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Ghostwriting class aims to do the unrealistic

Professor Mark Ari teaching class. Photo by Noor Ashouri.
Professor Mark Ari teaching class. Photo by Noor Ashouri.

Senior English major Hurley Winkler remembers Professor Mark Ari pulling her aside after her Advanced Fiction workshop to invite her to be part of a class he said no one had ever done before.

“‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’” Winkler recounts Ari saying on the first day of class.

This class is about ghostwriting and Ari has hand-selected everyone in it. They have one semester to collectively complete a manuscript about the life of Hy Kliman, but not in a research paper kind of way, Ari said. The entire manuscript is written from Kliman’s point-of-view.

In order to pull this off, students spend as much time as possible at Kliman’s house. There are 20 students creating the manuscript, but if it gets published, as Kliman wants, the book will appear “By Hy Kliman.” That’s the idea behind ghostwriting.

“[Ari] said we’re going to write this guy’s memoir,” Winkler said. “You don’t know him, but we’re going to write his life story.”

Ari knew how crazy this sounded. “It’s unrealistic,” Ari said. “I don’t care that it’s unrealistic.”

Sitting in his class, about halfway through the semester Ari seems to have caught on to what he’s doing. The students did too.

“Where do we stand?” are the first words Ari said in class that day.

Winkler raises both her arms, a bag of gummy worms in her left hand. “So edited,” she said, her voice playfully overriding everyone else’s.

The class is divided into three groups: one team edits, one checks facts, and another writes. Winkler is on the editing team. That morning, she edited 78 pages of the manuscript. She spends about 20 hours a week on this project.

Ari stood at the front of the classroom, wearing a jade button-down. The pockets are unbuttoned, making him look laid-back, despite the circumstances. It doesn’t take him long to move away from the front. He walks up and down the center of the room as he talks with students on either side. His hands move with the tone of his voice as he speaks, rising as his volume does.There is no powerpoint — the projector isn’t even on.

“In a matter of just a few weeks, you’ve gone through a guy’s life,” Ari said to the class. “You are getting to know him.”

Kliman is 87 years old. He wanted a memoir for his grandchildren to read.

“If you had the opportunity to read your great-great-grandfather’s story, what do you want to know?” Ari asked his class.

Ari said this isn’t just an incredible gift to generations of Klimans to come but also a historic document. Kliman was a businessman who contributed to the growth of Jacksonville. One of the places he established was Beach Bowl, an important place to Winkler.

“I grew up going there and it was my favorite place in the world when I was a kid,” Winkler said.

Ari gives students the opportunity to talk — he seems like he needs to. He often leans up against the desk on the side of the room when a student speaks with his eyes tilted down, as if absorbing the thoughts of the students. When he listens, his hands are in his pockets.

Although this class is new, Ari’s previous experiences still find a way to the class.

He tells students he no longer wants them to record interviews done with Hy Kliman. He wants them to rely on their notes. That way, they only put down the essentials.

Most students called him Ari, not Professor Ari. “Professor Ari seems a little alien to me,” Ari said. “I don’t have to win their respect with a nickname or a title.” His wife calls him Ari too.

Ari seems to have won their respect without “professor.” Shelby Ellis, an anthropology senior, says he is a father figure to her. The respect is mutual.

“If I had two groups of students like this, I could build a mountain. If I had three, I’d build Paris,” Ari said.

“Get out of my life,” Ari said. This phrase is how he has dismissed his classes for a few years.

“Not a problem,” a student replies.

Unlike most classes where students jump out of their chairs and sprint towards the door, many of the students stay.

Some students form groups and start talking about the manuscript. Ari joins a group of students chatting. He sits on the floor, hearing what they have to say. It’s evident he is learning too.

Email Noor Ashouri at [email protected]

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