There we sat, Mom and I, side by side on the piano bench. A mirror on the panel above the keyboard reflected our fingers, perched to perform. Deadly piano-playing duo? Not quite. You see, I had decided to teach Mom to play the piano. She was in her mid-50s; I was 13.

Perhaps a grade eight history-teaching project had infected me with the teaching bug. More likely it was connected to Dad’s second bout with cancer. At the hospital, the radiation had zapped his tumor. Now he was back home and had returned to work, but Mom and I were left with the aftermath of his life/death ordeal. We needed a diversion to keep us sane in this sudden change to supposedly safe routine. Besides, my music credentials were impeccable — five years of learning Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin on our pink Roxatone-coated piano.

“FACE,” I pointed to the white keys straddling the middle of the keyboard, “That’s middle C.” I followed the methods of my own piano teacher, Miss Garlick.

Every Saturday morning at ten a.m., I walked four and a half blocks to private lessons in Miss Garlick’s basement studio. Despite her name, she exuded sweetness and competence when her fingers flew along the piano keys of her black upright or black baby grand. Her pink puffy cheeks and short grey hair gave her the appearance of everybody’s grandmother. More… “Don’t Look Down”

Sharon A. Crawford, a former journalist, is a freelance memoir and fiction writer, writing instructor, blogger, book reviewer, editor, and actor. Sharon was Writer-in-Residence (2009 to 2014) with the Canadian Authors Association Toronto Branch, currently is a member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, Toronto Heliconian Club, and runs the East End Writers’ Group. Sharon writes the Beyond mystery series. Her latest mystery novel is Beyond Faith. Visit Sharon’s website and her author blog


“Tonight is Prufrock,” I say. My friend and colleague, Em*, and I are sitting over cooling coffees in the Student Center.

Her nose scrunches in a way that says that maybe this isn’t such a good idea, “Are you sure you want to start with that one?” she says, “Prufrock is a tough poem. I’ve had some real disasters with Prufrock.”

My coffee is sludge, but I gulp it down anyway, “I’m going in,” I say, “Any last words of advice?” Em is a poet and a scholar of Modernist poetry and thus my go-to person for poetry pedagogy.

She leans forward over the table, all seriousness now, “Guide them through a close reading of the first couple of stanzas yourself before having them take a crack at interpretation. The first stanza seems to be where they get into the most trouble.” More… “The Love Song of Hey Prof”

Susan Lago teaches composition and literature at CUNY / Queensborough Community College. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in publications such as Noctua Review, Adelaide Magazine, Pank Magazine, Per Contra, Monkeybicycle and Prime Number. She is currently at work on a collection of connected short stories. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter: Susan Ell (@SusanLago).


I still remember the day I came to Turkey. While making a connection at London’s Heathrow Airport, I happened to glance at a newspaper headline announcing that a bomb in Izmir had killed several people. At the time I had no idea where Izmir was, nor why someone would choose to bomb it, but rather than taking it as an ominous message, I chose to downplay the significance of the event. I felt bad for the victims, but only in the abstract way that we all commiserate with things that do not directly affect us. Besides, I did not want to infect the optimism I felt at taking an academic job in Istanbul, where I had been asked to help found a literature department. I would engage in exactly this sort of hedging and deferral over the next ten years: overlooking bombs, tear gas, the senseless killing of youths during the Gezi Park uprising, the ousting of judges, and the government takeover of virtually every media outlet. But things finally reached a limit with the July 2016 coup d’état attempt by a faction within the Turkish military and the growing restrictions on academics and disturbing social demonstrations that followed in its wake.

I arrived during a relatively stable period in Turkey’s history, but the country has had more than its share of political, social, and economic upheavals throughout the 20th century, including three previous major coups. Being an expatriate in Turkey means sublimating doubts and anxieties over the rise of religious fundamentalism or the shrinking value of the Turkish Lira. I discovered that it is disturbingly easy to accept small changes like restrictions on alcohol sales or increasing government intervention and to think of larger looming problems, like the devastating earthquake that is slated to strike Istanbul or ISIS restoring the Caliphate, as vague possibilities that will never arrive. There is also a culture of postponement and acceptance in Turkey, buttressed by a native Turkish belief that “things will happen if God wills it” that makes it easier to dismiss the future in favor of the present. So I acknowledged disturbing possibilities, stored them somewhere in the back of my mind, and moved on. More… “After the Coup”

Erik Mortenson is a Senior Lecturer at Wayne State University’s Honors College in Detroit. He is the author of Ambiguous Borderlands: Shadow Imagery in Cold War American Culture (2016) and Capturing the Beat Moment: Cultural Politics and the Poetics of Presence, which was selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title in 2011. His new book, Translating the Counterculture: The Reception of the Beats in Turkey, will be available from Southern Illinois University Press in the spring of 2018.


