This piece was written by Arnulf Zweig, a member of the U of R class of 1952, and appears as part of the Meliora Moments project from the University of Rochester. Zweig is a philosopher and has held teaching positions at Baruch College of CUNY, the University of Oregon, and M.I.T., among others.
It’s amazing to me how vivid my memories are of Professor Hyam Plutzik (of the English Department), even at 81. When I think about a particularly significant moment of personal growth during my years at Rochester, what comes immediately to mind is not a lecture or class but Plutzik’s review of the student literary magazine in which I had published a story and some poems. I was a philosophy major but, like most of my friends, I had literary aspirations—“pretensions” would be a better word. And that is what Plutzik recognized. I can still recall his exact words in that review: “Mr. Zweig must take care to avoid the least suggestion of pretentiousness in his work.” Deflationary, when I was dying for praise. Oh, there were some favorable comments as well, a concession that my story (it was called “You Can Stop Crying Now,” a title taken from a poem by Kenneth Patchen) “managed to win a certain victory in the end.” But what counted for me was Plutzik’s seeing my flaws as a writer, my temptation to mimic the language and diction of others. Plutzik set me straight. His honest, accurate criticism taught me more, as a future teacher and scholar, than any applause would have done.
The page on which his review was printed has long disintegrated (along with my undergraduate scribbling) but I thank him still for helping me to see where my talents did not lie, and for showing me how to tell students I have myself had to review that they must find their own voice.