Dan Libman is a published author with piles of awards that include the prestigious Pushcart Prize for Fiction and a Paris Review Discovery Prize.
His talents extend beyond the page, of course. He was the co-creator of a podcast that examined “the dark underbelly of the lit life: writing, reading, working and burning with envy.”
Libman also trolled bars for six months prior to the November 2016 election, chatting with tavern goers about politics for Northern Public Radio’s Morning Edition broadcast – a reprise of his “Politics on Tap” series from the months leading up to the November 2014 mid-terms.
WNIJ listeners will remember his tales from the road as he pedaled Lincoln Highway. Or his stint as a beer expert at Oktoberfest. Or being one of the first of two cyclists to ever bicycle the length of the Rock River.
Yet at least one of his former students in the NIU Department of English worries about him.
“Sometimes I wonder what like must be like for instructors of writing workshops. Do their souls begin to shrivel and degenerate from year after year of choppily written stories hastily composed by uninterested students?” the (probably interested) alum wrote.
“I read that Professor Libman has taught at NIU for about sixteen years,” the letter continued. “I wonder how his soul is doing.”
That number is up to 20 years now – Libman joined NIU in 1998 – and his soul still seems fine.
More than that, he’s a caring instructor who gets results.
"Just as no two students are the same, no two semesters are remotely similar,” Libman says. I’m constantly stunned at how having 25 strangers come together to discuss – seriously discuss – each other’s writing has such a profoundly positive effect on one’s creative process.”
Colleagues can attest those impacts.
“Dan challenges and inspires students from diverse backgrounds to understand how much writing matters in the university and in the real world, to use their own writing to learn, to tell their own stories and to prepare for the writing challenges of their own lifelong learning and careers,” a colleague wrote.
“Dan may be fairly low-key and unassuming in his approach,” the letter went on, “but over the years, all of his students have testified about how strongly he has supported their individuality and made them better writers.”
Libman, who holds a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College, is heavily involved with the NIU CHANCE Program’s sections of English 102 and 103.
He employs photos, videos, music and social media – as well as local problems in need of creative solutions – to “draw students in, excite their curiosity and motivate them to write well.”
The recipient of NIU’s Excellence in Undergraduate Instruction Award for 2018 also worked with the First Year Composition (FYC) program to develop and run several open-mic events related to the Common Reading Experience. He also mentors the students he encourages to become tutors at the University Writing Center’s Writers’ Workshop.
“The privilege of working in the CHANCE program is without a doubt one of the biggest joys of my career,” Libman says.
His former students have found joy in his classroom as well.
“I started Libman’s course failing,” a former student wrote. “I was able to turn all of that around in a matter of a few months, and my potential peaked. I was able to finish Libman’s class with an A average. This has made me realize that having a solid connection with your professor can enable you as a person to perform and succeed up to your own standards.”