Mr. Rehak: Retired But Still Young at Heart

Jiaming Lou, Editor-in-Chief

Mr. Rehak sponsored the Beacon and DubTV, as well as other clubs, and also taught American English and Creative Writing at Whitney Young. After 35 years of being an educator, he retired in the 2021-22 school year. As his former student, I am extremely honored to talk with him about his books, writing advice, and life outside of teaching.

I was curious about when he first began writing. “It’s a funny and sad story,” Mr. Rehak recounted. “When I was 5, my parents taught me how to write a little bit…obviously, I wasn’t a writer-writer…but different crazy things would happen and I would tell [my friends] ‘oh, I’m going to write that down, I’m going to put together a book’–the silly book is what I call it–and I would put together these images…and it was really just little pieces of paper stuck together with string…it was very small, and [my friend] and the other guys–they were older than me–they took it and they tore it up and they said ‘this is stupid’ or something like that, and…I remember feeling like I had to laugh because they were older than me…” He carries this memory with him and it encourages him to never discourage others. “My friends made fun of it [but] I’m like, I’m not going to do that to somebody…Everything I write–everything I write–is inspired by my desire to promote empathy in one way or another.”

On another note about discouragement, “there’s the old expression…the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. You know, once you understand that as a writer, you don’t get discouraged,” he began. “Because people do get discouraged, [they] say, how am I going to write a novel? It’s 300 pages. Well, you’re not going to write 300 pages today. But if you write one a day, you [have] a book in less than a year, and anybody can write a page a day. Anybody.” “You don’t start off by destroying an idea,” he cautions. Writing comes first, and editing second, third, and fourth. Go back and rewrite if needed. He emphasizes the importance of knowing grammar rules (even if they’re not always followed), but what he values above that is creativity–and a willingness to “look foolish” by telling a story. “Meaning, just write. Don’t write and edit as you go or you’ll never finish,” he concludes. That’s how Mr. Rehak writes. In his words, the very words he told to his English students, “just start somewhere, go somewhere, and come back home.”

Mr. Rehak is coming back to Whitney Young on October 19 to talk about his teaching experience and more writing insights. Join him after school in the Library Media Room and ask questions! This is an event you definitely don’t want to miss.