National Writing Project

Remembering Charles Mazer

By: Mary Ann Smith
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 7, No. 3
Date: May-June 2002

Summary: Friend and colleague Mary Ann Smith remembers Charles Mazer, director of the East Texas Writing Project who died in April.


Charles Mazer, longtime writing project member, director, advocate, and friend, died on April 1, 2002.

Charles Mazer was an original. He rode in on the first wave of writing project directors 25 years ago. His site, the East Texas Writing Project, nests on the border of Texas and Arkansas in Texarkana—a town with two Wal-Marts, one movie theater, and a mall. Every year for a quarter of a century, Charles gathered together the best teachers in the Texarkana area—a pool he viewed, in the Jim Gray tradition, as endless—and joined them for the invitational summer institute. Every school year, Charles brought project inservice to the neediest of districts and schools, regardless of their residence in either Arkansas or Texas.

Born to an Irish-Mexican mother and a Polish-Jewish father, Charles was a here's-the-shirt-off-my-back guy. Whether he was sitting at the bedside of a dying friend, teaching in his wife Pat's second grade class, or handing a colleague a "must read" article, he was always easing the passage for someone else. National Writing Project founder Jim Gray remembers him as "the sweetest guy I ever met." Recently, Charles's family wrote about his enormous circle of friends. "It was rare that Charles met someone new who did not become a friend for life. . . . He often invited strangers to our home—or accepted invitations to their homes—much to our chagrin, but also much to our benefit."

Second only to his love of family and friends, Charles was obsessed with film. He taught a cinema class at his campus of Texas A&M University. The dearth of new releases in Texarkana drove him to Dallas and Denver where he and Pat would binge on movies, three a day for days on end. His summer routine was to direct the invitational institute and then drive to Colorado where he'd spend six weeks or so hiking, reading, and taking in as many films as he could manage.

Charles Mazer died on April 1 at age 56. Those of us who knew him remember how he snared us into his passions by arranging for evenings in jazz clubs, driving miles to a favorite Mexican restaurant, or talking endlessly about politics. He had opinions. He also knew what mattered. His daughters, Beth and Sarah, mattered, Pat mattered, and so did his students.

The grandchildren he never met were also in his heart. He wished to live long enough to know them and be known by them. I wish for the next generation of teachers to know about Charles and to know that he represents so many writing project directors across the country: those who have shaped or reshaped their careers in support of and belief in teachers.

About the Author Mary Ann Smith is a co-director of the National Writing Project.

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