While in the Milne Special Collections and Archives on the first floor of the Dimond Library, I was sent back and forth between past and present as author and UNH alumna Rebecca “Becky” Rule talked about her experiences of being taught by and working under Don Murray and Don Graves (The Dons), both of whom were authors and teachers at UNH, and pioneered the way to teach writing.
“Someone challenges you to do something, you do it. I learned this from the Dons,” Rule said. Don Murray challenged her to be a writer after Rule, an education major at the time, decided that she didn’t really like kids.
“Don Murray, when he taught a class, a course, the next time he taught the course, he would take the thing that worked the best, the very best exercise, the very best assignment, the very best activity and drop it,” Rule said. Don Murray believed you always needed to try something new.
“He didn’t want to do the good thing again. He wanted to try something new,” Rule said.
Don Murray made every single kid in his audience think they were his special project, according to Rule.
“Same with Don Graves. You sat across a desk from him and all of a sudden you were the smartest, most interesting, most talented person in the world,” Rule added.
The Dons were always talking about finding your voice. Anyone that has ever taken an arts class, whether it’s writing, visual arts, dance or music, has had it preached to them plenty of times to find their voice. They also didn’t believe in writer’s block.
“Do Plumber’s get plumbers block? No they don’t. Does Becky Rule get writer’s block? No, she [doesn’t],” Rule said of a conversation between her and Don Murray.
Rebecca spent a year as a research associate for Don Graves as he worked on a report of “The relationship between reading and writing,” in which Graves had Rule go out and interview writers about their writing processes.
“We aimed for 100, but I think we ended up with 40 or 50,” said Rule. During Rule’s time under Graves, he flew in multiple of acclaimed persons in the reading and writing fields from across the United States, and one from England to New Hampshire, to critique a draft of his report.
“They told him it was too academic. He needed to tone it down,” Rule said. In response, Rule threw away the draft and started over.
Rebecca accredits her success as a writer to “The Dons,” and I think many other writers would say the same thing about these two beloved English professors. I certainly remember my own Creative Writing teacher teaching me to use these exact principles. Not only was I in a room filled with old manuscripts and poetry from a time I couldn’t remember, but it also felt I was in a time machine. As I listened to Rule speak about the Dons, I felt like I was back in high school listening to my own teacher, teaching me these very principles.