For several years now the Writing & Publishing program here at VCFA has offered Community Enrichment Classes. These classes allow the college to interact with the community, and give our MFA students important chances to teach. In the past we’ve had craft class about our character’s inner lives, as well as poetry and memoir craft classes. This winter and spring we will hold four Saturday classes taught by current students: The Personal Essay: Introspection in the Time of Covid, taught by Hassan AJ; Spell of the Evocative: Setting in Fiction, taught by Valentyn Smith; Leaving Europe Behind: Writing (Indigenous) Urban Fantasy for the Americas, taught by yours truly; and Magic & Tech: Elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy, taught by Dexter Loken and M.K. Martin.
A self described nomad, Hassan AJ is an international student in his second year at VCFA. Five or six years ago he was a pre-med student secretly taking online writing classes. He was lured away from medicine when he fell in love with language itself, from the sentence level on. (In other words, from the micro–to the macro) He’s fascinated by the ability to “assemble language on the page to make the world less abstract and more tangible.”
Hassan has concentrated on historical fiction in his time at VCFA, writing a novel based on his family’s ancestral story. However, 2020 has made him look closer to home: introspection has become the name of the game. As he puts it “personal essay and solitude go hand in hand, and what is quarantine but forced solitude?” He also feels that personal essay has a therapeutic component to it that he–and society–needs after a year of Covid.
In other words, this is a timely class for us all after the year we’ve had!
“In solitude, a mask comes off that allows the personal essayist to look back at the past and extract a truth about the human condition. For centuries, the personal essay’s goal has been to make the bitter awareness of the reality of our existence ‘appetizing and even amusing’” (that last bit is a quote from Lopate, but the rest is pure Hassan).
Three essays will be discussed in the class:
The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In this essay, Fitzgerald, like us, is in solitude. His life is on pause. He uses that pause to find his own disillusionment in life. Fitzgerald “teaches us that facing the past, with all the demons of the present, can help us unmask the self, and understand our follies.”
Goodbye to All That, by Joan Didion
Didion uses this essay, written in Los Angeles, to “make sense of the disenchantment in her life” by viewing her past in New York City through the lens of space and time, seeking to understand what went wrong.
Street Haunting, by Virginia Wolfe
In this essay Wolfe takes an opposite tack from Fitzgerald and Didion, by concentrating not on isolation and introspection, but on her escape from such–and from herself–as she wanders the streets of London where “she has her grip tight on the enchanted life.”
“Hassan will use these three pieces to show how personal essay can help us interrogate our lives and our own inherent disenchantment, or the compulsion to cling to life’s enchantment.”
What enchantment or disenchantment might you need to concentrate on after a year of solitude and confinement? Hassan’s class may just point you in the right direction. The class is on February 27th between 1-4pm est. all classes are online. You can register here.