When I joined the English Department and began advising English majors, one after another said, "I have to take a course with Jon Hassler." Hundreds of students enrolled in Jon's Creative Writing and Minnesota Authors courses, and Pat Hicks describes the amazing experience of studying with Jon.
But Jon also gave a remarkable gift to fifteen students who weren't enrolled in his class; they were taking my publishing course in 1997. These were the first students at St. John's and St. Ben's who had the opportunity to make books by hand, setting lead type letter by letter in the book-arts studio we had just installed at St. Ben's.
Jon heard about the work we were doing in that course, and he asked me whether I thought the students might like to create books using a story he was working on, a children's book in verse titled Carrington Clote.
Yes, I said. Yes, I think they'd like that.
And so Jon gave us several verses about a gifted, intrepid, outspoken girl named Carrington, a girl that my mother would call (with a meaningfully raised brow) a handful.
By sharing this work-in-progress with fifteen students, Jon gave them an opportunity to forge a link between their imaginations, as book artists, and his writerly imagination. When the students finished their books, Jon came to survey their projects: fifteen responses to Carrington Clote; fifteen ways to honor this writer they so admired.
Two students made books whose pages unfolded in the form of a hopscotch game, with a stanza in every block. Another student, intrigued by Carrington's contempt for girls who thought only about the stuff in their purses, made the book itself in the form of a purse. This ingenious turn transformed the purse from a container for lipsticks and hair doodads into a pocket book that held the story of a red-haired, fleet-footed, blazingly smart girl.
I think that Jon was pleased when he saw the creative work his poem had inspired. I know that those fifteen students treasure the books they made, and treasure even more deeply the generous gift he gave them: the gift of shared imagination.