For quite a few years, I’ve been teaching at one library or another. One of the best things modern libraries do is offer rewarding classes of many different kinds for its patrons. There you can find people learning about certain medical issues; using a computer; the writing problems that face novelists; and the work of published authors. The last two categories include me, although last year I taught a class on the Shakers to a receptive audience. (Needless to say, everything I teach I have a lot of experience with, even the Shakers, a personal obsession, which has led to my visiting as many of their former settlements as I can find and researching their theology.) For a former college professor and ongoing novelist, conducting these classes has been a pleasure.
Lately I’ve been teaching at Brentwood City Library, about nine miles from my home. Recently, I started five new classes at one of the most attractive and carefully-planned libraries I’ve ever seen. In September, I taught three introductory classes on “How is Poetry Written?” I’ve always loved analyzing poetry, ripping it apart, so to speak, and putting it back together again, finding its ideas and meaning. Just think. I had the opportunity to talk about figures of speech, rhythm and meter, imagery: all that good stuff I went to graduate school for years to learn. And lastly, I could revisit some of the my favorite poems by British and American authors like Browning, Tennyson, Keats, Frost. Now two October classes are starting, “The Formal Essay: How Do You Write One?” and “Using the Most Effective Point of View in Fiction.” I chose the first because of years and years as a college writing teacher. I had many students who told me they never had any formal instruction on how to write an essay. “What the heck is a thesis statement?” they used to complain. When I was a new college teacher, I used to think that maybe the students were making this up. But years of experience told me they weren’t. What better class could I teach at the library than an introduction to this genre?
My description of the essay class goes like this: “Writing a formal expository essay clearly and coherently is often a required skill, both in the academic and professional worlds. The class will discuss the following topics. What is an essay? What are the most common writing patterns used by essayists? How is an essay developed? What is the role of Internet research?” I’ll have the joy of reading and selecting essays by modern writers which both fulfill the aims of the essay and which DON’T!
The second class is “Using the Most Effective Point of View in Fiction.” Here my experience springs from writing two novels and coping with this thorny problem. I had always taught point of view in my writing and literature courses, and understood intellectually what this entails, but when it came to choosing one for my first novel, I had written 100 pages before I thought, “This just isn’t working, I’ll have to start over.” With the second novel, point of view wasn’t a problem. Here’s a little of what we’ll talk about: role of the narrator in the novel, major types of points of view and their characteristics, advantages and disadvantages of each, what is stream of consciousness. We’ll get to read in this course too, looking at various excerpts from literature with differing points of view.
Come and join our classes if you can. The essay course is Wednesday, October 5, 2011, and the point of view class is Wednesday, October 12, 2011. They start at 6:00 PM and end at 8:00 PM. And if you come, be prepared to have fun!