Dr. Burton Pu retired from The Writing Center in May of 2020 after 35 years at Washington University. He served undergraduate and graduate students in The Writing Center for over 24 of those years.
As he retired, Burton said, “A person does not really live in this world if his or her story is not told.”
In honor of Burton’s many years of helping students tell their stories, The Writing Center has named one of our graduate fellowships in his honor. The Dr. Burton Pu Distinguished Fellowship will be awarded each year to a returning graduate fellow who has demonstrated the values Burton instilled in our center: patience, understanding, calm, and dedication to service.
We are grateful for Burton’s wisdom, kindness and stories, and we look forward to this fellowship continuing his legacy in The Writing Center.
As we honor Burton, our colleagues who worked closely with him share some of their thoughts:
Roy Kasten, Professional Tutor
One often hears of the importance of institutional memory to any organization. And yet that memory is often framed in purely functional terms. As a senior tutor at the Writing Center, Burton’s memory embodied so much more than operations. Call it “soul memory” or “deep memory,” the kind that Emerson, one of Burton’s intellectual heroes (and an author he has translated into Chinese), called “the thread on which the beads of man are strung…As gravity holds matter from flying off into space, so memory gives stability to knowledge.”
Burton provided that kind of soulful stability to The Writing Center. His calm, wise, ruminative presence served as a ballast to sustain and guide us along the ever-changing stream of words and ideas and emotions that flow through The Writing Center every day, year, decade. He didn’t just support students. He inspired them, challenged them, and showed them the power of well-remembered stories and well-chosen words, drawing on his deep understanding of the language and culture and history of the East and the West. Washington University and its Writing Center were lucky to have his service for so many years. Neither will be the same without him.
Ruth Berson, Professional Tutor
Burton is often very quiet, but when he speaks, he has a lot to say, and it is always worth listening to.
I could go on about his lived history in China of being sent down to the countryside to harvest rice and teach, about how, during a discussion of how sometimes students feel like they’d like to make their papers better without changing them, Burton said suddenly and vehemently, “Everything changes! Look at the sky! The clouds, the light, the color—everything changes.” We were all kind of dumbfounded, but there was no question he had put a common Writing Center occurrence in a deeply philosophical context.
Steve Pijut, Associate Director
I’m finding it hard to imagine The Writing Center without Burton. He has been a cornerstone for us, representing the very best of what we do. When I think of Burton, I think of the word generosity. Over the years, he has been so generous in sharing his expertise (considerable), his experience (vast) and his good nature (boundless) with students and staff alike.
He has meant so much to the students he has worked with and colleagues he has worked beside. I am not sure what it will feel like to make a new schedule without Burton’s name on it. I know it will feel like a tremendous loss to The Writing Center and to our students, and (selfishly) to his co-workers. But I am especially glad that Burton is now saving some of that generosity for himself, for his family, and for his own work. Burton has been a cherished colleague, mentor, and friend, and I wish him the very best with his upcoming projects with a pang of loss but also with the deepest gratitude for everything I’ve learned from him.
Susan Lowther, Special Programs Coordinator
I love Burton’s sense of calm. Whenever things would get loud or hectic—during sessions or staff meetings, or what have you—Burton was always so serene-looking and the voice of wisdom. Roy and I decided one day that if we did a staff outing to an escape room, Burton would be the winner. His calm, cool, collected thinking would totally beat out our panic.
Carolyn Smith, Professional Tutor
I have known Burton since he first came to Washington University in St. Louis as a graduate student in American Literature nearly 35 years ago. During much of that time we have both worked in The Writing Center, where Burton has shared with all of us—colleagues and students alike—his enthusiasm for language and for writing, as well as his unique perspective as a practiced writer in Chinese and in English. He is a patient listener but also has a wealth of his own stories to tell—about Chinese and American life. He has told us about a few of his adventures, but now I look forward to seeing them in print!
Rob Patterson, Director
When I became director of The Writing Center, I met with Doreen Salli, who was the previous director and founder of The Writing Center. Doreen took the time to tell me about each of the staff members with whom I’d be working. When it came to Burton, she told me that I would not find another person with the kind of insight he has about language and writing and especially the international student experience of writing at an American university. I quickly came to see what she meant, but in Burton, I also found a calm wisdom and warmth that I have sought (and usually failed) to emulate. Burton has always put the needs of our students and of The Writing Center before his own, and I am happy to see that he is finally putting his own goals and writing first. He deserves the time to tell his story, and the world deserves the chance to read it.