A legacy of letters, The Drew/Nuwer correspondence
By Travis Braun

Fraser Drew, 1967.
Drew and Hank Nuwer's
One Long, Wild Conversation.
A July 1985 BSC alumni gathering featuring many students from Drew's first year of teaching—Ellie Dombrowski Wylegala (deceased), Deborah O’Hagan Daly, Pat O’Shea Jacobi, Marilyn Miller Fuzak, Rita Lawler O’Brian, Shirley Morrison Grieser (deceased), Suzanne Marvin Flynn, Mary Jo Powers O’Hagan, Marilyn Grotzka Watt (deceased), and Drew.
Nuwer and son Christian.
Drew in 1946.
Retired Buffalo State College English professor Fraser Drew turns ninety-six in June. He also has a new book out that he cowrote with a former student.

“I don’t do a great deal of walking,” Drew says. “Reading is difficult now. Writing is easier than reading.” Drew’s book might be new, but he’s worked on it with coauthor Hank Nuwer—a student whom he first taught in 1965—for nearly forty years. The two wrote it at a pace of roughly one letter per month.

That’s an astonishing number of handwritten letters—even more remarkable in an age of e-mail and text messages. One Long, Wild Conversation: Selected Letters Between a Buffalo State Professor and His Student, a Writer, 1970–2008 began its informal conception on February 1, 1970, when Nuwer first wrote to his old professor two years after graduating from BSC, where Drew specialized in Irish and Contemporary Literature.

“I could never be the teacher he was,” says Nuwer, now a professor of journalism at Franklin College in Indiana. “He was just an amazing teacher. When he walked into a class, he was on stage.” Drew’s letters now fill two drawers of a filing cabinet in Nuwer’s office. This nearly one million words of correspondence was more than just a way of continuing the dialogue outside of the classroom. The letters forged a friendship between professor and pupil that led to Nuwer naming his younger son after his mentor.

“They have been very powerful agents in developing our friendship,” Drew says of the letters. “And we thought perhaps that other people who had an interesting experience in college—who had a teacher or a student that they liked particularly—would enjoy them.” Thus, the book was born. In June 2006, Nuwer started editing the letters, and turned in the manuscript (just as he used to turn in English papers) to his old instructor. The former chair of the English department and author of a scholarly book on John Masefield immediately whipped out the red pen.

“He caught typos that I missed,” Nuwer says. “Just as sharp an eye at his advanced age. That impressed me.” Drew, who lives in a retirement home in Amherst, didn’t stop teaching until age seventy. He says he gets his inspiration from the people who surround him.

“Some of them had pretty impressive lives, I must say,” Drew says, noting that one is a Nobel Prize winner. “And just by being around them I think I am spurred on to do more than I otherwise would.”

Maryruth Glogowski, associate vice president at Buffalo State College’s E. H. Butler Library, was instrumental in arranging the book’s publication, and saw this energy in Drew. “The remarkable thing about Dr. Drew is how quickly he turns around the manuscript,” Glogowski says. “You give him something on a Friday, and by Sunday it’s done. I have great respect for the aged and I don’t underestimate at all what they can do.” Glogowski teamed the library with Dr. Edward O. Smith, Jr., of the Monroe Fordham Regional History Center to publish the letters, a project personally approved by BSC President Muriel A. Howard. Glogowski had few hopes of the book becoming a best seller, but it meant something more than money to both her and the college.

“It wouldn’t be a commercially successful book,” Glogowski says. “But when I read the book, [Drew and Nuwer] were both really charming. The writing is excellent, so the book is actually fun to read.” Drew hopes the book will emphasize the importance of writing letters, the way that he used to keep in touch with his professors. He still cherishes a letter his University of Vermont professor and own mentor wrote him in Latin. “Some of my favorite writers are letter writers,” Drew says. “I still resent the inroads [the Internet] has made against the literary world—the newspaper, the magazine, the book, and even the letter. Who bothers now to take the time to write [a letter]?”

The professor chuckles, asking if he sounds like a bitter old man, and an eavesdropper at the assisted-living home yells, “Yes.” If he is bitter—and that’s unlikely—he deserves it after a career turning on 12,000 students to literature and interviewing writers Robert Frost in Vermont and Ernest Hemingway in Cuba. It is these aspects of his life that Drew hopes to preserve in his own epistolary project. He views the book as the “capstone” of his career, and the letters inside of it a living piece of him. “It would be a good legacy to leave,” Drew says. “I think a letter is one of the most personal aspects of a person. It’s hard to imagine what things might be like in 100 years, but I certainly hope someone will read this.”

Drew and Nuwer will appear at a book signing at 1 p.m. on May 2 in the BSC Library Conference Room of VP Maryruth Glogowski.

Travis Braun is a journalism student at Franklin College who has already started his professional career, having published articles in USA Today, The Indianapolis Star, and The American Magazine.


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