Monday, Oct. 30, students gathered at the Bowers Writers House to hear a reading from speaker Jessica McCaughey.
McCaughey is an assistant professor of academic and professional writing at George Washington University. She developed a writing program to aid organizations and their employees through workshops focused on proper technical and professional writing and editing.
She also conducts research on how academic writing transfers to the professional world and teaching multilingual writers.
McCaughey works with the university’s Writing in the Disciplines group, Career Services, and the University Teaching and Learning Center.
She was nominated for the Columbian College’s Robert W. Kenny Prize for Innovation in Teaching of Introductory Courses.
Her writing has been published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Best American Travel Writing, Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and the Fine Arts, The Rumpus and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. McCaughey is also a Pushcart Prize nominee.
For the reading, McCaughey read from a personal essay of her own that has not been published. The essay is a creative nonfiction piece about a childhood friend of hers.
They had been friends growing up until McCaughey moved away at the age of 14. She and her friend continued to exchange letters for a period of time after she left. Years later, they had grown apart but remained friends on Facebook.
The last time they saw each other was in 1996. One day, she saw his wife make an alarming but vague post.
This inspired her to begin rereading the old letters from her teenage years and begin investigating her friend’s social media and his family’s.
She discovered that her friend had a falling out with his parents, and they were not even connected on Facebook.
She began obsessing about what happened to him and even had a dream of them marrying. She was engaged at the time.
After months of searching, McCaughey discovered her childhood friend had likely perished in a fire at his home, but his body was unidentifiable.
She speculated the cause of the fire but was never able to discover what happened. The essay ends with this.
The writing was structured as a back and forth of reading the letters, which led to descriptions of her memories, and her experience searching on social media.
Listening to the essay, one could easily picture what McCaughey was describing and feel the emotions she felt.
After the reading, the students had an option to partake in a question and answer session with McCaughey.
When they questioned her about her decision to write the personal essay, she explained her reasons.
“I didn’t want to write about this [topic],” McCaughey said. “It was something I couldn’t stop obsessing about.”
Also, regarding the piece, there were rumors about her friend’s wife that she chose not to put in the essay since there was no clear evidence to support them.
In the piece, she assigned an anonymous name to her friend to protect his and his family’s privacy.
“I really enjoyed the essay, and I liked listening to the sound of [McCaughey’s] voice,” first-year Emmett Ferree said.
McCaughey’s favorite genre to write is creative fiction. On the other hand, she explained that her “favorite subject to teach would be professional or technical writing.”
She said she enjoys being able to educate students on how to improve their writing for their future careers.
Earlier in the day, she visited and presented in different writing classes. She also hosted another event before this one. It was a workshop on writing.