Author Jon Hassler returned to the scene of his earliest literary successes Tuesday in a guest appearance before a Central Lakes College class that is studying his works.
The popular Minnesota author -- who has chronicled Midwestern life in a dozen novels -- penned his initial fictions as a Brainerd Community College (now CLC) instructor from 1968 to 1980.
He came back to CLC Tuesday night at the behest of Joe Plut, who developed the college course in keeping with his role as one of Hassler's most ardent and most vocal fans.
The course -- "Authors in Focus" -- attracted 36 enrollees, including a half dozen former students and colleagues of the now-famous writer.
Hassler, showing little effect from the illness that prompted his recent retirement from the St. John's University faculty, arrived with wife Gretchen on one arm and a cane on the other.
Daughter Liz, who resides on a Brainerd area horse farm, hovered near his side.
Ironically, Hassler opened the occasion -- designed to honor his works -- by paying homage to Plut, a longtime friend and former English department colleague.
Taking the microphone, Hassler read from his latest work -- "The Good People," a nonfiction collection of personality profiles due out in September -- which includes a chapter on Plut.
The piece recalls Plut's "unorthodox" teaching style and the "outrage" it invoked among his colleagues.
"If you saw a student groping along the hallways, you knew they were studying something, but certainly not English with Joe," Hassler read, prompting laughter and acknowledgement from his listeners.
"His colleagues were outraged that his students were having fun without making hard work out of learning grammar ... and accused Joe of sidestepping the chore of teaching writing while providing his students with nothing but entertainment."
Hassler's essay remembers Plut as "a famously good teacher ... an indiscriminate hugger ... and a teacher who marches to his own drummer," all rarified compliments from a master of the language.
Plut, obviously thrilled by his inclusion in the book, retorted by suggesting, "Now everyone knows what to get me for Christmas."
But much of the program was reserved for Hassler enjoyment, including a series of student-designed and delivered skits, all taken from the dialogue of Hassler's novels.
Scenes from "A Green Journey," "The Love Hunter," "Simon's Night" and, of course, "Staggerford," his best-known work, were re-created for the author.
The students prepared a table of cookies and coffee, in keeping with a recurring setting in Hassler's books.
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