In my previous post, I said that I would write about six teachers who had changed my life. I’m going to do this in chronological order, and this is the first one (the only one still living):
I was barely 18 years old when I entered Boston University as a liberal arts major. At that time I rather pretentiously thought of myself as smarter than most people, and quite the little intellectual. I had read widely, and English was my favorite subject.
Imagine my chagrin when I arrived in Boston (from Connecticut, where I grew up) to discover that I had been placed in the “dummy” English class! I was furious, so with more feistiness than trepidation, I stomped over to the office of the head of the English Department, Professor Link, and stated my case. I told him I wouldn’t, couldn’t stay in that class! He looked slightly amused, checked my records, and said, “But you did poorly on your entrance exams.” I’ve never been particularly good under pressure, so I told him, “Yes, but did anyone even bother to look at my straight A record in English in high school?” Professor Link could see that I wasn’t going to back down easily, so he said, “All right, I’ll have you switched to Emily Brady’s advanced English class.”
I left his office with a feeling of triumph and exhilaration. I couldn’t wait to start Mrs. Brady’s class.
Nothing, however, had prepared me for the tall, willowy goddess who swept into the classroom sporting a long black cape and dark brown eyes as big as saucers. She was gorgeous—black hair in a bob with bangs, and a smile that lit up the room to the last student in the back row. All the boys developed instant crushes on her, and I guess I did, too. She was quite the dramatic figure, and I loved that she drove around in a dumpy woodie station wagon.
Emily immediately put us to work reading important novels by authors I had never heard of, and having us write essays about them. This was right up my alley. I became and avid student, and did everything I could to please Emily and make her see how smart I was. She noticed, and gave me the attention I had longed for during high school, but never got. She encouraged me, said I had talent as a writer, and even urged me to send some of my pieces to a few literary journals. I did, and was thrilled when I finally got a personal, rather than an automatic rejection letter that was kind and encouraging.
Never particularly self-confident (although I did a pretty good job at faking it), with Emily’s care, attention, friendship, and engaging sense of humor, I could feel a true sense of worth growing in me. I truly came to feel that I was a writer because of her. I only studied with her for that one year, but we ended up becoming friends. I’m a jazz pianist, and she used to come to my gigs. Even after I got married and had my first child, our friendship continued. I have never forgotten her, and a few years ago was able to find her online. She was (and is) still teaching at B.U. I wasn’t sure if she’d remember me, but she did, and was surprised and pleased that I had contacted her. During the time I knew her she had remarried, had a child, and then her husband suddenly died of a heart attack. After that we lost touch, and at some point she married again and became Emily Dalgarno, the name she still uses today. When I contacted her, she told me she was now single again and had never been happier.
Emily Izsak Dalgarno (formerly Brady) graduated Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude in English, and has an international reputation as a teacher and scholar. After graduating from William Smith she attended Brown University, and in 1962 completed her Ph.D. in English literature.
Since 1959 she has taught thousands of students in a variety of courses in literature at Boston University and has published in numerous literary magazines. She has written two books on Virginia Woolf: Virginia Woolf and the Visible World and Virginia Woolf and the Migrations of Language.
Next: Sam Rivers