Started teaching a two-week winter-session course on spy stories at Rutgers today. We meet every weekday through Friday, January 13th, for four and a half hours a day. Course description and syllabus here (second listing).
In the above videos I'm reading an excerpt from my short story "Beirut," which kicked off the spring semester of the Rutgers-Newark MFA reading series Tuesday night. (The venue was the Coffee Cave on Halsey Street, in the shadow of downtown.) The fall semester was my first, and "Beirut" is a product of my workshop with novelist and Rutgers professor Tayari Jones; this semester I'm working with MFA director Jayne Anne Phillips. It's an amazing program; I'm so grateful to be part of it.
I have the good fortune of tutoring at the Rutgers-Newark Writing Center this semester, and every student I work with is amazing. One of them, an adult student originally from Liberia, has been laboring over an essay for his English 101 class on the timeless themes of two Wislawa Szymborska poems. One is "The Century's Decline", from the great Polish poet's 1986 volume The People on the Bridge. The other is "Could Have", from her 1972 collection of the same name.
I was thinking about timelessness today while reading in a brick-walled garden along one side of Thomas Jefferson's famed Lawn at the University of Virginia, my alma mater. I'm here this weekend for Young Alumni Council meetings, and whenever I come, I seek out the gardens, which, despite restoration, largely resemble their original early-19th-century designs. For good or bad, that's what resonates with me the most when I return to the "academical village": history both "nearer" and "farther off," as Szymborska writes in "Could Have." "Listen, / how your heart pounds inside of me."