Ladue Alumna Publishes Memoir, Credits Ladue Schools for Dream Education

Alumna Joy Passanante poses for a photo.

Ladue Class of 1965 alumna Joy Passanante has recently published a memoir she had been working on for 12 years entitled Through a Long Absence: Words from My Father’s Wars.

The tale is told through her father’s eyes and is set against the backdrop of World War II. It takes place for the most part in North Africa and Europe during World War II, where Bart (Joy’s father) was a young physician and while Bart and Bertie were separated from each other for two years and eight months. There are also several sections that take place in St. Louis.

Joy shared the impact that attending the Ladue School District had on her success:

“I’ve thought over and over about what those Ladue schools gave me all my adult life. Like many parents whose parents were immigrants to this country,  mine moved into the Ladue School District (Chevy Chase for us) when I was five so that my sisters and I would be assured an excellent public education. They got what they had dreamed for. And I received something that, in retrospect, seems like a dream-education.

The Ladue school system’s crucial role in fostering my writing began several years before high school. My potential was first noticed by my third grade teacher, Meredith Curtis. She read several of my juvenile pieces out loud to the class, and that, of course, encouraged me to write more, which I did. In 6th grade, Kenneth Weber inspired me to write original stories and even personal nonfiction (which he initially checked for plagiarism…) with his innovative assignments; his philosophy that young people should be challenged to do their best work through “contract learning” and through achieving individually at a pace that might be more ambitious than simply the “required”; and, mostly, through his faith in me as a student, and even as a writer. His recommending me for honors classes beginning in junior high truly changed the course of my life.

In addition to my parents—who read voraciously, modeled by example, and gave me a seemingly endless supply of fascinating adult books (Dickens, Brontë, etc.) to read starting in elementary school—Ladue had everything to do with my development into a writer, teacher, and editor. My Ladue education gave me countless pleasures and advantages, including a hunger for learning and the skills to learn, the knowledge that the best learning is possible through meeting high standards, that through hard work and much practice I could stretch the limits of my brain and succeed.

Teachers provided excellent role models for my career in writing, editing, and teaching—and not all of them were English teachers. Math teacher Henry Kauffman, French teachers Evelyn Floret and Mary Lacey, and English teachers Esther Doyle (English), Bill Heyde, and Helen Hollander were particularly inspiring role models. From them I carried away a respect for the profession and the first-hand knowledge of the importance of teaching students how to meet high standards. I even used some of their assignments in my teaching, which I continually revised over my own 40-plus-year teaching career to meet the changing needs of subsequent generations.

I also learned how to edit the writing of others. The day my junior English teacher, Helen Hollander, surprised me by inviting me to be an editor of the school’s literary magazine Crescendo was another turning point in my life. With my brilliant peer editors, I learned almost everything I know about editing under her tutelage in our weekly meetings at her house. In addition, she established the first creative writing class at Ladue. The only time she could arrange a classroom was 6:30 a.m., so she brought us homemade breakfast treats, and we ate them on our desks (though, looking back now, I’m sure that wasn’t allowed) as we learned the key skill of critiquing, the essential skill all graduate students in creative writing are expected to learn: to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the writing of others and to offer suggestions for helping them revise their pieces so that they are publishable.

My work on Crescendo was the major influence in my learning to be an effective teacher. These (1963 -1965) were glory days really. At that time there were so many eager students interested in writing and publication (nearly 70, if I recall) that Mrs. H. divided them into three groups and asked each of us Crescendo editors to lead one of the groups. The groups met after school every Wednesday to critique the work of others anonymously and select which stories, poems, essays, and artwork would be given to the editors and Mrs. H. for further consideration for publication. And once a week the editors met at Mrs. Hollander’s trailer, where we all learned to edit. In fact, it was in that trailer that I learned almost all I know about editing, which virtually made my career as an editor possible.

Thank you, Ladue. Thank you.”

Bio: Joy has published work in various literary journals including The Gettysburg Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review, and Shenandoah.  Both her collection of stories, The Art of Absence, and her novel, My Mother’s Lovers, were finalists for several national awards. Her essays have received awards from Shenandoah and the Magazine Association of the Southeast.  She has also published a fine-press book of poems, Sinning in Italy. She has received Idaho Commission on the Arts Fellowships for poetry and fiction and an Idaho Humanities Fellowship for nonfiction. For twelve years she served as University of Idaho’s Associate Director of Creative Writing. Through a Long Absence—Words from My Father’s Wars is her first book of narrative nonfiction. It is a nominee for the Foreword Best of the Indies Award in biography.