When I traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina, recently to meet alumna and 1994 Emory Medalist Gloria Wade-Gayles ("Coloring Outside the Circles"), I attended a class she was teaching in African-American literature at Bennett College, where she is a visiting professor this year. After a lively session on turn-of-the-century fiction writer Charles W. Chesnutt, one student lingered. Feeling uncomfortably like an eavesdropper, like I shouldn't have been there, I tried to be inconspicuous as I listened to their conversation.

"I'm usually very vocal," the student began hesitantly, "but this class makes me nervous. I'm scared to come out and say what I think. Everybody has such different opinions."

Wade-Gayles smiled at the young woman. "Remember at the beginning of the year when we said everybody needs to claim her space? Not to just take notes and listen, but to talk. When you hear your own voice, isn't that something?"

"I plan to say a lot and speak out, but then I don't. I can't."

"Many years ago, I wouldn't talk," Wade-Gayles said. "I didn't want to hear my voice, because talking is risky. But growing is about taking risks. If you're thinking something, you share it and submit it to more critical examination so that you know whether the idea is something you need to hone and hold on to. You have so much to offer. Our next class is your day, your voice."

The following week, I received a letter from Wade-Gayles, who earned her Ph.D. degree at Emory in 1981 and is now a professor of English and women's studies at Spelman College. The student who had been afraid to speak out "came to class on Thursday renewed," Wade-Gayles wrote. "I called on her frequently and she responded. Having a clearer sense of who she is, I know that I must give her attention. I will."

As a teacher, Gloria Wade-Gayles gives something intensely personal to her students. She considers each of them--their needs, their concerns--as individuals, and she works to find the piece within herself to which they will respond. Her written work is equally personal. In her memoir, Pushed Back to Strength: A Black Woman's Journey Home, her gift to readers is a warm welcome into her intellectual and spiritual history, at once joyful and painful in its honesty.--A.O.A.

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