Thursday, August 10, 2006

Write-way Corrigan

from James

I missed my 30th high school reunion last weekend. It was in Antioch, Illinois, where I spent the first 18 years of my life. I haven’t been back there since 1980. It’s not that I have avoided the place. As you’ll see from my website, I have fond memories of Antioch. The problem is that it’s a remote town on the Illinois/Wisconsin border, very difficult to get to from Miami. I have no family left in the area, and none of my friends from high school (as far as I know) still lives there. As a result, I haven’t made it to a single one of my high school class reunions, to the point that I was listed as “Missing” in the latest invitation that was mailed to the Class of 1976 for the 30th reunion. (I should probably speak to my publicist about that one!)

I also have this suspicion that most reunions are a let down, nothing like “Peggy Sue Got Married,” so I’m happy to spend these last few days of summer in the Berkshires with my family rather than trekking all the way back to Illinois. But I have been thinking about my high school days lately, and one person in particular deserves special mention here.

I had a great high school English teacher, James Corrigan. With his gray hair and thick salt-and-pepper beard, he reminded me of Ernest Hemingway. Probably the most important thing he taught me was that, to be a good writer, you have to be a voracious reader. It was Mr. Corrigan who gave me one of the most unforgettable books I've ever read, the Pulitzer Prize winning play, A Man for All Seasons. It's the story of Sir Thomas Moore, who was tried for treason and beheaded after he refused on principle to sign an oath approving the marriage of King Henry VIII to Ann Boleyn. I still have that book. It became especially meaningful to me in the early years of my legal career, when I was young and naïve and appalled to discover how many witnesses lied under oath. People complain that lawyers are always trying to trip them up with their clever questions, but in my experience witnesses too often had to be tricked into telling the truth. In my most cynical moments as a trial lawyer, I'd go back to Sir Thomas Moore and the sanctity of an oath. It's just one of the many ways I'm so often reminded of my high school English teacher.

Mr. Corrigan gave me a C-plus on the first paper I wrote for him. It was the highest grade in the class (this was long before the days of grade inflation). I ended his couse with a research paper on Albert Camus called "The Evolution of a Viewpoint" (he loved Camus and the title), and I ended the year with the hardest earned "A" in my life. Mr Corrigan passed away in the early 1980s, so he never knew that I became a writer. Honestly, I’m not sure he’d actually like my stuff. He was more partial to Greek tragedies than modern-day thrillers. But I’d like to think, maybe, he’d give me an A minus.

James Grippando


  1. James,
    This entry hit home to me because I partially owe my writing career to an eighth grade teacher as well.

    Miss Gentry was the first person who told me I could write. Even as I type this today I can feel the surge of hope her words gave me. (I was a mess, a geek outcast in school and found refuge in libraries and short stories scrawled in notebooks.)

    When I published my first novel in 1985 (a skinny little romance) I dedicated it to her. Then, years later, I realized I owed her a big thanks. I tracked her down (not easy since my school was gone and she had married and retired). But I got her address and wrote her a thank you letter. She wrote back telling me how much it meant to her to know she had touched one kid.

    I have many regrets about things I didn't do. But this was a small redemption for them. Thanks for the great entry about Mr. Corrigan.

  2. Though not a author, and though my writing is only in the form of letters and e-mails, I nevertheless owe much to so many of my teachers.

    Thank you for your tribute to one, and may all the teachers who read it know that many of us are thanking them often for their influence on our lives.

  3. Hi James! I've lived in Antioch since 1987 and am raising 3 teenage boys here, two of which are at the high school. There's a new high school as well, over at Grass Lake and Deep Lake Road. Depending on which side of 173 you live on you go either to the old school or the new ones. Mine are fortunate to be in the old school at 173 and 83, and it hasn't changed much since you left. There's a Wal-Mart now at 173 and Deep Lake and they're building a Menards, but the downtown area is still pretty much the same. The theater is still a favorite, and the Vault and Las Vegas restaurants are still in the same places. Hope you get back here sometime, it's still got the small town charm :o)