I took my first class with Dr. Bill Brightman two years ago at Oglethorpe University. I was only auditing the course, but I was sufficiently nervous that when my cell phone went off in class (the ultimate Brightman atrocity), I thought he was going to chuck me out on my butt. Instead he gave me the infamous over-the-top-of-the-reading-glasses Brightman glare, held it for about 10 scalding seconds while the class caught its collective breath, then went back to the book we were discussing. I never made that mistake again.
Dr. Brightman is one of those uber-serious, bearded, intimidating English teachers whose ex-students, twenty years later, will cautiously approach him at reunions to tell him how he changed the way they think, taught them to write, made them care, and inspired them to read. I watched this same pattern of obeisance play out, reunion after reunion, until I finally decided I would be nuts not to take a course from him before he retired for good. (He’s retired but still teaches because … he just can’t seem to quit and we just can’t seem to let him.)
By now I’ve taken three Brightman courses and I see what all the fuss is about. The books we read are amazing, the class discussions are robust and challenging, and it’s pure joy to be in the classroom with such an engaged teacher. He is sarcastic, hilarious, unconventional, and blunt (“You have to plan not to be bored – that’s why I take books to the dentist, so I don’t have to read People magazine and watch my brain degrade,” he opined the other day.) He loves books passionately and is relentless in his drive to pull from students their own relationship to the texts, push them to go deeper, read more carefully, understand more. And he is a fiercely demanding arbiter of writing (“Never use the word never” is one of his standard warnings that I never heed.)
For being such a lovely curmudgeon, getting me to read books I never voluntarily would have (Middlemarch?? Who knew how much I would adore that venerable opus!), and being the kind of teacher who changes lives, year in and year out at our beloved Oglethorpe University, today’s $100 gift card goes to the aptly named Dr. Brightman.