New professor profile: Sherwood Kiraly
The Knox Student (TKS): Where are you from?
Sherwood Kiraly (SK): I was born in Chicago and I went to school in Hinsdale, Ill. I went to college here [at Knox College] and then I went back to Chicago. I worked in Chicago in the 70s, and then when my newspaper moved to California, I went with it. So I’ve been in California for the last 30 years.
TKS: What brought you back to Knox?
SK: Robin Metz kind of did. Well, I was asked back to sit in on an honors defense panel, and then I sat in on a course with Robin. I had written a few books by then, and he said, “You seem to enjoy the class; would you like to teach?” And I said, “Yes, I would, but I can’t because I never graduated.” Originally I was three credits short, and then I went into a couple careers. It never mattered that much until I wanted to teach. I really wanted to teach, and I couldn’t because I hadn’t done all the work I had to do, so I was so mad at myself that I called Kevin Hastings and asked him, “I’m a little short; I need three credits. So how do I get those?” and he says, “Well, you have to take a science course, and you have to take a couple of other courses.” So I took those in California, and I finally graduated. Then I was able to come back and work with other writers and work with students as a practitioner kind of.
TKS: So eventually, what did you major in?
SK: Theater. Oh, I always majored in theater. I did all my theater; it was the other stuff that I didn’t do—three other courses that I didn’t do while I was here from ’67 to ’71. So then I was in touch with Robin and I had a couple of ideas for courses and course work and they were going to have these creative writing teachers that were going to be on leave—both in the English department and the Theater department, and since I have experience writing those things, they gave me a chance to come back and teach playwriting and fiction and screenwriting.
TKS: How did you find out about Knox originally as a student?
SK: Well, that was my own apathy. My parents were getting me involved in searching for colleges and I was so apathetic as a high school senior that I didn’t want to visit very many—and this was one of the first that I visited—and I knew that I didn’t want to go to the Naval Academy. Then we visited Knox, and I sat in here [the Gizmo]. I liked it okay, and it looked okay, and it started with a ‘K.’ I had ten favorite letters at that time that I’d had ever since the fifth grade, and it was one of those, and I said, “This is fine.”
TKS: Who is your inspiration?
SK: Oh, I have a lot of those. For one thing, here I had a great professor, Sam Moon, who died recently, actually. He was 89. When I first came here as a freshman, the playwriting workshop consisted of two people, Mary Maddox and me. So we would meet individually with Sam Moon and he had so much integrity and he wanted so much to help me write better. He was one of those professors that you really try to write something good for. I don’t always care about how much some people might respond to my work, but in anything you do there are certain people you really want them to like what you do—and Sam Moon is one of those kinds of people. He made me work harder. Not because he was self-righteous or because he demanded it, but because it was clearly important to him—writing well was important to him. He wanted to help me write well because he knew that it was important and so it became important to me as well. That never really went away. He was a really big influence on me. For writing influences, certain writers come along at certain points of your life and they have an enormous effect on you. Writers, actors, musicians, singers, songwriters, artists, I have dozens and dozens. My three favorites are Ring Lardner, PG Wodehouse and Dashiell Hammett.
TKS: What’s the craziest thing that you’ve ever done?
SK: I separate my life into my drinking life and my sober life. So in 1985, once I got sober, I did some crazy things, but they weren’t as crazy as the things that I did when I was drinking. The craziest thing I ever did was to go up to a guy twice my size—who had been threatening me—and tell him, “All right, if you’re gonna do it, do it now.” That’s the craziest thing I ever did because he could have absolutely destroyed me. But, keep in mind that that was from my drinking life, and that’s what that’s for, so you won’t be afraid. I am sober now; I sobered up in 1985.
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