A fond farewell to Prof. Sterling Watson: The Current salutes a writing legend in his last semester at Eckerd

Posted by on Dec 12, 2011. Filed under News & Features.

Professor Sterling Watson was appointed the first recipient of the Peter Meinke Endowed Professorship in Creative Writing, established through a gift by Trustee Emerita Martha Rudy Wallace and matched by funds from the Collier Challenge program. Mrs. Wallace has served continuously on the Board of Trustees since 1976.

This professorship is named to honor Professor Emeritus of Literature Peter Meinke, who taught literature and creative writing at Eckerd College for 27 years and served as the Director of the Eckerd College Writing Workshop until 1993. A guest lecturer in current creative writing courses, Professor Meinke was an informal writing adviser to Professor Watson.

Sterling Watson graduated from Eckerd, then Florida Presbyterian College, in 1969. He earned his Master’s degree at the University of Florida and returned to teach at Eckerd in 1978. A fiction and screenwriter, he is Professor of Literature and Creative Writing, Director of Eckerd’s Creative Writing Program, and Co-director of the annual Writers in Paradise writers’ conference. He mentored and taught novelist Dennis Lehane, ‘88, his fellow Co-director of Writers in Paradise.

Watson’s main professional interests are fiction, play and screenwriting, American, British and European short and long fiction, and the theater. He served for five years as the fiction editor of The Florida Quarterly, and taught secondary English and later fiction writing at Raiford Prison.

He is the author of six novels, “Weep No More My Brother” (nominated for the Rosenthal Award, National Academy Institute of Arts and Letters), “The Calling,” “Blind Tongues,” “Deadly Sweet,” (nominated for the 1995 Edgar Award and for the Hammett Prize), and “Sweet Dream Baby” (nominated for the National Book Award) and, most recently, “Fighting in the Shade.” He has co-authored several screenplays, two of them based on his novels, one with Lehane.

The recipient of four Florida Fine Arts Council grants for fiction writing and a former fellow of The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and of The MacDowell Colony, his short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Fiction Quarterly, The Michigan Quarterly Review, and The Southern Review.

Professor Watson is married to Kathryn J. Watson, ‘69, Associate Dean for Faculty Development, Special Assistant to the President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Education. They are the parents of Megan Watson Kramer, ‘98, Director of Client Relations for Eckerd’s Leadership Development Institute.

Here’s what Prof. Watson’s colleagues, friends, family and former students have to say about him:

“He was the most influential teacher I ever had—exacting, at times impossible to please, but so infectious in his love of craft that I couldn’t help but be transformed by his level of dedication. As a writer, he’s one of the best prose stylists I know of in American letters. He turns sentences into songs and paragraphs into symphonies. It’s been the great fortune of my career that our paths crossed, and I can’t imagine Eckerd ever being the same without him.”

- Dennis Lehane, ‘88

“Faculty members need mentors too, and in that role, Sterling has been invaluable to me. I remember well his talking to me about ‘unintended consequences.’ I am a better teacher, mentor, father, husband, and thinker because of his insights. One of the unintended consequences of Sterling’s retirement will be that the college will be the poorer for his absence.”

- William Kelly, professor of Rhetoric

“I could not possibly begin to describe all the ways Professor Watson has helped me. I learned as much about life as I did about writing in all of his classes. He is the kind of professor who truly cares about his students and goes above and beyond the duties as a mentor. He has given much encouragement, hope, and inspiration over the few years I have known him. I wish him the best in his retirement and to thank him for the wonderful pen name, Amanda.”

- Samantha Rolfe, ‘13

“Sterling is an excellent writer, a consummate teacher and mentor, and a true believer in Eckerd College. His contributions to Eckerd are innumerable. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to share in a small portion of his journey at Eckerd.”

- Dean Betty Stewart

“Sterling was aptly named. My Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word “sterling” includes the phrase ‘thoroughly excellent.’ That says it all. It has been my pleasure over the years to enjoy his writing, to observe his multitudinous talented contributions to the life and culture of Eckerd College and to occasionally break bread with him and his lovely wife, Kathy, at President and Mrs. Eastman’s home. Sterling, you will be sorely missed! Enjoy your retirement.”

- Jean Wittner, trustee

“Where to start with happy memories of Sterling! It might be drinking Manhattans at Leverocks with Sterling and his wife Kathy in the early years. Or it might be the parties–one special birthday party for my husband, a serious Washington lawyer, who greeted his guests dressed in Florida shorts and t-shirt with a top hat and bow tie. He was speaking in his Mr. Magoo voice. Sterling answered him in a Bugs Bunny voice and the evening was off to a great start!”

- Catherine Griggs, professor of American Studies

“At my poetry thesis defense, Sterling asked a simple and profound question about my work that has affected both my scholarship and poetry. ‘You use a lot of myth in your work,’ he said. ‘Can you comment on that?’ I’ve been answering that question for more than twenty years.”

- Greg Byrd, ‘87

“If Sterling Watson has the audacity to RETIRE at his youthful age, I’ll be looking for more wonderful novels in the near future.”

- Deedie Simmons, trustee

“While professors often take pride in the paths their students choose once they have left campus, his students have been able to share their own pride in watching his career flourish both on and off campus over the past decade. While he may be retiring as professor at Eckerd, I’m sure he will continue as mentor and friend to many.”

- Kelly O’Rourke, ‘00

“I have had the pleasure of knowing Sterling Watson as a friend and colleague for over 21 years. I simply cannot conceptualize the Creative Writing Program at Eckerd College without thinking about the manner in which Sterling’s writing talent, excellent teaching, close student mentoring, and program leadership have literally defined the program in recent decades.

