In the late '80s, when Charleston attorney Mario Inglese was a freshman at the College of Charleston, his English 101 teacher was a young writer named Bret Lott.
"Nobody knew who he was," Inglese says. "We were all just very lucky. I remember every single kid in the fall class signed up for his 101 class in the spring."
Now the best-selling novelist has returned the favor, signing up for a second tour at the college. Lott left Charleston in 2004 for Louisiana State University, trading teaching to become editor of the prestigious Southern Review. Three years later, he's back on Glebe Street as professor of English and writer-in-residence.
Some writers teach merely as a means to an end, but for Lott, whose seventh novel, Ancient Highway, will be published by Random House next summer, it's crucial to the writing life. Editing a review that rejected 11,000 stories a year was the "antithesis of teaching," he says.
"With teaching you take all comers and you work with them," Lott says. "Possibility exists and hope exists, encouragement exists."
It's not just the warm fuzzies of academia that benefit Lott's writing. Leading a workshop reminds him of the practical aspects of the craft.
"When I'm saying to my students we've got to make this dialogue real, it reminds me, every day of my life, that I've got to make the dialogue real ... They're practicing at the very same level as I am. We're using the same words, writing the same sentences. I've just done it a lot longer."
Lott, who's been a CP One to Watch in the past, has two grown sons, one of whom will be deployed to Iraq next month. He and his wife have rejoined East Cooper Baptist Church — the Missouri Review once ran a photo of him flipping pancakes with the men's club there — and bought a house in "Beautiful" Hanahan (capital 'B' insisted upon by Lott).
Like Inglese, some sophomores at the college will sign up for a beginning fiction writing course unaware that an Oprah's Book Club author is their teacher.
And as for the 100 percent recidivism way back then?
"It's a pretty good compliment," Lott says. "Either that or it means I'm an easy A."
Probably not. The hard-working writer always tells new classes their motto should be "creativity through discipline." — Jonathan Sanchez