As a teacher of first-year writing since 1987, I have learned to share my passions with students. Sharing what really matters to you can lead to deep learning, but it can also involve emotional risk.

In a class that focuses on using research, writing, and re-writing to think about the connections between literary texts and our lives, I have chosen a theme I think about a lot: Deception. We read short stories in which characters deceive or are deceived. How many of these stories do you recognize? More… “Magic Class”

Fred Siegel teaches in the English and Philosophy Department at Drexel University. His writings have appeared in The Drama Review, Journal of Modern Literature, Kugelmass, When Falls the Coliseum, and Painted Bride Quarterly. He also performs magic shows in a variety of venues, and plays the role of “Fred” in the autobiographical performance, Man of Mystery. A copy of his doctoral dissertation, The Vaudeville Magic Act, 1880-1932, mysteriously appeared on eBay recently. He has lied for money in the Coney Island Sideshow (1989-90), and has been logging his dreams since 1993. He also does improvised performances with Comedysportz Philadelphia and Tongue & Groove. To read more, go to his Geekadelphia Profile.


In my most recent essay for The Smart Set, “What is Education for?” I argued that the tendency to equate education with mere instruction neglects the more fundamental purposes of education: initiation into a cultural or civilizational tradition, indoctrination into a public philosophy — in the United States, democratic republican liberalism — and inculcation of the manners which enable young people to grow into good citizens, good neighbors, and good colleagues.

In the liberal magazine Democracy Journal, Kevin Mattson was quick to respond. Mattson is a professor of history at Ohio University, a fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, and a member of the editorial Board of Dissent. As my politics are those of a Rooseveltian social democratic liberal, and presumably similar to those of Mattson, to judge from his affiliations and his publications, I was curious to learn what his objections were. It turns out the divide between us has nothing to do with politics, in the conventional sense, but rather with our differing views of the purpose of education.

More… “What is Education for? Part II”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

Student sleeping

This past spring, I attended a championship story slam with a student I have advised and whom I know well. This student is a gifted writer and a funny, self-deprecating storyteller. I could easily claim that I thought attending the slam might give her insight about a research project I was advising her on. But the truth is that I simply thought she would enjoy the slam and might find an outlet for her own storytelling. The issue of engaging with a student outside of formal class time is, of course, a tricky one these days, especially if the professor is a male and the student a female. I will address the potential pitfalls as well huge opportunities of engaging with students outside of class in another essay.
More… “Breaking Baccalaureate”

Robert Anthony Watts is an associate teaching professor in Drexel University’s Department of English and Philosophy.


The day my 11th graders began The Catcher in the Rye, Duane* said, “Man, this book is so boring. And what’s he got to complain about? Why we gotta read about this whiny rich white dude?”

“What’s he getting kicked out of school for, anyway?” Gary asked.

“He’s failing most of his classes,” I said.

“You can’t get kicked out for failing!” More… “Failing to Learn”

Anne P. Beatty is a high school teacher in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her nonfiction has appeared in The American Scholar, North American Review, Vela, and elsewhere.



What do you tell parents of would-be poets who worry about their children’s ability to make a living writing sonnets? — Your father, Sierra Vista, Arizona P.S. Do you want me to send you that law school application?

It is perfectly natural to feel the worry you express, and especially if your child is nearing the end of her MFA program that offers no job placement upon completion, but I don’t think she is relying solely on her ability to write sonnets to make her living. The great Nobel laureate, poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky makes a bold and validating claim that, in my personal experience, I have found to be true:  “The more one reads (and by extension, writes) poetry, the less tolerant one becomes of any sort of verbosity, be it in political or philosophical discourse,… More…

When Nana Takahashi arrived as our school’s new manager she had one good thing going for her: Things could not get any worse. An ongoing lack of English students meant we hadn’t come close to meeting our monthly business goals in nearly a year. Wooing new students was difficult with scuffed floors, flimsy desks and bare patches of wall where cheap wallpaper paste had lost the battle against Japanese humidity. Many of the students we did have had been scared away by my perpetually unshaven and hung-over British predecessor, who was finally fired for playing Fatboy Slim to a class of 6-year-olds.

I wasn’t doing much to help the situation. I’d fallen in love with Japan during a summer internship in Tokyo and a semester in Kyoto, and had decided to go back to teach English after graduation. The large chain of schools that hired me said I’d be going… More…