Remembering Steve

In April, the Boston Writing Project lost an important collaborator, thinker and writer. Steve Gordon was deeply loved by students and teachers and had such a significant impact on our learning as a Board. The Board spent some time writing something for Steve that we’d like to share.


Dr. Stephen Gordon,  you resisted 

Just call me Steve, Mr. Gordon, or for some Mistah

Giant – Inquirer, 

Master – Teacher

Linguistic Scholar

YOU touched so many – 

and while you were not well enough  

to actively participate in our NEH initiative


YOU were the listening partner we needed at every twist and turn



In 2014, when I was a Calderwood Writing Initiative fellow, Steve asked me to uncover my assumptions about my inquiry project on students’ responses to research and writing. I’m sure it was not the first time someone had asked me to look at the subtext of my pedagogical claims—how they tied into my larger beliefs about school, young people, the nature of learning—but something about Steve’s way of doing it felt like a bolt of lightning. I have not been the same since. 

I loved Steve. I loved our meandering conversations at Snowden, in UMass classrooms, in my car on the way to the JFK T stop after Writing Project meetings, once over tea at his house in Arlington (an invitation into his life for which I will always cherish). I love the way that his approaches to school were so infused with curiosity (the way that he would crack a smile as he drew more and more of my ideas out, uncovering thoughts I didn’t know I had), with a fundamental assumption of equality with his students. I decided soon after meeting him that Steve was the kind of teacher that I wanted to be, that I still aspire to be: that deeply serious levity, that fundamental openness, that love. -Josh

In some cosmic way, Steven Gordon may have been distantly related to the great naturalist and prolific writer Stephen Jay Gould. Both luminaries seem to have stumbled upon the truism that the more you learn, the more you recognize the vast scope of your ignorance and how every waking moment is an opportunity to engage in personal betterment. Operating under the slightly mysterious Zoom handle of stevewing, our Steve wrote effortlessly, or at least it seemed, and despite the assurance with which he wielded the pen, seemed to often betray a youthful need for validation – which is to say that he was quintessentially human. Steve liked to interact with people, to listen to them and to learn with them. Perhaps he saw himself happily ensconced in an eternal Vygotskiesque zone of proximal development where he was at his best surrounded by folks who, like him, preferred to seek out the best in others. We’d do well to honor him by carrying on his message of thoughtful reflection and quiet consideration. We miss you dearly Steve. -Nikan

I was blessed to work with Steve for a brief period of time through the BWP. He was a kind, welcoming great soul of a person and always reminded me of my grandfather. I will miss our conversations about teaching and the world. My deepest condolences to his family for this loss. I pray that each of you find peace and healing over time. May he rest in peace. We miss you! -Surbhi

For Steve, a write into the evening for the man who always shared. 

There is something special about the routine of writing into the evening, a routine that is held sacred for the Boston Writing Project.  Like any routine, it can sometimes wear on you or drag away minutes from what might be deemed as more “important.”  But Steve never let the routine falter.  He proudly, vulnerably, expertly and loudly used the time to write; write deeply, write honestly, write beautifully.  And he always shared.  

It was a reminder, not only of the importance of routine, but the importance of leaning in and engaging with the thinking, doing and sharing that helps us maintain our identity. It was a reminder of the power of words, even those that were mundane and especially those that were touching. He reminded us of how this routine, with the silent thought and the public sharing, centers us in the work. 

For his sharp wit, deep thinking, friendly banter and brilliant writing that we as the Boston Writing Project remember Steve, and share with him a deep appreciation for his work, love and Write into the Evenings…-Katie

In his short piece, “I Teach Who I Am”, featured in the book “What Keeps Teachers Going,”Steve Gordon writes, “I teach who I am. What I value and believe arises from my personal background and experience–whom I have loved and who has loved me; what has encouraged and hurt me; and the idealistic quests involving myself, other people, and American society” (pg. 30). This quote encapsulates the kind of person Steve Gordon was. He was reflective, empathetic, curious, passionate and never afraid to be vulnerable. When I met Steve Gordon during the Boston Writing Project I was immediately impressed by how willing he was to go deep on any topic. When he described his ritual of writing letters to each of his students, I was floored by his dedication. Later on, when I was working on a Calderwood project, Steve took such interest in what I was trying to research, he sent me articles to help me out. Whenever I was with Steve Gordon I recognized a love of coming together with others who want to do better always.
I will always remember Steve and try to follow his example. -Amy

