Utne Blogs > Literature

What Happens When Your Professor Becomes Your Drinking Buddy

by Karen Garcia

Tags: alcoholism, poetry, literary essay, education, Michael White, great writing, The Missouri Review, Karen Garcia,

Missouri Review CoverMost people walk away from college with a favorite professor, an educator they had a certain intellectual connection with that greatly influenced their work as a student. Michael White’s relationship with his favorite professor, who he met during September of 1979, was slightly more complicated than this. In “The Bard of the Bottle” from The Missouri Review, White recalls his friendship with professor Tom McAfee, a friendship characterized by nightly black-out drinking sessions, reading and workshopping poetry for hours on end, and eventually one caring for the other during his dying days drenched in delirium.

White, during his sophomore year at the University of Missouri-Columbia, was failing all of his classes but McAfee’s. He bartended at The Tiger bar, a favorite haunt of the professor, and every night like clockwork White would close up the joint, pour several glasses of bourbon, and grab his backpack full of poetry books:

It was an unhealthy relationship at best, drinking to the point of unconsciousness every evening, but it wasn’t as shallow as one alcoholic finding companionship in another. As time went on, McAfee grew more and more ill at the hands of his vices, and their bond continued to evolve:

James Thomas McAfee's health continued to decline, and he died in 1982 at the age of 54. Michael White, after being evicted from his apartment, fired from his job, and essentially losing everything, ended up receiving his Ph.D from the University of Utah in English and creative writing and has won numerous prestigious awards and gained significant respect in the literary community. White turned 54 the day before he wrote “The Bard of the Bottle.”   

Source: The Missouri Review (excerpt only available online)