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  • 2018 Dates: Session 1, June 24 - July 6; Session 2, July 8-27

Introducing Sarah McColl, Creative Nonfiction Faculty

Tell us the name of a book or text you’ve marked up and what a reader in 2089 would learn about you from reading your marginalia in that book/text. Kudos to this reader for browsing physical books in 2089!

As someone who had an ongoing, page-by-page dialogue with her paperback copy of Jane Eyre sophomore year of high school, “Marginalia” by Billy Collins was a poem I got. I did not “laze in an armchair turning pages”; I had as intense an emotional involvement with Jane as I did with my best friend. In notes I wrote in biology, I admired my friend’s handmade beaded necklace, told her to ignore the girl we both thought cruel, and went on (and on and on) about a guy named Dave who played guitar.

With Jane, I used the margins: to mourn the death of Helen Burns, to swoon at Mr. Rochester costumed in gypsy garb, to sob on what should have been her wedding day, and to cheer Jane in her escape across the moors. The margins were where, as Collins writes, I “pressed a thought into the wayside,” where I “[caught] a ride into the future on a vessel more lasting than [myself].” The margins were also where I declared my emotional investment and flexed my burgeoning intellectual pretensions. “Ha!” “Swoon,” “Nooooooooo!” and “Interior/exterior mirroring.”

My relationship with Jane has proven the more lasting one. My friend dumped me and befriended the cruel girl. But I have returned to Jane time and again. She continues to surprise and fascinate me, just as I would hope of any complex character in my life, real or imagined. The margins were where the boundaries between a fictional world—as vivid to me as my own—and the real world began to blur.

It used to embarrass me to look back at the whiplash combo of girlish chatter and thoughts about as deep as Jack Handey’s in my marginalia. Now I feel differently about it, the way one might when looking back at a first love. Maybe I wouldn’t do the same thing today, but I feel a fondness for the girl who was so unfiltered as she read, who unabashedly chronicled her reactions. It was an openhearted bid for connection that urged her to write in those margins; it was with the same urgent tenderness she might press a folded sheet of notebook paper into the hand of her friend.

Sarah McColl essays have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, South Dakota Review, Green Mountains Review, and StoryQuarterly, where she was named second runner-up in the 2016 Nonfiction Prize judged by Meghan Daum. Her work has been supported by fellowships at The MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, and Ucross Foundation. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn, New York.