The December 3, 2021 issue of the Charleston Post and Courier posted a column from the Washington Post by Catherine Rampell, ”Priceless lessons from my sixth-grade English teacher.” This column caused me to reminisce about my own beginnings as a writer.

When I was young, two important events happened to me on the same day that played a significant role in my future. I was called to the principal’s, office, Mr. Livingston, at Woodruff high school. There to my total surprise I was presented with a check for $15.00. I was the winner of the contest to rename the Woodruff Soap Box Derby. My winning name, the Thrill Derby.

When I arrived home my dad handed me a letter which contained a check from the Progressive Farmer magazine for my article, “The Champ and I.” It was then that my dad decided that my interest in writing just might pay off. Although both checks were small, they were huge for a young teenager.

My interest in writing was kindled by Miss Coleman, my sixth grade teacher at Northside Grammar school. She introduced us to poetry and then required us to write a poem. At first I tried to ridicule the assignment with an absurd poem, but finally turned in my poem, “South Carolina.” She liked it so much that she submitted it to the Spartanburg Herald. The editor must have liked it because one Sunday morning there it was in the newspaper. Miss Coleman did not return after the Christmas break, but she had left her mark.

Eventually I became editor of our high school newspaper, Woodruff High Times, and was on the staff of both the Mars Hill College newspaper and the Furman University newspaper, The Hornet. It was through the Hornet that I interviewed Edward Weeks, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, when he came to Greenville for a lecture. I did my homework and when the time came I was prepared. He invited me to stay after the interview. “There must be others like you at Furman. Tell your instructor that I would be happy to meet with a small group of students if she will arrange it.” Sara Lowery, head of the speech department, arranged a small luncheon in a private room in the cafeteria. We ate steak while the other students ate hotdogs. That experience taught me to always do my homework.

While working toward a Master’s degree at the University of Alabama I developed an interest in how we develop and apply listening skills. I also wrote a paper comparing the traditional freshman course in speech to courses in mass communication courses. This paper was accepted to be presented at the national convention of the Speech Association of America in Chicago. Dr. T; Earle Johnson for whom the paper was written didn’t think too highly of it when I turned it in to him, but after its acceptance by the national association he said, “Mitch, let me read that paper again.” A revised version was my first professional publication. It was published in the Furman University Studies Bulletin. Dr. Reid at Furman was my first real editor.

I owe a great debt to Ms. Eugenia Coleman and Dr. Alfred S. Reid. Both started me on a journey that still continues.