Between the Lines: March/April 2011


He was a literary luminary whose debut work drew comparisons with William Faulkner. But Reynolds Price ’55, who died in January, was animated not just by his writing but also by his more than fifty years of teaching at Duke.

Price had no patience for intellectual laziness. He wanted his students to show their best—their best writing, their best thinking.

That was a lesson driven home for Russell Hainline ’07, as it was for others represented in this issue. On the blog he writes (“ruminations on film, life, and the unimportant things in between”), Hainline devoted a memorial tribute to Price, “one of the last great professors.” He reflected on having taken Price’s course “Two Gospels: Mark and John”—built around “the most successful narrative in the history of the world,” as Price called the Bible. According to Hainline, “I was the type of kid blessed with the ability to write an essay two hours before it’s due, turn it in, and get an A…. I took a class with Mr. Price, and the first paper I wrote, he handed back with the following comment: ‘Except for the astonishingly bad prose, some good ideas here.’ ”

Hainline’s instant reaction was self-righteous indignation. But he came to realize, as he put it on his blog, that Price “wanted me to work harder, to prove to him that I was a good writer. If I had my motor running and pushed it, I would succeed, and if I didn’t, he would keep writing mean things to me.”

The final assignment had students creating their own gospel. “I slaved over this assignment,” Hainline recalled. “I let my other classes go by the wayside—the man who told me my prose was astonishingly bad … was going to enjoy my gospel.” He ended up earning an A in the class.

Here’s how Hainline summed up the influence of the ever-demanding and ever-caring Price: “He’s one of the main reasons I want to be a writer to this day.”

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