The Modern Love column in the New York Times is for many one of the most beloved sections of the newspaper. UVic writing student Liz Snell — who together with her writing instructor, David Leach, is working on an anthology of student writing in the spirit and style of the column — says that reading the essays is “like looking through somebody else’s diary.”
For the original Modern Love column, New York Times editors solicit personal essays about “any subject that might reasonably fit under the heading ‘Modern Love.’ ” One essay is published per week in the Style section of the Sunday edition of the newspaper.
Leach, director of UVic’s Professional Writing and Technology in Society minors, is a long-time reader of the column. He decided to challenge his fourth-year creative non-fiction class to write essays about modern relationships in the style of Modern Love. Tired of the 19-year-old memoirist, he did this partly to get the memoir out of his students’ systems, he says, but also “to test their ability to write a coherent story with the constraint of a fairly limited word count.”
Leach was impressed with the honest and moving personal essays that his students submitted in the two years that he repeated the exercise. He was also struck by the wide-ranging interpretation of the theme of modern love.
When Snell took the class in her third year, she submitted a story about library speed dating. Hers was not the first speed-dating story Leach had read in his time running the course, “but she had really nailed it in a perceptive yet funny way,” he says.
Inspired by the top-quality submissions from past years and supported by a Jamie Cassels Undergraduate Research Award (JCURA) — a grant designed to help students in exceptional academic standing obtain direct research experience — co-editors Snell and Leach plan to publish an anthology.
They are inviting past and present UVic students to tackle the universal theme of love and submit their own essays. The best submissions will be included in the collection. The personal essays should be 1 500–1 700 words in length, though shorter or longer essays may be considered. The editors are looking for “stories that are fun to read but also moving and written in a way that is accessible,” says Snell.
In addition to telling a story, the essays should also offer some reflection or insight that will make the events meaningful to a reader, explains Leach. They should not simply be titillating without something deeper underneath.
Snell explains that this type of anthology is relevant today because there are so many issues that people can get very divided over, yet relationships and emotions are something everyone can connect with. Instead of highlighting our differences, such stories help us understand who we are as human beings and what we have in common.
“The stories offer a window into other people’s lives,” says Leach. He explains that the essays are valuable because in them, somebody is offering an honest glimpse of their lives at more than just a reality-TV level.
Snell and Leach are encouraging contributors, regardless of age, to give it a shot. Writing essays can be a useful way of processing events, Snell says. Even if the story doesn’t go anywhere, you might learn something along the way. Snell notes that there are many directions writers can take this project and advises those up for the challenge to “have fun with it.”
If you would like to submit to the anthology, format submissions as .doc or .docx files, including your name, contact information, word count and title. Send as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org by Nov. 18. Late submissions may be considered if space remains.