by Sarah Heim for The Stanford Daily
Keith Scribner’s new novel, The GoodLife, isn’t an autobiography. But with a title like that, it could be.
When Scribner arrived at Stanford University in 1994, he had written only a few chapters of his book. However, when he leaves Stanford this spring, he won’t be just packing up a copy of his first published novel. He’ll also be taking along a new and inspiring chapter in his own life.
Originally from the Northeast, Scribner graduated from Vassar College in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
After teaching English in Japan for a year, he returned to the United States and worked in Boston as a carpenter, a job that he would return to often in years to come.
“If you’re getting writing done in your life, there’s no need to get a Masters of Fine Arts, but I wasn’t,” Scribner said about his post-college experience.
“As an economics major, I hadn’t taken any fiction writing classes in college. I knew there had to be some secrets out there that someone else could teach me.”
With that in mind, he applied to and was accepted at the University of Montana. Graduating in 1991 with an MFA in creative writing, he again taught abroad, this time in Turkey.
He traveled extensively in the Middle East before returning to Boston, where he worked as a Checker Cab driver.
But Scribner’s heart wasn’t in carpentry or cab driving. He was a writer.
Following his passion, he applied for the Stanford Creative Writing Program’s Stegner Fellowship in 1994 and received one of five two-year fellowships in fiction that are awarded annually.
Scribner already knew he wanted to write when he arrived at Stanford.
What he didn’t know was that he would also become a husband, a father, and an acclaimed teacher and writer before his chapter at the University came to an end.
“I met Jen [Richter] playing poker with some Stegners one of my first nights in town,” Scribner said, holding up a snapshot of himself with his wife and their two-month old son, Luke.
“Scribner and Richter, a former Stegner Fellow in poetry, married in 1998. At the end of their fellowships, they were both appointed Jones Lecturers, an honor awarded to a select number of departing Fellows each year.
Although their three-year teaching appointments will end this spring, Scribner remains optimistic about their teaching possibilities for the next year.
“We’d like to get a joint teaching position somewhere. We hope that applying as a team works to our advantage,” he said.
Senior Vanessa Fleming, one of Scribner’s former students, said she thinks Scribner and Richter make a great team.
“When I met [Scribner] my freshman year, I still wasn’t comfortable at Stanford. He introduced me to [Richter]. They were great role models for me. They showed me what it was like to be young and creative and in love,” she said.
While Scribner said he will be sad to lose the view from his shared office in the English department, it is not only the campus he’ll miss. It’s the students too.
“I have no complaints about the students. They are sophisticated readers of published literature and critical thinkers,” Scribner said.
With a nostalgic smile, he added, “I’m inspired by them. They are a reminder to me that if you just start typing, it is that much better than not writing at all.”
And he is a reminder to them that not all writers follow the same path to success.
“A lot of us came into [Scribner's fiction] class feeling like we had to be great writers at age 20, but he made me realize you have to have a life to have something to write about,” Fleming said. “My roommates get mad at me because I always say [Scribner] had a real life before coming to Stanford.”
Students say his “real-life” experience makes it easy for them to feel comfortable in his class.
“He’s a down-to-earth and dedicated teacher,” said senior Jenny Leidner. “He inspires me.”
Scribner’s colleagues in the English department confirm the accolades of his students.
“They love him,” said Jones Lecturer Ryan Harty. “His students are energized. He’s gotten them excited about fiction and writing.”
English professor and author Tobias Wolff agrees. “[Scribner] has a wonderful reputation as a teacher,” he said.
“I really liked The GoodLife. It’s an extraordinary book,” Wolff said. “It’s a difficult and daring novel that keeps surprising you.”
Chances are good that there will be some surprises in the next chapter of Scribner’s life, too.
“I see big things for him in the future,” Harty said. “I believe he’ll be one of the important writers of our generation.”