Fiction Writers Review: An Appreciation of Nicholas Delbanco by Dean Bakopoulos

In honor of Nicholas Delbanco’s retirement from the University of Michigan, Fiction Writers Review is dedicating this week’s content to a celebration of Delbanco’s influential career as both a writer and a teacher. On December 4th, a symposium entitled “The Janus-Faced Habit: The Art of Teaching and the Teaching of Art” took place in Ann Arbor as part of a tribute to his legacy.

Here’s an excerpt from Dean Bakopoulos on Nicholas Delbanco’s generosity as a mentor and a teacher, as well as the gift of being offered a place at the table:

I attended my first Hopwood Tea during the winter of my sophomore year at The University of Michigan, a supposedly simple occasion that filled me with colossal dread. I worried I’d wear the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, or spill my tea (I never drank tea, but assumed that’d be the only offering; the word “tea” used to describe an event had never been in my vocabulary before). I also wore a thrift store tweed blazer, assuming a jacket might be required.

I was there because my professor, Nicholas Delbanco, whom I’d just met, had told me that this was the place to meet all the other writers on campus, and I desperately wanted to be included in that group. I remember walking into the Hopwood Room on a Thursday afternoon and, upon seeing that rich woodwork, those epic bookshelves, that spiral of literary journals at the room’s epicenter, around which circles of writers—real writers—stood laughing and chatting and sipping tea, I promptly decided that I should turn around. Something in the air felt rarified and beyond my reach, and my chest burned with an anxious feeling of fraudulence I would probably now describe as a panic attack.

But then my darting eyes landed on Nicholas Delbanco, my professor, and, seemingly delighted to see me, he smiled and extended an arm in what I now call the “Delbanco Wave,” a kind of across-the-room hug—one hand on hip, one hand extended outward—that makes you feel as if you’re being ushered gently onto a warm stage, maybe to thunderous applause.

This was Nick, classic Nick, inviting another writer into the conversation, pulling yet another chair up to that crowded table. (I think that was the day he introduced me to Charlie Baxter, Eileen Pollack, and Elwood Reid, all of whom would also become important mentors and, later, friends.)

It’s widely known that Nick has many gifts as an author and teacher and leader, but the gift I remember most strongly, and with an emotion that can only be described as love, is that he welcomes in all of us who strive to create literature, and lets us know there is no scarcity at this particular feast. He makes the writing world into a world of loaves and fishes. Eat all you want. We’ll make more!

Read the full article: An Appreciation of Nicholas Delbanco by Dean Bakopoulos