BELIEVERS

This page is for any writing we receive that exemplifies the power and importance of the Vassar Creative Writing program. These people took time out of their busy lives to write pieces dedicated to their favorite professors and memories.

Got a submission? Send it to fireatvassar@gmail.com

“A Home at the End of the World” by Lindsey Danis ’02

I always wanted to be an English major. I chose Vassar because of the strength of its English department and because there was no stuffy core curriculum. For nearly half of my time at Vassar I was stubborn and belligerent; disinterested in the historical requirements of the department I thought I was going to major in political science. I told myself I didn’t need to be an English major to be a writer. I’d just take some comp courses. I took comp 205 with Judy Nichols followed by comp 206 with Paul Russell.

These classes were a mixture of English majors and non-majors, friends and unfamiliar faces. It was in Judy Nichols class that I read, for the first time, Michael Cunningham’s White Angel. I reread that story in my dorm room in Cushing, marveling at the beauty it contained. White Angel, for those unfamiliar with the story, is a chapter of Cunningham’s A Home At The End of The World. It was Paul
Russell who gave us the practical advice we didn’t want to hear as young writers about how challenging it is to balance an artistic vocation with the realities of life. His neighbors were building a house, and every day as he sat down to write he reflected on the fact that the contractors next door were getting more tangible work done in one day then he would. Yet we who want to be writers continue. Why?

My senior year I wrote a critical thesis and I took Narrative Writing with Ralph Sassone. Our entire class insisted we take him to a seniors-only event at the alumnae house because we figured that if we all invited him, we might be able to convince him to come up from the city. He was easily the most thorough, thoughtful writing professor I’ve had the advantage to study with. He took the time to recognize where each student was in the learning curve, and address their weaknesses and strengths. I spent three years trying to address my concerns about my work with various professors, and in the course of our class Ralph Sassone not only understood my concerns but helped me grow immensely as a writer and reader.

I would not have been able to get through the program without the support and guidance of my mentor Michael Joyce, who suffered my every concern and anguish with patience, kindness and wisdom. I look back on my entire Vassar education with enormous gratitude, for it is Vassar that has made me the person I am today, but my deepest and indeed immeasurable thanks are is reserved for my creative writing professors. A couple of years ago I completed an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and was, with only two exceptions, enormously disappointed in the quality of education I received from my writing instructors.

There is not one single moment I can paint, humorous or touching, to illustrate the importance of maintaining a strong Creative Writing program at Vassar. No perfect screenwriting scene, no hilarious workshop drama, no poignant pedagogical wonder. (I can, however, credit Vassar with introducing my younger brother to the concept of gay people, thanks to Tony Kushner’s fiery graduation speech). I sincerely hope that future generations of Vassar students will be as lucky as I was by being able to be take part in creative writing classes. If not, I know the culture of the school will suffer greatly.
Lindsey Danis ’02

Boxes by Joe Langdon ’05

I went to Vassar in 2001 because I wanted to study writing there and I couldn’t wait for sophomore year when I could finally take composition. There were five sections of comp but they all filled up quickly – and not just with English majors, but students of all disciplines who enjoyed and valued the endeavor of writing. I ended up on the outs and irate. I dashed off a few e-mails, met with my advisor, etc. I learned there was so much interest in the course a new professor named Kiese Laymon was considering opening an additional section. I went to Sanders to seek out this man.

The hall was deserted and the only person I passed was a man in a t-shirt who seemed like a young professor and looked like an old undergrad. We kind of nodded hello; he went into an office and I spent several minutes squinting at the name plates on the doors until I came to “Kiese Laymon” and he was in there, waiting for me, testing the swivel of the chair in his new office. He invited me in and we talked and he said, yes, he really wanted to teach a new section and just needed the go-ahead. Sensing my chance, I decided to make a little intelligent small talk to cement the impression I undoubtedly made with my display of initiative. I looked around. There wasn’t much in his office at the time, just one of those massive floor-to-ceiling bookcases that was already filled to capacity.

“Wow,” I said. “That’s a lot of books.”

That’s right. Bam. Nothing like an insightful commentary on a number of books that is in no way remarkable for a professor of English.

We both looked at the bookcase and he kind of nodded.

But I wasn’t done there. Somehow my brain managed to formulate, and my larynx conspired to utter, the question: “How’d you get them all in here?”

Now, here is why I am forever indebted to Kiese Laymon. He looked over that that bookshelf, shook his head earnestly and after a moment of thought said, “Boxes, man. … Boxes.”

He took the dumbest question ever uttered by a student on Vassar College grounds, engaged it and answered to the best of his ability. That’s how he dealt with all questions, and it’s no surprise he quickly became one of the more popular professors on campus.

Kiese got his section and I was fortunate enough to be in it (after that, how could I not be?). I’m not sure what’s going on these days and I don’t know anything about tenure-track or adjunct or whatnot, but I imagine that professors like Kiese was/is are the ones facing these cutbacks. The senior faculty is great, of course, but there’s a reason for having adjunct and assistant professors who may have the time to take on a new section and the patience not to punch a freshman in the face when he inquires about the way one moves books from one place to another.

There’s a reason why composition was in such high demand at Vassar. And there’s a reason why great young teachers like Professor Laymon were there to shoulder extra work.

I’m glad to see the alumnae/i response, and my contribution is not earth-rattling, to be sure, but sometimes when I’m faced with a ridiculous or inane situation, a little bubble gurgles somewhere in my brain and says, “Boxes, man. … Boxes.”

– joe langdon ’05

2 responses to “BELIEVERS

  1. Pingback: New Page - Believers « RUMOR: Fire! at Vassar

  2. Pingback: BELIEVERS PAGE « RUMOR: Fire! at Vassar

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