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Creative Writing Professor Gives Student’s Childhood Trauma a B

Photo by Lucy Ferry / The Daily Pennsylvanian

English major Martin Zang (C '23) spent his Saturday night as usual: alone in his bedroom, cloaked in a veil of oppressive sentimentality. Tasked to write a short fictional essay for his Introduction to Creative Writing class, Zang had no other choice than to explore the traumatic experiences of his past. “Great fiction is about truth,” Zang said. 

After mapping out the grief and sorrow of his childhood in excruciating detail, Zang was emotionally drained, but relieved. “There is something very freeing about putting your pain on the page. I haven’t been brave enough to open up like this before. I’m really going out on a limb here,” Zang explained. His piece begins with the death of his mother at childbirth, followed by a series of floods that plagued his family home from ages three to nine. Zang ends the story with the devastating loss of his father, sister, and brother to a rare water-borne norovirus.  

Zang hoped his hours of emotional labor would yield a piece worthy of his introductory writing course. Dr. Rachel Sachs, Zang’s professor and a highly-decorated faculty member of Penn’s English department, had other thoughts. “The part where he watches his childhood best friend die from a grand mal seizure was not particularly compelling. His grandfather’s ongoing battle with dementia, juxtaposed with his brother’s debilitating opioid addiction was a nice thought, but not successfully executed,” Sachs explained. “Zang has a solid grasp on grammar and diction, but this didn’t blow me away. I think an 85 is fair.” 

Sachs hopes her lukewarm review does not discourage Zang. “It’s only his first attempt,” Sachs said. “Perhaps he will endure more engaging trauma in his adult life.”