Students, faculty reflect on Peter Caputo, a passionate professor who inspired all

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Peter Caputo was known for having his students sit in a circle during class. The English professor was quiet but could spark vivid discussions on books or poetry during class.

Caputo taught advanced freshman English, Victorian literature, classical mythology, postmodern fiction, and a few other courses during his 30-year tenure at Suffolk University.

Professor Caputo died on Christmas after a lengthy illness. He was 63-years-old.

A fiction writer himself, Caputo challenged his students to improve their writing, and was not afraid to give students a large amount of work, said Quentin Miller, director of Suffolk’s English department.

One of Caputo’s greatest accomplishment’s at Suffolk was creating the writing center, now known as the CLAS.

Caputo had hoped to create a scholarship for students interested in mythology, but never was able to complete it, Miller said.

(Photo courtesy of the English department)

“He was very dedicated,” said Miller, “willing to listen, willing to participate.” Caputo not only created the writing center, but also started organizing scholarships for the tutors.

“He really established personal relations with students,” Miller remembered. “He had what I call ‘groupies’ or ‘followers,’ people who would continually took his classes.”

Miller said professors and students at the university knew Caputo was sick, but did not realize the extent of his illness.

“I think that says a lot about him,” Miller said. “He seemed to have been getting better and there seemed to be no indication that this was going to happen.”

Peter Jeffreys and George Kalogeris took on Caputo’s courses for this semester, with the help of teaching assistants, Miller said.

Matthew Bancroft, a TA and former student of Caputo’s, said he knew Caputo had been in recovery from cancer but did not realize how sick he was.

Bancroft said Caputo helped him improve his writing and encouraged him to become better by looking at the world, rather than an MFA program.

Caputo told Bancroft, “’to write, you must go out and find.’”

As an undergraduate, postmodern fiction with Caputo was Bancroft’s favorite class.

“The way he read really brought life to the texts and his assignments were just awesome,” Bancroft said.

Despite being a quiet professor, Bancroft said Caputo, “like any good professor … was not afraid to have his opinion and to clash with students.”

Bancroft remembered Caputo as “the stereotypical introverted writer.”

“You got the sense that he was a really quiet person as well,” he said, “when he did talk about something he was interested in he was really passionate.”

Daniel Ryan, a 2010 graduate of Suffolk who had Caputo for freshman English also remembered the professor’s artsy style, and said he sometimes wore black-rimmed glasses.

“He was a little bit eccentric at times,” said Ryan. “He was a nice guy and he was always adamant to come to his office,” if students needed help.

Ryan remembered Caputo successfully encouraging students to do the class reading.

“He didn’t hold your hand or baby you,” Ryan said.

“He was never annoyed you were interrupting, which was accommodating.”

One of Ryan’s favorite memories of Caputo’s class was sitting in a circle to discuss the readings.

Ryan Pantaleo, a junior, also had Caputo for freshman English, where they also sat in a circle for discussions.

“Professor Caputo loved his students and it showed with how he interacted with us as a class,” said Pantaleo. “He had high expectations for all of us and made us think outside the box.”

Course work for Pantaleo’s class often included reading novels and poems.

“From what I could tell in class he was a very deep thinker. As a writer, he analyzed and critiqued our writing with an extreme eye,” said Pantaleo. “He was very passionate about every story and novel that we read.”

Pantaleo said he remembered Caputo saying students were too involved with their cell phones, and encouraged students to open their eyes to the world around them.

Aside from teaching a great course, Pantaleo said Caputo also wrote him a recommendation for an internship and helped him improve his resume.

“I’ll never forget the time he challenged me to a ping-pong match before class,” remembered Pantaleo. “We ended up being late for the start of class but it just showed you how much he enjoyed being with students.”

Miller echoed that thought.

“He was genial,” Miller said. “He was someone who was always smiling.”

“He had a great sense of humor with his students,” said Pantaleo. “Even though he was a Yankees fan, I never held that against him.”

Miller echoed those thoughts, remembering Caputo welcoming the teasing.

Miller said, “We would rib him on [for being a Yankees fan] but he would take it well.”

Caputo was a writer of speculative or fantastic fiction, said Miller, and had two works published recently.

His published works added to the impression he left on his students.

“Suffolk was really fortunate to have him as a professor and I feel lucky to be one of the students who had him in class,” said Pantaleo. “I was really sad when I heard the news of his passing. It is a tremendous loss for the university but his legacy and impact on the students will be there forever.

The university will be holding a ceremony to remember Professor Caputo on April 3. The event is still being planned, Miller said.

“He was an intellectual,” said Miller. “He cared deeply about Suffolk.”

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