Direct Influences

I read countless college application essays for my students, so I think about influence a lot. These are people whom I consciously try to emulate.

in writing…

Frederica Mathewes-Green writes with poised intelligence and insight. She is also a true friend and makes bourbon-laced sweet potatoes that will invade your dreams well after Thanksgiving!

John Wilson published my first piece when I was 18. He is a thoughtful writer, a skilled editor and living proof that you can’t read too many books.

in art…


Sue Ferguson Gussow trained my eyes to see form, my hands to carve it out of the paper, and my mind to use frustration to its advantage.

Many Cooper Union architecture professors who shall remain nameless are not worthy of imitation, but they did teach me two tough life lessons: 1) life doesn’t necessarily follow Suzuki principles, and 2) hard work doesn’t necessarily equal success.

in music…

Carole Bigler taught me, as a child and again as an adult, that life can follow Suzuki principles. She also showed me how to smile all the time, to respect and love my students, and to laugh at myself to help others feel better about themselves.

Michiko Yurko reminds me to demand excellence, to enjoy learning, and to be firm in principle but yielding when presented with a better idea.

in life…

Calvin Oren allows no limit to generosity but still looks ruthlessly for bargains, and he bends over backwards to help people feel comfortable but still enjoys arguing with them for fun.

Colleen Oren is a devoted mother and wise mentor and has the added distinction of being the family grammar stickler, her advice keeps me from being tempted toward comma splices and run-ons, at least, I hope it does.

Indirect Influences

These are literary works that have gotten deep inside my mind and heart. I’ve read them so many times that I’m sure they have somehow escaped through my work.

The Iliad, “Homer,” c. 650 BC — Thanks to Dr. Michael Mack, I will never look at this epic the same way. What makes Hektor sympathetic to us is exactly what made him pathetic to the ancient Greeks: he loved family more than kleos.

Hamlet, William Shakespeare, c. 1600 — This work defines tragedy. Hamlet is one of the most real characters Shakespeare ever created: though it is painful to watch a mixture of pride and indecision destroy him, the conclusion is also remarkably cathartic.

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1880 — This wrenching and poignant story is a celebration of life in all its pain and glory. The masterful language reflects great depth of Orthodox sensibility as well as sensitivity to the human spirit.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot, 1915 — Poor Prufrock reminds us of the fate that awaits when we fail to seize opportunities, to commit, to pursue.

The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, 1949–1954 — Their author didn’t intend to make them allegorical, though they are often cited by Christians. They are mostly just excellent children’s stories that increase in meaning with each year of the reader’s life.

Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino, 1957 — This love story, like the concept of love itself, is both simple and complex: He knew her and so knew himself, for in truth he had never really known himself. And she knew him and so knew herself, for though she had always known herself she had never really known it until now.

Pewter Wings Golden Horns Stone Veils: Wedding in a Dark Plum Room, John Hejduk, 1997 — Hejduk’s work is famously hard to interpret, but it remains intensely personal and intensely spiritual. He gave one lecture, “Sanctuaries,” when I was at Cooper Union; we all considered it his architectural last will and testament, and he died soon after that.

Black Dog of Fate, Peter Balakian, 1997 — Like the films of Atom Egoyan, this work attempts to deal with the enormous consequences the Armenian Genocide have on both society and individual lives. It is also an incredibly compelling personal story.


Copyright © 2009 Emily Jorjorian Lowe. All rights reserved.


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