Steve was a quiet warrior and giant among us.  May they be comforted in his brilliant light. – L’Merchie 

Steve taught me about the incredible gift it is for someone to offer their presence and attention. Steve was brilliant and offered insights and strategies, jokes and warmth and wisdom, but what I will never forget is how much he was just always fully present for everyone, always glad to see everyone, and always listening and really hearing everyone. I loved to see the moments when someone would talk their ideas in a meeting and Steve would always have a curious question that reflected how deeply he’d been listening and how important their ideas were to him. Steve always showed how to value people and to offer them the gift of time and attention. Everyone was important to Steve, and he had time for everyone, and he managed this in the midst of an educational space that was always going the other direction where everything was deficits and hurry and about numbers, Steve stopped to pay attention and was about people, appreciating the details and the moments of their thoughts. It’s hard to find words enough for him which is funny because he was the person who didn’t require any special effort to talk to–I never felt tongue-tied with Steve. I feel like he was like a walking embodiment of Peter Elbow’s Believing Game: Steve believed in everyone, and I don’t think I ever would have understood how important and profound that was before I met him. -Mary 

Steve Gordon

Reflections on Race

July 6, 2020

I will strive to fighting against submission
my own admission
is that I have been committing
hate crimes…..
many times, I have chosen invisibility……
cloaked in apathy….
because there is never a truly, smiling
version of me. . . . .
Oh yes. . .
I can flash a grin with the best …..
nod head and jest
but just make sure not to shake my hand
do not touch me
because their touch is eroding me
from the inside out
and if ever someone peeled back the layers. . .
the self-hatred
would fill a room much more than the
respected, ivy-league degree carrying
but are you really black?
educated teacher ever did.

Oris Bryant is an educator at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts.

Noun Heavy

Barbara Ghartey July 9, 2020

Black, White, boxed-in
Stuck in a dream again it seems
Those marching are not walking dead
“Not dead yet!” scream the police
“Not dead yet!” screamed the doctors, teachers, and lawyers
You’re not dead yet!
I know you hear me, be wary, it’s coming
June’s been trifling
police been rifling our backs, doctors leave us dying of heart attacks
Knees are pressed heavy and slow on our necks
“I can’t believe it!” they say
They’ve always said I’m sorry
But the mothers and fathers and sons and daughters said
Those marching are not walking dead
They’re paving roads ahead to get out of the illusion the other created to keep up captive
Scared of the reciprocal from brown individuals
They call us combative and attack us.
Crispus Attucks
Call us addicts
Silly rabbit, tricks are for kids.
Now look what you went and did
Woke up the world

Barbara Ghartey is an educator at Boston Arts Academy.

Racism Repeats Itself

Ling-Se Chesnakes, July 9, 2020

An angry white mob
A black boy on the run
We’ve seen this way before
Trayvon was killed by a gun

A white woman threatens to call the police
On a black man walking alone
We’ve see this way before
Breonna was killed in her home

Two white men murder
A black man jogging through his neighborhood
We’ve this way before
Ahmaud was killed in cold blood

A white policeman arrests
A black woman for a yell
We’ve seen this way before
Sandra was found dead in her cell

A white policeman chokes
A black with his knee
We’ve seen this way before
George couldn’t breathe

These deaths were no accident
Their crime is simply living
Black in America
These crimes not worth forgiving

There is a saying that goes
“forgive and forget”
But staying silent
Is the only thing I will regret

We take to the streets shouting
“No justice, no peace” indignantly
We’ve been here before
So how will this end differently?

Some say change is slow
Movements and people must gather
We’ve been waiting since 1619
For Black Live to Matter.

Ling-Se Chesnakas is an educator at Boston Arts Academy.