Lester Goran: Celebrating 50 Years of Teaching Creative Writing at UM

Testimonies

 

Greetings to fellow alumni and friends!

This year we have a wonderful opportunity to honor Prof. Lester Goran for five decades of dedicated service to hundreds of aspiring students. Those of you who sat in his classroom surely remember the witty remarks that made you laugh, the criticism you didn’t want to hear but that in the end you realized was right on point. Like me, you probably heard bizarre phrases that were meant to teach and inspire you; and even if you didn’t quite get the meaning at the time, years later you did. For me it was, “Throw a cat out the window!” Three years after graduation, I still hear his words in my ear as I look for that surprising element at the turn of every page of my writing. Without a doubt, Professor Goran left us with wonderful memories of our years in graduate school, and with his blessing we left to continue searching for our own voice and for those unique stories we long to add to the wonderful world of literature.

Now it’s time that we do something for our beloved professor. Please join me in this grand opportunity to pay tribute to a man who has touched the lives of his students and colleagues. You can pay homage to Professor Goran by sending us your testimony and letting others know what impact he has made on your own aspirations as a writer. Friends and alumni can send a brief testimony, and if you like, a brief bio and photo to ENGLISHGRAD@miami.edu.

We are also asking our peers, graduates from the University of Miami Creative Writing Program, to help us establish The Goran Endowed Scholarship in Creative Writing to pave the way for other deserving UM students. For more information on giving to the Goran Scholarship Fund click here

Cheers!
Elaine Alonso-Cruz
M.F.A. 2006


KBarakatI first met Mr. Goran in a literary forms class. There, I discovered Isaac Singer, Nabokov, and other world class authors. I was intrigued with Singer, in particular. I learned so much that semester and the following semesters on really being a writer. It was an entirely new perspective for me. Goran then became my thesis advisor and I churned out two separate theses before the deadline, not wanting to choose between the two. Goran was hard on them both, ripping them to shreds at some points, but pushing me along the way. I worked harder on them both and got the pages out. We had more than one disagreement on my work, but I never gave up and Goran never stopped prodding me along. He is not for the faint of heart, but he can give an incredible amount of advice and lend his expertise to a writer on his or her own path. I came out of UM with a nice armored shield which propelled me to continue writing, to teach, and to work as a writer in a very competitive business with a great deal of confidence. That's worth it's weight in gold.

— Katie Barakat '05


Among the things I treasure most about Lester as a writing-mentor:  his frankness and his ability to tell you the essence of a character/story of yours in a sentence or two in a way that liberates you.  When you write, you often do so in a vacuum, in darkness, full of self-doubt.  When Lester reads and responds to your work, it's indeed as though a light shines on it, and suddenly you seem to see your characters/situations better.  He is a tremendously engaging story-teller in the classroom:  about the writing profession, about what it means to be a writer.  He does not hold back criticism, and equally important, he does not hold back praise when deserved:  he tells you plainly what you need to know.  When a story is not working, he'll tell you so; and when something is good, ready to be sent out, he'll tell you that too.  And the lingering effect of a conversation with him is always encouragement.  Always.

— Pankaj Challa '09


rita deutschI came back to UM in 1969 (YOW!!!) to "pick up an English major;" my undergraduate degree had been in business administration (which in the 50's for a woman meant to be trained to be an executive secretary!) So, I decided it was time to "listen to my mother" and be a teacher. I had Lester for a contemporary American novels class and he'd just published one. And in addition to reading texts I had not read, his sense of humor was always present. So, during one class he said "if you want to find anything of mine in our library, I come between Gordimer and Greene.

Rita Deutsch '76
Associate Dean of Students
College of Arts and Sciences


Professor Goran's class was a little like a trip to the grandparents house on a beautiful, sunny day. You are tempted to skip and go to the beach, but you go anyway because you know it's the right thing to do. By the end of it, you're so glad you did. His class makes all the difference. Sure, he has a wealth of wisdom and impeccable taste and can look at an entire story and point right to the crux of it, or, when necessary, right to the problem of it. But he is also really funny and a fantastic storyteller. I'm thinking about making t-shirts, or a Facebook fan club (if I thought he could find it) called: "I was a Goran disciple." I feel lucky and honored to have been a part of it.

— Margaret Cardillo '09

 

 


I finished my senior thesis early, I gave Professor Goran the novel and he read it in a very short time, all 400 plus pages. He brought it into class and said, “I just read Cheng’s novel.” I thought, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ He then proceeded to read out loud parts of the novel that he thought were overwritten, trite, melodramatic, unnecessary, or just plain bad, accentuated by his own dramatically inclined reading voice. It went on for a while—I wanted to kill him! Then he also read the parts that he thought were good and explained why. Then he transitioned this into his lesson plan for the day.

It is something I’ll never forget and it made me realize what a unique and special teacher he is. He didn’t just want me to see what I was doing right and wrong—he wanted all of us to learn from the experience. I always felt that Professor Goran understood what I wanted to do with my work and why I wanted to do it, and helped me to become a better writer without trying to mold me in a way that might be unnatural. I owe Professor Goran a great deal.

— Terrence Cheng '97


I don't think I would have pursued my writing past undergraduate classes if it had not been for Lester.  He saw some kind of ability in me very early on and encouraged, encouraged, encouraged.  I am a writer today largely because Lester Goran said I could be. 
 As for his teaching, he always said something to his students which I repeat to mine today.  That is, "I won't 'yes' you out the door."  In other words, he offered praise when it was deserved, and not because it would make his job easier.  Students all want to hear how wonderful they are, and it would be so easy for us to give that to them, yessing them all the way out the door.  That's one thing I took from Lester as a teacher, but he's been an influence to my teaching in lots of ways, so that sometimes I'll say something in class and realize I've just echoed some of Lester's words.

Most importantly, I count Lester as a very good friend.  He is wise and funny and resilient and faithful, and he has always been there for me when I needed him.

— Chantel Acevedo ‘99


Studying with Lester has taught me to put my feet on the ground, my heart in the work, and get my head to try and bring the two together. There's something both raw and real about lester and the way he teaches, that is, at the same time, laced with a hopeful romanticism about the power of words and, more importantly, story. He makes you want to kick the drive factor into fifth gear while remembering that the trick is not to burn the tires but bring it back down and ride through the hard stuff.

Thanks!

— Vanessa Garcia '09


No matter the field, the opportunity to hear a master discuss his craft is a rare privilege, and all of us who love literature delight in hearing Lester Goran talk about writing. To study with him has been an even greater honor of which I hope to one day become worthy. His insights have shaped the way I approach any work of fiction (most of all, my own), and his example and teachings are with me even when my own conscience fails: inspiring me, encouraging me, demanding more of me. The greatest lesson of all, however, has been his generosity - with his time, with his honesty, with his wisdom. Not everyone is willing to share their talents or nurture those of others, and I will always be grateful to count Professor Goran as my mentor and among my friends. MFA '05

— Melissa Cantor '03