Remembering Cheri Register: Teacher and Friend
The Minnesota writing community lost a bright light on March 7th with the passing of Cheri Register, longtime Loft teacher, award-winning author, and mentor to many burgeoning writers in Minnesota, myself included.
In this tribute I could list all the accomplishments I found in her obituary, which are many, but I would like to use the space the Loft has generously given me to give a more personal look into Cheri’s life.
I first met Cheri when I participated in the Loft’s Foreword Program, a two-year apprentice program for emerging writers, featuring one-on-one mentoring and peer groups. Cheri was my mentor in that program, and I had the amazing opportunity to have contact with her nearly every week for two years. We spent our time together working on my memoir. She helped me take it through five drafts. She set the bar high for me; I think she wanted the book to be a good read more than I did—no small feat!
Of all the teaching Cheri did in her life, possibly the most important was her work in the Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility. She taught there for four years, helping the women tell their stories and express all the aspects of their lives before and during their incarceration. She treated these often invisible women with grace and dignity.
Cheri taught at the Loft for many years. It is impossible to count the number of students who flowed through her classes. She wrote her thoughts about teaching and mentoring on her website: “My job as a teacher is to help the student identify the passion driving the work, find an authentic and sustainable voice, and craft the prose style and structure that can best carry the story to be told or the idea to be examined. I take my students’ work seriously and regard it with ‘loving rigor.’” She could be a strict taskmaster, and yet we seemed to spend most of our time laughing. The most important thing about my relationship with Cheri is that she not only made me a better writer, she helped me believe in myself as a writer. She supported and nurtured me, as I know she did for so many others.
From teacher to mentor to friend—this is a common path and it was my path with Cheri. I kept up with Cheri after the Foreword Program ended. I feel blessed that she took the time to read the final draft of my memoir just a few months ago. We had coffee, not as often as we would have liked. In fact, the last time we saw each other we made a commitment to do coffee more often. I feel very sad that we weren’t able to follow through and enjoy each other’s company a few more times. As many people say, I’d give a lot for one more visit.
Cheri Register, you will be missed.
Liz Olds is a wrier and banjo-player living in Minneapolis. Her work has been published in bioStories online magazine and Encounters, the magazine’s Best of Anthology for 2015; Inside Bluegrass; and other publications. She has taken many classes at the Loft, culminating in her participation in the Loft’s Foreword Program from 2009-2011. She recently finished her memoir with a lot of help from Cheri Register.