If you read seriously at all, you know that Annie Dillard is one of our greatest contemporary authors. One of her students, Alexander Chee, wrote a piece for The Morning News on studying with her at Wesleyan University twenty years ago.
It's full of beautifully juicy details (Dillard is nothing, apparently, like I imagined her), even for someone who's never heard of either writer. Certain passages I found completely delightful:
At the beginning of class she would unpack the long thin thermos of coffee and the bag of Brach's singly-wrapped caramels—the ones with the white centers. She would set her legal pad down, covered in notes, and pour the coffee, which she would drink as she unwrapped the caramels and ate them. A small pile of plastic wrappers grew by her left hand on the desk. The wrappers would flutter a little as she whipped the pages of her legal pad back and forth, and spoke in epigrams about writing that often led to short lectures but were sometimes lists: Don't ever use the word 'soul,' if possible. Never quote dialogue you can summarize. Avoid describing crowd scenes but especially party scenes.
Very quickly, she identified what she called 'bizarre grammatical structures' inside my writing. From the things Annie circled in my drafts, it was clear one answer to my problem really was, in a sense, Maine. From my mom's family, I'd gotten the gift for the telling detail—Your Uncle Charles is so cheap he wouldn't buy himself two hamburgers if he was hungry—but also a voice cluttered by the passive voice in common use in that of that part of the world—I was writing to ask if you were interested—a way of speaking that blunted all aggression, all direct inquiry, and certainly, all description. The degraded syntax of the Scottish settlers forced to Maine by their British lords, using indirect speech as they went and then after they stayed. And then there was the museum of clichés in my unconscious.
I felt like a child from a lost colony of Scotland who'd taught himself English by watching Gene Kelly films.
What influence a single teacher can have on a talented student. You can read the entire essay.