A Conversation With Richard Grayson

Richard GraysonRichard Grayson is the author of the short story collections With Hitler in New York, Lincoln's Doctor's Dog, I Brake for Delmore Schwartz, I Survived Caracas Traffic, The Silicon Valley Diet, And to Think That He Kissed him on Lorimer Street and Highly Irregular Stories, as well as WRITE-IN: Diary of a Congressional Candidate in Florida's Fourth Congressional District. His nonfiction has appeared in The Miami Herald, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, The Tampa Tribune, The Orlando Sentinel, The Ocala Star-Banner, The Gainesville Sun, The Arizona Republic, The San Jose Mercury News, The New York Times and People. He has received three Individual Artist Fellowships in Literature from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and a Writer-in-Residence Award from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Where were you born?

I was born in 1951 at Brookdale (formerly Beth-El) Hospital on the border of the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn just down the street from where Church Avenue becomes Bob Marley Boulevard. In other words, I was born in the Caribbean.

What do you do for a living? Why did you choose this vocation?

I’ve worked in higher education since I was 23, at over twenty schools.

At the University of Florida I held a research faculty position (“visiting assistant in law research”) when I was a staff attorney in social policy at the Center for Governmental Responsibility. At Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center, I was associate director of student services and director of academic resources. At Florida International University, I was an adjunct lecturer in computer education at the Teacher Education Center; I used to do in-service computer education workshops for teachers at various Miami-Dade public schools.

I was a visiting professor of legal studies at NSU’s undergraduate school and also taught in the humanities department, and I also taught in the business school’s bachelor of professional management program all over the state: Gainesville, Ocala, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Coral Springs, Boca Raton, Miami, and Davie. I taught English part-time and full-time at both the Central and South campuses of Broward Community College. I also taught English at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville and Florida Atlantic University. That’s just the jobs I had in Florida!

I’ve also taught various subjects at Arizona State University, Long Island University, Fashion Institute of Technology, Touro College, Mesa Community College, California State University at Long Beach, three community colleges and three senior colleges of the City University of New York, and some other schools.

I am now semi-retired. This term I am teaching basic writing skills at Fordham University, composition at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and literature at The School of Visual Arts, but I will not be working for the first part of 2008.

I chose to work in higher education because I like teaching and learning and getting the whole week off at Christmas. I’ve worked at so many places because I love novelty. When I was younger, I vowed to never work at any one job for more than a few years.

Who are your three favorite writers? Why?

I’m sure that my list changes daily. Since I’m mostly a short story writer, I’ll give my current three favorite writers of short stories: Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley, and Donald Barthelme. Even when I'm reading their stories for the fortieth time, they still can surprise me.

What was the first book you fell in love with and how have your reading habits changed over the years?

The Poky Little Puppy, a Golden book, a little picture book my mother read to me when I was very young. I made her read it over and over again until I was about three and could recite the whole story by heart. I reread it at a supermarket in Arizona a couple of years ago and I still could recall all the words.

I now prefer books without pictures.

What are you reading now?

Aside from a lot of student essays, I’m reading Jerome Groopman’s How Doctors Think. He begins with a case study of how many physicians misdiagnosed a particular patient for many years. I think it’s funny that ten pages before her actual disease was revealed, I had diagnosed her correctly with celiac disease. That’s probably because I have no medical training and was going on something more like common sense with familiarity with the symptoms from friends with the disease who were similarly misdiagnosed. I’m really interested in how people – writers, lawyers, computer programmers, doctors – think and make decisions.

What makes you laugh?

I think many things are funny, but I generally only laugh at something when people around me are laughing. I’ve had inappropriate uncontrollable laughter at very pretentious performances or very solemn events. When people tell me to shush, that just makes me laugh more. That’s happened at lectures, ballet performances, poetry readings, and even funerals.

What are your other passions?

I like walking around different neighborhoods, wherever I am, and staying for weeks in different parts of the U.S., such as northwestern Arkansas or northeastern Wyoming. I like drinking iced tea. I like to watch daytime soap operas on television. I love politics and reading the New York Times and blogs. And I like hot weather, which is one reason I love Florida.

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Next week Monday (10/8/07) Imani, The Books of my Numberless Dreams and on Wednesday (10/8/07) Karla Gottlieb, author of The Mother of Us All: A History of Queen Nanny, Leader of the Windward Jamaican Maroons.

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