During the past 10 years, Sterling has been an invaluable partner in the work of bringing to fruition the vision of creating a first-rate campus newspaper at Eckerd College. The emergence and incredible success of The Current campus newspaper in recent years will be an enduring part of Sterling’s enormously important legacy at Eckerd College.”

- Dean James Annarelli

“I have known Sterling Watson for over 40 years: In all that time, as Captain Call says of Deets in ‘Lonesome Dove,’ ‘He never shirked a task. Splendid behavior.’ I will miss him.

- President Donald Eastman, III

“For the thousands of students you’ve shaped and writers you’ve influenced through your teaching at Eckerd, for your own fine books and your vision for Writers in Paradise, and for your guidance and kindness to me as a friend and colleague, as William Shakespeare said, ‘I can no other answer make but thanks and thanks.'”

- Helen Wallace, professor of Creative Writing

“By now, anyone who’s reading The Current knows that Sterling’s retiring from a brilliant career, winning awards not just for his writing, but for his teaching as well. He was, and still is, one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet, a great story-teller—not just on the page—and a boon companion. I could write a book about our weekly lunches, but it would need constant updating, not to mention censorship, as they’re still going on.

Eckerd College was fortunate indeed to have such a dedicated teacher and productive novelist for so many years. He will be missed (though still around directing, with his ex-student Dennis Lehane, the annual Writers in Paradise Conference), and a personality as vivid as Sterling’s can never be fully replaced. But his passion for writing and teaching has set a standard for the College, and the Workshop, and for all the students that passed through his classes, of which we can all be extremely proud.

And I’m personally proud that Sterling is the first person to hold the Peter Meinke Chair in Literature and Creative Writing. I’ll try to remember to tell him that at lunch.”

- Peter Meinke, Poet Laureate of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Professor Emeritus of Literature

“I ended up in a creative writing class with Sterling at FPC. He was a couple years ahead of me. I was feeling pretty creative about myself, pretty cocky. And then I read the story Sterling wrote about a wild pig hut. I still remember the story—and the shock. All the writers I had read until then were “greats”, were distant, were other than me. This story by just another guy, another wannabe, with its power, its visceral impact, its immediacy was an awakening. A rude one. I think I may have written about my summer vacation, or my mother’s birthday. Yet here was writing that did what writing was supposed to do, wake you up, re-introduce you to details of the world you took for granted, move you. And he had written it, just another guy, another student. That experience changed how I looked at my own writing, imposed a whole new set of standards, an altogether different target to shoot for. After that, of course, I could never really like him.”

-Michael Horton, ‘71

“I’ve never had a better teacher — of writing, of life, and all that falls in between — than Sterling Watson. But Sterling is to me more than a mentor. He’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a father. Now that I’m the proud father of a son — a son whose middle name is Sterling — I have, thanks to Sterling, a sound idea of how to go about fatherhood. Here I am, in a position to give back some of the good fortune, some of the love, that Sterling gave me. I can only hope my son will one day know me as a figure worthy of his namesake.”

- Jay Nicorvo, “Ploughshares” blog editor

“Congratulations to my good friend Sterling on his retirement. Thankfully, he remains on the scene as Co-Director of Writers in Paradise. He is, you see, simply the best teacher of creative writing on the planet and a damn fine writer as well.”

- Dean Jollay, lawyer

“As a writer and a lover of words, Sterling has devoted himself, in Yeats’ fine phrase, to perfection of the work, and he is one of the best readers of literature I have known. It has been a special pleasure working with him on senior thesis committees these past eighteen years to see how his literary sensitivities respond to stories. This has been a delightful and useful element in my own education as a writer.”

- Scott Ward, professor of Creative Writing

“Growing up in a home with a writer (and also two professors) taught me a love of punctuation, which is true, but not that interesting! But, the most important thing I learned from my dad–about writing and about being successful in anything, really–is the importance of discipline. I learned the importance of setting aside time every day to devote to the craft of writing. I translated this understanding of commitment and discipline to my study of dance. I had a lot of friends who wanted to be writers, artists or dancers and who thought that the inspiration would simply hit them like a blinding flash of light, and then they would sit down and craft a masterpiece. My dad taught me that good writing (or success in any art form) comes from hard work, plain and simple.”

- Megan Watson Kamer, daughter

“No one who reads Sterling’s work walks away unmoved. In knowing him, and reading him, you can always count on a bare knuckled assessment of the human condition. And yet, Sterling Watson is still searching, like all of us. Sterling is a master storyteller, and yet his greatest story may ultimately be what he has done for this college. Having said that, my life would be diminished without his stories demanding that I look deeper into the human heart….and my own heart.”

- Anthony Brunello, professor of Political Science

“Professor Sterling Watson was my first creative writing professor at Eckerd. He will always be a part of my journey as a writer and I love that I look back on that time and remember him being someone who was encouraging, genuine and kind. Thank you, Professor Sterling.”

- Contina Kemp, ‘02

“Sterling never sugar-coated anything for me, so I’ll return the favor: I learned more about writing from this man than from anybody else. It’s been fifteen years since graduation, and I still can’t write a goddamn thing without wondering what Sterling would have said about it. Like it or not, his is the voice I still hear in my head every time I put pen to paper, and for this, I am grateful beyond measure. Sterling Watson is a true example of what it means to be an exceptionally great teacher.”

- Karen (Friswell) Lieberman, ‘96

Posted by on Dec 12, 2011. Filed under News & Features. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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