Remembering Jack Driscoll

One of two founding instructors of Interlochen’s Creative Writing Division, Driscoll established many of the division’s enduring traditions and nurtured the talents of thousands of young writers.

Jack Driscoll
Jack Driscoll in 1979

Driscoll in 1979.

Jack Driscoll teaches a creative writing class during the 1978-79 school year.

Jack Driscoll (center) teaches a creative writing class during the 1978-79 school year.

Driscoll introduces guest writer Robert Bly, 1975

Driscoll (second from right) introduces visiting writer Robert Bly (far right) during the 1975-76 academic year.

Driscoll with his workshop students in 2007-08

Driscoll (center) and his workshop students pose on the Writing House balcony during the 2007-08 academic year.

Driscoll chats with a creative writing student during the 2009 Camp season.

Driscoll (left) chats with a creative writing student following a reading during the 2009 Camp season.

Driscoll leads a reading and master class in summer 2011

Driscoll leads a reading and master class for Intermediate creative writing students during the summer of 2011.

Interlochen is deeply saddened to share that longtime Interlochen Arts Academy Instructor of Creative Writing John F. “Jack” Driscoll (IAA Fac 75-08) passed away on June 25, 2024. He was 78.

“Jack was a transformative teacher and a father figure to so many of us," said Interim Director of Creative Writing Brittany Cavallaro, who studied with Driscoll at Interlochen Arts Academy from 2002-2004. "Whether he was writing five-page single-spaced critique letters for student stories (each with their own specific clip-art), singing “Why Must I Be A Teenager in Love” at Writing House karaoke while we groaned and laughed and covered our eyes, telling possibly apocryphal stories about his adventures with Creative Writing instructor Mike Delp, or sitting in his office (with Rosanne Cash on in the background) while he gave us kind and thoughtful advice on poetry and life and how to be a person, he was a constant, brilliant presence in our lives. He was so proud of his students, and so generous with his praise. I am unbelievably lucky to have had him in my life and to teach in the creative writing department he founded. I can’t begin to describe the impact he’s had on the lives of decades of his Interlochen students.”

Raised on the East Coast, Driscoll discovered his passion for writing at an early age. He studied creative writing at Windham College in Vermont with novelist and short story writer John Irving—whom Driscoll credited as a pivotal influence on his career, writing, and teaching style.

In 1975, Driscoll—then a 29-year-old construction worker—applied on a whim for a teaching role in Interlochen Arts Academy’s soon-to-be-launched Creative Writing Division. Driscoll was offered the position, and became one of the Division’s two inaugural instructors.

“I knew absolutely nothing, and I am still amazed they hired me,” Driscoll said in a 2022 interview with the Lansing City Pulse.

Driscoll made an immediate impact on both the direction of the Creative Writing Division and the young writers of Interlochen Arts Academy. In 1976, he established the Academy’s in-house art and literary journal, The Interlochen Review, and received one of three awards from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards honoring the educators who submitted the most outstanding group of student entries. Driscoll and former Director of Creative Writing Loretta Sharp earned the prize so many times that, in 1977, Scholastic changed the rules to allow a teacher to be eligible for the award only once every five years. He also initiated the Academy’s robust Visiting Writers Series, which has welcomed high-profile guests such as Jim Harrison, Robert Bly, Karen Russell, Ross Gay, and Adrian Matejka, among many others.

Although Driscoll initially assumed Interlochen would be a temporary stopover on his way to his next position, he quickly came to believe that Interlochen was the place he was always meant to be.

“[Interlochen] has been a centering for me, a place and a source, a wellspring of energy,” Driscoll said in a 2005 Crescendo article. “This is where I discovered myself as a writer and as a teacher."

Interlochen was also the place where Driscoll found the love of his life: The late Interlochen Arts Academy Liberal Arts Instructor Lois (Larson) Driscoll (IAA Fac 71-11). The duo shared a passion for reading, and Lois served for many years as Jack’s primary reader and editor.

As an instructor, Driscoll instilled a love for poetry in his students and would frequently recite aloud from pieces he’d memorized. He also sprinkled his classes with advice for students who wanted to pursue a career in writing: “Talent will take you so far, but the thing that ultimately has to rise up to meet it is hard work.”

Inspired by the influence of his own mentor, Driscoll sought to provide the young writers of Interlochen with the encouragement and support that his younger self had craved.

“I hope that I've been inspirational in the classroom, and nurturing to [apprentice] writers in ways nobody was to me,” he told Crescendo in 2005. “I try to teach as honorably as I can."

Lesley Alicia Tye (IAA 90-93), an instructor of Creative Writing and Film & New Media at Interlochen Arts Academy, fondly recalled Driscoll’s guidance in a 2018 faculty feature.

“Jack Driscoll was incredibly influential because he treated me like a writer, not just a student,” Tye said. “He was willing to have the difficult conversations with me about my work. His feedback was honest and nurturing and constructive.”

Driscoll reserved a separate bookshelf in his home for books written by his former students, and frequently said he was prouder of his students’ works than he was of his own. In a 2016 interview with The Interlochen Review, Driscoll shared that he would trade the rest of his extensive book collection for the contents of that shelf.

Jack Driscoll with current and former creative writing faculty at the August 2023 reading for his latest book, "Twenty Stories"

Jack Driscoll (seated, center) poses with former Interlochen Arts Academy students and faculty after the Aug. 27, 2023 reading of his latest book, "Twenty Stories," at The Alluvion in Traverse City. Standing L-R: Doug Stanton, Teresa Scollon, Anne-Marie Oomen, Michael Delp, Nick Bozanic, Steve Tavener, and Tim Wade. Seated L-R: Brittany Cavallaro, Jack Driscoll, and Lesley Tye.

Beyond his role as a teacher, Driscoll maintained an active career as a poet, novelist, and short story writer. Driscoll authored 12 books, including four novels, four books of poetry, and several short story collections. His debut novel, Lucky Man, Lucky Woman, won the 1998 Pushcart Editors’ Book Award and the 1999 Independent Book Publishers Award for Fiction. His 2017 story collection The Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot was a winner of the Michigan Notable Book Award and was a finalist for the John D. Gardner Short Fiction Prize. Other accolades include two NEA Creative Writing Fellowships, two Pushcart Prizes, the PEN/Nelson Algren Fiction Award, and seven PEN Syndicated Short Fiction Awards.

After retiring from his role at Interlochen, Driscoll remained connected to the institution. He frequently returned to campus for readings, master classes, and as an artist-in-residence.

Following his wife’s death in 2021, Driscoll returned to his hometown of Mystic, Connecticut, and began teaching in Pacific University’s M.F.A. program.