violi taught me that writing is process. I share this moment that was the flipped switch to gaining this knowledge.
You could no longer smoke in the classrooms of NYU buildings so during break Paul would stand in the doorway smoking his cigarette and talking with whomever was in the classroom. During one of these break/smoke/talks one of my classmates was bemoaning his inability to get his essay going. I don’t remember exactly what my colleague said it was something about starting and perfection. I do remember exactly Paul’s response. He was leaning against the door jam. As my classmate spoke he took a long thoughtful drag, almost closing his eyes. Squinting at my classmate he exhaled, leaned forward a little raising his shoulders and said, “What do you mean? Write something, ANYTHING. Then change it.”
To Paul’s Family – my deepest sympathies. I hope that the profound way Paul touched so many lives is some comfort in your loss.
Paul – this is my third draft, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve wept a little as I wrote it, so wish I could get it back from you all marked up with smart-alecky comments. Thank you Paul you introduced me to so much I’ve come to love and value in my life not the least of which is Whitman, “And to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.”
Good Luck Teacher.