Rest in Peace, Red Burns

“I was in something called the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU and I was having the time of my life, finally. That place is heaven.”

That’s from the introduction for my first book, Cyberville. The Interactive Telecommunications Program, aka ITP, is where I went to grad school. I started ITP straight out of rehab. It was 1986 and I was lost in life, afraid, and struggling. I was also suffering from terrible anxiety attacks at the time and I remember it took all the strength I had not to run screaming from my classes and give up. I couldn’t learn much, I couldn’t raise my hand and ask questions. All I could do was keep my seat.

I’ve told this story many times: I was taking Red’s class, and we were given an assignment to write about “implementation.” That was actually my job at the time. I was a telecommunications analyst for Mobil Oil and my job was to design and implement data communications networks.

I tried and failed to write a paper about implementation, I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I wrote a play called Corpse in Space. It was about a company in the future. There was no longer any room to bury people and my fictitious start-up proposed an alternative—launch them into geosynchronous orbit with Earth. The characters in my play included a saint, a couch and a praying mantis. I was doing something I hadn’t done in a long, long time. I was playing. I was having fun. My story was, in fact, about implementation. I was showing how hard it can be to get a business off the ground, especially when you have a team as different as a saint and a couch.

I didn’t know Red well yet, and I was terrified to hand in my paper. She is often described as a force of nature and until you learned she was a force for good she could be very scary. I put my paper at the bottom of the pile and ran. The next time I was in the halls of ITP she saw me and yelled out “STACY! STACY!”

I froze. She looked so mad. That was just Red’s determined face. She rushed over to tell me how much she loved my play and what a pleasure it was to get something so completely off the wall.

That moment saved my life. I can’t emphasize this enough. I’m crying now as I type this. That Red force enveloped me and changed my world. It was okay to play! From that day on my anxiety attacks began to ease up and finally stop. I truly did have the time of my life in a place that was completely magical to me. I could write what I wanted, learn what I wanted, create what I wanted. Her acceptance changed my life. The place she created changed my life. I wouldn’t have launched Echo without Red, and I wouldn’t have gotten what I wanted to do most of all without Red: write books.

Thank you for heaven, Red. Thank you for my life.

A good article by Jason Huff about Red Burns and the history of ITP.

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

8 thoughts on “Rest in Peace, Red Burns

  1. Beautiful tribute. And isn’t it amazing the power of one person believing in you — acceptance is truly a gift.

    I didn’t know Red, but from what I’ve read/seen on the internet, she must have been an amazing person.

  2. Thank you for sharing this tribute and one of your stories involving Red, Stacy. She is definitely a hero/heroine of mine, and a treasured mentor. I feel like we were given a gift that few people get to experience. I’m eternally grateful. Red thought so highly of you.

  3. thanks so much stacy. itp, and red, changed my life too. she showed me how to embrace technology as a force for social change. awesome person, awesome program.

  4. Thank you for all the thank you’s. Now I know what people mean when they say things like “I thought they would live forever.” Some people just seem like that. Red was one of them.

  5. Red and ITP were huge influences on me, but you were too, Stacy. Don’t forget how much she helped you help so many of us. – Howard

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