Letter: Thank You, and Stories

By Jeff Bersett

Dear David,

Thank you for being a teacher who taught us to learn and to teach, and to love both. Your classes were always models of efficiency. Your lectures transmitted the maximum amount of information with the minimum amount of boredom. Your positive attitude and good humor taught us that learning, difficult learning, could also be fun and exciting (how Enlightenment of you!). You created a space for discussion that allowed students to find their strengths, to participate in constructive dialogue, and to be respectful of the ideas of others (to the point when such respect was deserved and/or necessary).

Thank you for being a scholar who has served as a role model for all of us. Your work has taught us what there is to know, and it has also taught us how to do the work ourselves. As I am sure others will have said more eloquently here, you made the XVIII into a thing again. We study the Enlightenment in new and interesting ways that were not possible before your work. You have encouraged all of us to reach for the same level of achievement, and you have helped us along the way as well with useful and insightful (and instant—how the hell?) feedback at every turn.

Thank you for being a colleague from whom we all learn daily what it means to be a colleague. You have modeled positive and productive interactions that have become the meta ideal for the rest of us in our respective departments. You have taught us how to navigate the labyrinth of personality in academia, and how to make the most of difficult situations.

I speak on behalf of all of us—former students, fellow scholars, current colleagues—and hope that my experiences with you have been shared to some degree by all.


I have given a lot of thought to what stories I would want to include here, and have found, as I have stated elsewhere, that there are just too many good ones that need to be shared. Adventures in dogsitting (avec parfum de skunk), NEH work both at UVa and in Spain, dinner (or lunch, maybe) at Zalacaín, our cameo appearance in what is possibly the worst movie ever made (I never received my Goya, did you?), countless movies and plays, countless books bought / sold / exchanged / recommended / argued over, conference panels and presentations, letters of recommendation (written, oddly, in both directions—how’d that happen?), museums and exhibitions, food food food frenzies everywhere at every opportunity (and the quest for the perfect soup dumpling!), hilarious Uber and cab rides (most recently with the wacky lady in New York during the bomb cyclone!—I haven’t laughed that hard in years!), and all the kindnesses and generosity extended over the years. And I’m sure that there will be more in the future to be added to this list.

But I will end on one of the stories of generosity. In 2015, the Kennedy Center hosted its Iberian Suite event, bringing together artists and authors from around the Spanish-speaking world. We both happened to be in DC for the event, and you made sure to invite me to all the dinners and all the drinks and all the people. You had no reason to include me in these things, but as you always have done with everyone, you made sure that you did. A lasting memory of that trip is of Spanish writer and TV personality Elvira Lindo making sure that she got a portrait of Janna at the Kennedy Center. Not to mention that we ate and drank and spent time with our favorite writers from everywhere. In addition to Elvira, we spent time in some capacity with Antonio Muñoz Molina, Javier Cercas, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Anne McLean, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, not to mention sightings of other folks like César Aira and Edith Grossman. Your celebrity photo obsession is catching… I particularly like this one of us with Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Antonio Muñoz Molina, and Elvira Lindo. We were having such a good time that the digital ghost of García Márquez left his chestnut tree in the courtyard to photobomb us.


Thank you for everything, always.
Your friend,

PS—Amy thanks you, too. Her story would involve Isabel Allende and drinks in Tiburón followed by a fantastic dinner in Sausalito. That actually might be a better story.