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Delivering The Chair

April 2, 2024

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It was Robert A. Heinlein who said we can never pay back the people who helped us when we started, so we need to pay forward instead.

The last week of February saw me return to the Chicago area, for a visit to my alma mater, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.   Not for a homecoming or a class reunion, no… but to give away a chair.   February 28 was the official investiture for Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a fellow Medill alum (Class of ’97) as the inaugural holder of the George R.R. Martin Chair in Storytelling.

I attended Medill back in what they now like to call “the turbulent 60s”  (and no kidding, they were pretty turbulent), and departed with a couple of degrees, BSJ ’70, MSJ ’71.  I did not get back often  in the half-century that followed, alas.   Life got in the way, as it has a habit of doing.   But I always looked back fondly on my years in Evanston, and the courses and teachers that helped shape me as a writer.

I had been writing long before I arrived in Illinois, of course.   Monster stories for other kids in the projects in grade school (got a nickle each for them, enough for a Milky Way, and if I sold two I could buy a comic book) and amateur superhero stories for comic fanzines when I got to high school (Powerman, Dr. Weird, the White Raider, and Garizan the Mechanical Warrior), but it was during my years at Northwestern that I began to submit to professional magazines.   It was while I was in Evanston that I got my first professional rejection slip (from AMERICAN SCANDINAVIAN REVIEW, for “The Fortress,” a story I wrote for a history class at Northwestern) and made my first professional sale (from GALAXY, for “The Hero,” a story I wrote for a creative writing class at Northwestern).   So it seemed only fitting for me to “pay forward” to Medill for all I learned there, by endowing a chair in storytelling.

The investiture was my first opportunity to meet Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, who was chosen over thirty other highly qualified applicants to be the first “GRRM Professor.”   It seemed only fitting that I give her an actual chair, as well, as the title… so I did.

(I considered presenting her with a full-size Iron Throne, but it would not have fit in her new office).

Cheryl has written both fiction and non-fiction.   She has been a news and fashion reporter for the Wall Street Journal, InStyle, the Baltimore Sun, and other major news outlets.  Her books include the bestselling novel SARONG PARTY GIRLS, set in her native Singapore.  She will teach both undergraduate and graduate students, organize panels and conferences, and conduct an intensive writing workshop every summer,  to help professional journalists cross over into creative writing.

“​​Storytelling is at the foundation of our school, and Cheryl’s expertise in telling her own stories and helping others tell their stories will allow Medill to build on its tradition of excellence in this area,” Medill Dean Charles Whitaker said when announcing her appointment.

Medill presented Cheryl Tan with a splendid medallion at her investiture.   (She is wearing it in the picture above).   And hey, I got one too.


It was such a delight to be back in Evanston, if only for a few hours… and to meet Cheryl Tan.  I expect that she’ll be terrific.

Current Mood: pleased pleased

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