Dear Dr. Smokewood

I knew this day would come, but I still can't believe it has happened.

When I found out, I went around our house to find every little thing I have as a direct result of you. You brought Unleashed to the English Christmas party at Nancy's house, and I was the lucky recipient (Blake and Natasha have been on my mind as well). You drove me to that party. We took the long way because you didn't like driving on Northwest Expressway. We took the same long route when we took an ill student home. I followed you and then drove you back to OCU to get your car. I did take NW Expressway back because your way took like 30 minutes, but it was okay, I would have never seen that path otherwise.

I found Wuthering Heights. I was more than bitter that you chose that book for our whole senior seminar to spend an entire semester with, even if I still think about it, mostly Heathcliff and Cathy - how he wanted to be buried next to her with one side of both of their coffins open so they could face one another. I liked that idea more than I thought he was a creepy. I'm much more of a contemporary American literature type, but you were passionate, and I was amazed at the variety of critical responses to WH from the members of our class.

Flying with Lightning Wings was on another shelf. It was my chapbook from our poetry workshop. That was the first class I had with you. Honestly, I had a love-hate relationship with you then. I'm certain it was because I was self-conscious about my writing. And maybe a little because I thought there could be a much more efficient way of sharing our poems than everyone printing out copies for everyone to workshop each week. It was before OCU recycled: I was venting my resentment over that in the wrong direction. I'm generally pretty good at controlling my emotions in front of people, but on one of the evenings my poem was up to be workshopped by the class, I fell a part. I couldn't help it. I cried and cried, and you said it was okay. The poem was Tabby, my friend who was killed in a car accident when I was in high school. It was like a mourning period four years after the fact. I wrote two poems about her that semester. Being able to do so was good for me.

The memoir I wrote for my senior project was in the drawer where I keep my handkerchiefs and other special things (like my first checkbook with a piece of masking tape on it that I told my high school track coach I would never throw away - it has her initials on it: BS, no joke). I never came up with a "real" title for it. The working title is still on the first page: yo dawg, dis is how i roll. I wrote one of the first vignettes for another assignment earlier that semester. I had been feeling sentimental over my childhood, and just started writing about it. I didn't think much of it, the words came so easily. Your reaction to it made me smile. You, of all of my professors, left the lengthiest hand-written responses. Responses on assignments can make or break a student (especially where personal writing is concerned), and you made me. I loved talking to you about the vignettes that followed in the project. You were one of the first people I thought of when my biological grandmother (who got her very own vignette) called and left a message on my phone one summer morning after I graduated. It was the first and only time I'd heard her voice. I love you for being such a big part of me learning more about who I was/wanted to be as a writer. You were safe and interested: perfect conditions.

I read through the handful of emails we'd exchanged in the last year or so. The ball was in my court to send one your way. I'd been writing one to you in my head all day on the evening President Henry sent the message that you had passed away (does that make sense - all day on the evening? I can't figure out another way to say it). Like I said, I knew it was coming, but in reading through the emails, I feel like I can send what I was thinking to your address and get a response in a few days (or a little more than a few because of your "deteriorating condition"). I always think I have more time. I suppose this is the perfect example of why I've resolved to actually let people know when I'm thinking about them.

I never told you that when I got my kitchenaid mixer, I thought about naming her Elaine so I could have "conversations with Elaine" while I cook. I didn't. Name her Elaine that is, but it was almost like I needed a material thing to represent you so we could carry on this sort of on-going conversation. Weird, I know.

I've already said expressed my thanks, and I'm no good at good-byes, so I'll just pass on the advice you shared in every class, in a nutshell of course. I love it, I think about it often. I find it ever more relevant and important.

"Don't live your life based on other people's expectations for you."

With love and gratitude for the role you've played (and will continue to play) in my life,


PS: Your response to me being a mother meant a lot to me. I don't know how to express it. To all stay-at-home mothers who sometimes feel "less than," keep this in mind: "Being a mother is THE most important job in the world, bar none. We pay a lot of lip service to motherhood in this country, but don't respect it or appreciate it nearly enough." It meant a lot coming from one whose career seemed "more than" the every day happenings of my life. Not so. Not so.
(Picture of Elaine Smokewood from

PSS: To those reading this who did not know Dr. Smokewood - You can read more about her here, here, and here (I will be sad when the last one is no longer there).


  1. BrieAnn, what a wonderful letter. She was my professor too. I'm a teacher and I cried in class on Wednesday when I heard the news. She was my professor, mentor, and my faculty advisor at OCU. How fortunate we were to have had her in our lives.

    I love that I've searched online today and found several blogs of her past students who write how much she touched their lives in very special ways. She will be missed, but her voice will live one.

  2. That second link to Dr. Smokewood's thoughts on teaching without a voice: profound and thought provoking as I consider the teaching I do. Thank you for that.

  3. What a moving tribute to such a beautiful person. Dr. Smokewood changed my heart with her teaching and her passion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for remembering her in such a wonderful way. As long as we remember her, she will never truly be gone.



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