September 23, 2020

Students remember literature professor David Clewell

David Clewell had taught at Webster for 35 years, and he left a lasting impact on students like Nick Miller.

Nick Miller, Webster sophomore, mentioned four words when describing David Clewell: poetry, jokes and Mountain Dew. Clewell, a professor of literature at Webster, died early Saturday, Feb. 15 at the age of 65.

“He was a very unique individual with his own style that stood out among the rest,” Miller said. “He was passionate about a lot of things, but what really stood out to me was his love for poetry and his love for the kids that he taught.”

Clewell had been at Webster for 35 years. In addition to his time spent at Webster, Clewell released 10 collections of poetry and more than 50 works of poetry. From the years 2010 to 2012, the professor was Missouri’s poet laureate. The job of a poet laureate is to encourage the reading and writing of poetry through public appearances.

“Even when my poetry wasn’t all that good, he still came from a point of kindness as he tried to critique my writing,” Miller said. “He has this ability to say whatever he wants without making sure we feel attacked.”

Miller described running into Clewell as he shopped at Schnucks. Clewell had Mountain Dew in his hand, one of his favorite drinks. Miller almost did not recognize Clewell in the store. The two had a conversation about the run-in after class one day. That conversation was the first the two had that went beyond poetry.

“He was very good at being a teacher when he needed to be but also a friend when you needed one,” Miller said.

Miller always looked forward to going to Clewell’s classes. Writing was one of Miller’s weaknesses before he had Clewell’s class the previous semester, but he never felt defeated in the classroom with the professor.

“He created an environment where I could learn and grow without feeling attacked,” Miller said.

Webster released a statement from Chancellor Elizabeth Stroble on Feb. 16.

“David’s voice—on the page and in his public readings—gripped audiences with the rightness of his words to convey insights uniquely his own yet immediately recognizable for their truth,”  Stroble said. “His signature style conveyed warmth and good humor. I loved hearing David read, and I will long remember the delight he created as he invited us to look anew at ourselves and the life and times in which we live. Many will remember David for his generosity in advising fellow writers, my family included. I am grateful to have been the beneficiary of not only his impactful writing but his collegial encouragement. The gift of his poetry will be with us as we mourn his loss.”

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