This Week in College Writing

Tomorrow marks the end of the fall semester. Students move out of the dorm, grades post online, and in my apartment, the binders empty for sorting—what to recycle, use as scrap, shred, or keep for next semester.

I asked my students to do one final reading—optional, since they took my final exam this week. I introduced them to Brevity and asked them to sift through, read some, pick one, and respond to it. That’s all.

— —Interrupting myself to explain that I don’t teach English majors or creative writing courses of MFA-bound undergrads. I teach (and love teaching) writing essentials to students at a small specialized career school. Brevity and, as it happens, the terms “literary journal” and “literary nonfiction,” were new to them.— —

Most didn’t do it. But some did, and what they said about their Brevity pieces gratified me as their teacher and also as a reader. I’ll offer here three great Brevity pieces as suggested by my students. Take their words for it.

I’ve noticed Brevity publishes a number of second-person pieces. I think they must get a lot of the good ones. One student wrote of “Thank You” by Sejal Shah that she’d “fallen in love with the descriptive words” like translucent and treacherous. She saw how descriptive words can help a sentence go from lifeless to lively. “This piece inspired me to want to write more,” she told me.

“Cut” by Cheryl Diane Kidder grabbed another student, who expressed appreciation for how Brevity matches images to pieces to help establish tone. (I explained it’s one of the most satisfying tasks in putting together a publication.) This student noticed how Kidder “kept the reader hoping.” After reading the narrative, I kept hoping too. It’s ubiquitous, hope, but so specific, and so lonely.

A third student read “The Hard Part of Community College” by Heal McKnight. One line of dialogue: “‘Your students just disappear sometimes,’ my friend Richard told me when I took the job. ‘You never know why. They’re just completely gone. It’s the hard part of community college.'” I have experience with this, this semester in fact, and it is so troubling. My student who read this piece said she thought it’d be about college by the title, but realized it’s about suffering.

This semester, in addition to Brevity, I introduced my students to Tiny Lights, Narrative, and Orion. Now Utne Reader has listed Resources for Finding Great Essays. Print, three-hole punch, add to the binder for spring.