Freshman Writers Tap Into Life Lessons

December 16, 2010 | Brooklyn College

Brooklyn, N.Y.—Andrew Toomer read about finding connections through a dance style he calls “cooking.”

Ariel Marshall remembered the innocent simplicity of her childhood.

Elisa Renee Libraty revealed how she always wanted a sister but discovered she had something better.

Samuel Rodriguez Beltran described the decision to leave his village home in southern Mexico for a better chance in life.

Max Temnogorod wrote of returning to his family’s farm in Ukraine and realizing the strength of ancestral ties.

All freshmen in the first semester of their college life, these fine writers shared their essays at the Authors’ Party on Dec. 7 in the Student Center. The reading was the culmination of this year’s Freshman Common Reading project, which requires each entering freshman class to read the same book from which subsequent assignments are given and discussions are held. Finally, the students are asked to write their own stories that are collected in the yearly anthology, Telling Our Stories, Sharing Our Lives.

Janet Moser, director of Freshman Composition, explained that the program, which began in 2004, “is a bridge from high school to college. The assignments allow the students to be analytical even as they explore their personal feelings.”

This year’s book was How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America, by Associate Professor of English Moustafa Bayoumi, about Brooklyn teenagers who are often torn between the world of their parents and the world outside their door. Previous books included Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies.

Remarkably poised as they stood at the lectern, each student brought an unusual depth of introspection to their work. Some read shyly, others with emotions, to a full audience of faculty, their fellow freshmen and a good handful of family.

Max Temnogorod’s experience in the course was like many of the freshmen. He had first written his story about a trip back to Kiev when he was 17. At the time, his high school teacher found it to be unacceptably fragmented. “I pulled it out again when we got the assignment and showed it to my professor, Wendy Fairey, who immediately loved it and encouraged me to tighten it up.  She helped me to find the image of the sun for how we’re all connected.”