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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

Sir William, I presume!

A bit daft my utterance to the knighted Nobel laureate that 1988 evening in Malaysia during a reception in his honor. Few women were there, those present garbed to the feet, and me in three-inch heels and a dress that exposed my legs, daring to join a few men near William Golding. I was forty-five, face not too time ravaged, body fit from daily competitive tennis in Kuala Lumpur (KL). I remember Sir William's bemused look at my greeting. Pleasantly flirtatious, he matched his Nobel photographs: gray bearded and balding, a bit red-faced, though not from drink that evening since the reception was one without liquor, given its location at an Islamic university.


A woman I knew from a book club, whose husband was on the faculty, had asked if I would like to attend the event. Ah, one of life's conjunctions! At the time my composition classes had just read Golding's essay, "Thinking as a Hobby." For years in secondary schools I taught Lord of the Flies, then later used some Golding essays with college students. I knew of the writer's background as a teacher before his literary success. And I assumed he was the cheeky adolescent narrator of "Thinking as a Hobby," the provocative essay I gave my Malay students at Indiana University's program outside KL, where I taught from 1987 to 1990.


"That essay has been anthologized all over," Golding said, waving a hand as if asking others to give us a few minutes alone. Who was I teaching and how had the students responded to "Thinking?" I said my students were mostly rural and male, interested in math and science, studying in country for two to three years before transferring to American universities. Then I added, speaking softly, that a vice of religious indoctrination clamped most of their heads. Which is why I had given the students his essay and pasted a drawing of Rodin's famous sculpture on the last page. A man came over and said it was time for Sir William to speak. Before turning to leave, he asked if I knew he was delivering an address at the British Council on Saturday morning. Might I bring a few students and we could continue our conversation then. And I did…


To be continued…but let me add this now. Yesterday I reread "Thinking as a Hobby" (easy to find on the internet) and I also enjoyed reading William Golding's 1983 Nobel Prize speech. I smiled when he asked his illustrious audience in Sweden that he "be excused a touch of frivolity." He obviously excused mine!


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