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The Next Best Thing

For David 3: This Is a Professor

- By Mark Edmundson

(Photo: David Lenson at three. Courtesy of Barry Lenson.)

David R. Lenson—comp lit professor at UMass Amherst and one of the best teachers I have had—has passed away. He had been sick a long time, victim of a serious stroke. I took a course called “The Double in Literature” with David in the fall of 1971, his first term teaching at UMass I think. He was astonishingly young—25 or so. He amazed me and all of us in that class with his learning, wit, powers of articulation, generosity, and kindness. He rendered the drama of ideas superbly: what they were and meant, where they came from, why they mattered. His office hours were a party—wine, beer, snacks, students flowing in and out. He was a...

The Next Best Thing

For David 4: Be That Teacher

- By Bunkong Tuon

(David Lenson at his sixtieth birthday party, with Bo Henderson. Tobey Photo.)

When I first heard of David, I was a graduate student in the Department of Comparative Literature at UMass Amherst in 2000. Every graduate student spoke highly of him then, as they do now and, I am sure, will continue to do so, singing his praise. I was a shy awkward kid; as a former refugee, I didn’t know what I was doing in graduate school. So at department gatherings, I tended to mingle with a few students I was comfortable with and stay away from faculty.

In 2001, I was assigned to be one of David’s three TAs for his “Brave New Worlds” class. When all of us met to go over the class, David was...

The Next Best Thing

For David 5: Ride the Music

- By David's friends and family

(Photo: David Lenson, courtesy of Pamela Glaven)

A little over a week ago, David Lenson died at home, in his Mill Hollow apartment in Amherst. A poet, essayist, musician, and legendary professor, he was seventy-five years old.

Brother Barry remembers David as a Victory Baby, born in 1945; the boys grew up together in Nutley, New Jersey. Their mother June was an aspiring poet; their father Michael was director of the murals project for the Works Progress Administration in New Jersey and painted murals in Newark City Hall and Weequahic High School. The Jewish comedian Sam Levenson was their uncle. From his youngest days Dave wrote poems and played the saxophone in combos that practiced “Tequila...

The Next Best Thing

A Toast to Eric Bentley

- By Jules Chametzky

It is Friday, August 7th, and I just finished reading in the New York Times the major, generous, and informative obituary of Eric Bentley, written largely by the late editor of the Times Book Review Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. It was deeply moving to me. For more than sixty years I knew Bentley and much of his major work, sixty plus years out of the 103 he spent on this earth.

In my last year in college, 1949-1950, I began to write plays, more or less successfully, that were produced at Brooklyn College in its Writers Workshop in the late afternoon, as well as a whopper of a production of a longer play staged in the evening, after my graduation, to a large public audience. That year I also read Bentley's first major book, The Playwright as Thinker,...

The Next Best Thing

To Do Justice to the Experience

- By Jim Hicks

Melanerpes carolinus. Photo: Toni Herkalokoch, for the Audobon Society

To capture a life in words is not possible, especially when words were—more than anything thing else—the very stuff of that life. It seems to me, then, that only one way could pass for close to adequate in remembering the journalist, translator, and activist Frederika Randall: to pass along as many of her own words as possible. For those of you who knew her, her voice will be unmistakeable; for those not so fortunate, you will gain a least a bit of what we’ve lost.

I should start, then, by noting that I myself only got to know Frederika five years ago, in January 2015. Encouraged by Margaret Carson and Alex Zucker from the PEN Translation Committe, I wrote to...

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