In photos of Peter Graham he’s never passive. He asserts his smile and his eyes seem always
about to shift and move like a point guard’s. Even in stills you can feel his kinetic energy. In
person his laugh begins with a loud “Ha” and he’s almost as tall as a door frame. When he
reads his work aloud he leans forward like a racehorse nosing the finish line, because he puts
himself out there. His whole body wants to share what he’s seen and experienced, what he’s
learned. For some, he’ll be remembered at DePauw for announcing the men’s basketball
games, giving our team an edge with his every thunderous syllable. You might say he puts
the grrr in Tigerrrrs.
But that’s the big and public side of Peter, the other part is hidden from view. For almost 20
years Peter quietly and humbly coaxed stories from his students, works where the heart is bare,
the facts tough, the memories raw. Somehow in his classes, this giant with intense eyes and
curly black hair became small and wan, giving students the space to write compelling stories
about themselves and helping them craft first utterance and confession into finely tuned
sentences and paragraphs. He did the work of workshop. I can count so many students we’ve
had mutually who speak of him as the person who most got them to look inside themselves,
who worked with them to push through and find the authentic details of the real living they
He also taught for many semesters the management fellows who were off interning off campus
how to write. He pioneered what is now, under Covid, some of the standard operating
procedures of distance learning. He made, as we all know now, what seems like the impossible
And he read and read and read. It is difficult to have a conversation with Peter and not learn
what he’s read lately and what he’s learned from it. He loves history and humans and their
memoirs. Many Kelly Writers over the years came riding in on Peter’s enthusiasm for their
work, buoyed by his love of writers who often tell their own incredible stories.
That said, it is difficult for me not to think of Peter and see him as some awkward teenage boy
in a basketball gym as some unmerciful coach goes to town on him and his team. He’s written
so compellingly of his days as a boy in Winnetka that it seems at times, I see both the man and
the adolescent in a single glance and can feel through his words the wounds and
embarrassments I experienced myself as a boy in Virginia. If we can thank Peter for only one of
his many contributions to DePauw, it is the way he’s worked into every aspect of his career the
great magic of finding the universal within the particular. In his work, the authors he’s brought
to our curriculum, and, most importantly, in the writing his students created for his classes,
human empathy is abundant. One person’s stories intersect with stories of others to make
some vast web for which Peter was the architect. Like I said, Peter puts himself out there.
And so we can only wish he continues to write and through that writing continue to teach
DePauw students and alumni what is possible. And maybe, should he stay in town, keep being
the voice booming through the Lilly Center on winter nights.
Thank You Peter and Go Tigers!!
-Tribute by Joe Heithaus