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John Helton

April 1, 2015//

Meet John "J.R." Helton. His office is tucked away in a quiet corner of the Plaza Norte Building, and he loves talking about writing with his students.

My professor told me being a writer is the hardest thing you can do, so I knew I wanted to do it.

– John Helton

You'd never know the senior lecturer in the Writing Program once worked with the likes of Matthew McConaughey and John Travolta as a Hollywood lead scenic artist. His resume includes credits such as "Dazed and Confused" and "Michael," but what he's most proud of is working with UTSA students over the last 14 years teaching them how writing can change their lives. 

"I've always been a writer," said Helton, who won a Pushcart Prize when he was just 20 years old.

Helton knows firsthand that writing plays a significant role in every student's life – not just the English majors.

"It's an extremely important course," he says of the Writing Program's rhetoric and composition class, which nearly all UTSA students pass through. "And believe it or not, doing this is more interesting than working on sets."

Helton's interesting life includes a friendship with Robert Crumb, a cartoonist often characterized as America's best. Crumb illustrated all of Helton's book covers, including his most recent, "The Jugheads," which will be featured in the San Antonio Book Festival on April 11.

Helton also authored "Below the Line," which chronicles his experience in the film industry, and the novel, "Drugs."

His zeal for writing is what led him to leave the movie industry, and it's what's kept him at UTSA, helping students find their voice.

"First and foremost, writing teaches critical thinking skills. We're teaching them to be good college students," Helton said. "Writing is just like talking, but better. Students are learning to put their own thinking process to paper and find their own voice." 

Helton believes in the university's Writing Program because his own rhetoric and composition professor was such an important part of his life. They still keep in touch.

"That course opened up this whole other world for me in college. My professor told me being a writer is the hardest thing you can do, so I knew I wanted to do it," Helton said. "And then I found teaching. And that's hard, too – but I wouldn't have it any other way."

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