The Sally Klages Memorial Instructorship 2021

The Sally Klages Memorial Instructorship will be awarded in 2021 in memory of Sally Klages, with love from her sister Ellen Klages.

My sister Sally had Down Syndrome. She was loving and funny, and I adored her. Some days that was easy, others a bit more challenging.

One year, Sally and my Dad and I were guests at my sister’s Mary’s house for Christmas. Mary and her partner Talia and I cooked all day and we had a terrific feast late that afternoon, using practically every pot, pan, and dish in the house.

After dinner, we started clean-up. It took more than an hour to wrap leftovers, stack pans in the sink to soak, and load the dishwasher to capacity. We decided to wait before we turned it on, so we could add our glasses once we’d finished the wine.

Chores done, we retired to the rec room, opened that promised wine, and flopped wearily on the couch to watch some TV.

Maybe an hour later, Sally came down the stairs, beaming. “You will be so proud of me,” she said.

“Why’s that?”

“I was very helpful and you didn’t even have to ask me.”

“Oh. Okay. What did you do?”

“I emptied the dishwasher and put everything away.”

Oh, no. No, no, no! Not the dishwasher full of dirty dishes? You put them away in an unfamiliar kitchen? Mary and Talia and I looked at each other with a growing sense of horror.

Sally stood there, almost quivering with pride, waiting for us to congratulate her on a job well done.
Which it was. It hadn’t been the right job — or the right time — but her intentions had been above reproach.

“Thank you, Sal,” I said after a moment. “That was very — thoughtful of you.”

She beamed, gave me a hug, then toddled off to bed. The rest of us went upstairs to undo her good deed. For the next two days, we discovered errant (dirty) dishes stacked (rather randomly) in every cupboard in the kitchen. It took two dishwasher loads just to get back to where we started.

We grumbled quite a lot. But what I remember most about that Christmas is the gift we gave each other that night — an exchange of kindness.

I thought about that when I found out that the Clarion West instructorship she was funding would be for Week Four. It can be a tough week. People are exhausted and irritable.

That week’s instructor needs to be supportive and patient. They need to gently reassure students that that some days just getting words on the page is a struggle, and that revision is part of every writer’s process, even when composing a story feels like an endless loop of false starts and dead ends.

I’m so happy that Sally’s legacy means that this year’s students will have Nalo Hopkinson to guide them through that difficult week. She is as kind as she is brilliant.

Instructorship Recipients

  • Karen Lord (2018)
  • Ibi Zoboi (2019)
  • Nalo Hopkinson (2021)