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You may have seen Kathryn Gessner teaching English here at Shasta College

You may have seen Kathryn Gessner teaching English here at Shasta College, where she teaches College Composition (ENGL 1A), Literature & Composition (ENGL 1B), Poetry (ENGL 16), and Creative Writing (ENGL 31), or maybe pictured with her favorite books on posters around campus. Wherever she’s seen, Ms. Gessner is always showing her enthusiasm for literature and poetry, with a hearty laugh.

For one thing, she really cares about her students. “I like the discovery of students feeling like they come into contact with their own writing voice,” she explains, “They being to develop a real strength in their own style, and their own skill, and that helps them to have their own voice, and to understand their own place in the world and their own thought process. I feel it’s really empowering for students, and I just love that aspect.”

She even keeps a small library in her office, which includes collected works of William Shakespeare, Norton Anthology of Poetry, and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. But what else do you know about this fantastic English teacher?

First of all, Ms. Gessner describes her childhood as having a “sheltered rural life and a very big international life.” Growing up in the Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania, and living close to her grandmother’s chicken farm, she enjoyed preparing eggs, chickens, and baby ducks for the market with her family, as well as picking fruit. Every so often she would also accompany her father, who was a pilot for Pan American World Airways, on his “around-the world flight.”

While attending Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, she realized she wasn’t sure why she was going to college, so she dropped out and later enrolled in Buck County Community College in Newton, Pennsylvania. There, she decided to major in photography, and she also took a literature course. Around that time, she read Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself, which she says, changed her life and made her interested in poetry for the first time.

At the University of Delaware, she received a Major in History and a Minor in English, the latter of which was substantial because it had the same requirements as an English Major at Chico State University. She also attending grad school in Arkansas, where she obtained her MFA in Creative Writing, with an emphasis in Poetry. After teaching at Pennsylvania State University, Missouri State University, Cabrillo College, and Hartnell College, she began teaching full time at Shasta College in 1999.

When asked what teaching English and Literature meant to her, she replied, “If I’m teaching writing, the discovery aspect and helping the students with their own writing is important. When I’m teaching literature, … I feel like the students are getting a sense of making a leap into a different kind of thinking. It helps with divergent thinking and it helps with creativity, and so I’m hoping that it’s like being introduced to another language: the world opens further, and it did for me. With literature, I think people get a better understanding of human beings, they get a better understanding of themselves, and they get a better understanding of their place in the world. To me, the best recommendation for an individual, besides studying psychology, is studying literature. Those two things seem to go hand-in-hand, and they help people in all aspects of life, and all professions, to understand the world that they’re working in better.”

When she’s not teaching Ms. Gessner enjoys spending time with her 16-year-old son Sterling (who is named after the prolific writers Sterling North and Sterling A. Brown), her dog, and her boyfriend. She is also fond of hiking, mountain biking, photography, playing the piano, and cooking, though the two most important things she does for pleasure in walking and writing, which she does every day. Her works have been published in print and online, including Natural Bridge, New England Review, New Mill Writings, Literature Magazine, and Louisiana Literature. Below are some of her writings:

 

Poems published in Louisiana Literature, 2012:

 

Red Hill Ridge

It’s the place of the heart on the ridge of knowing
where the horses rushed to the rail along
the pasture pond.  To have their noses touched.
They stood and blew at me, my tiny hands

falling into their soft nostrils,

their mucus running down my elbows,

inside my jacket, down my spine.

The dog’s bark and run toward me,
usually a pleasant part of the afternoon,
would part us, horses and girl,
as they turned up toward the lip
of the pond, across the ridge and rise
from where they had come, a hundred
pasture miles from here.
The willow dipped toward winter

as lightning scintillated in the distance.

 

−Kathryn Gessner

 

Single Track

Shadows followed us all the way on home,

bicycles on our roof like strange fellows,

ourselves, seated victory, ready to run,

flying beside us as alter egos.
We would take the new bikes to the mountains.

On our way, stories grew into nightfall,

the stars overhead crept in, and the rain–

the northern edge coming on, dazzling all

the brightness moving within, a new space

where the heart goes hard against the ribcage.

It would be this way, stars and the heart race,

peddling with effort, treading a trail’s edge,

until we could stay on, ride wind and tears,

carve our way along the rock without fear.

 

−Kathryn Gessner

 

 

Poem published by Natural Bridge, 2013:

 

Hungry

The void is not easy.
Beyond the small fence
a mulberry tree,
beyond it the long fall
down to the red shale creek,

the crayfish and water sliders,

water that ran cold all summer.

 

We could never go that far

as children.  We stood at the mulberry,

the border of the farm,

wishing our way to the creek.

 

When it was warm sometimes

someone would take us down

to wade shallow water and sharp shale,
mosquitoes purpling our arms.

 

No one can tell me now

why we didn’t run
away from the chicken houses
straight to the shale basin
with its even slabs of cool water.

At supper, we ate our wishes.
Hamburgers on the stone grill,

berries we picked along the edge
of the view.  We toasted marshmallows
as bottles littered the picnic table,

the bright sullen arc of spilled beer.

 

We could have gone then

pell mell toward the creek,

but we stayed, obedient in our lineage,

waiting for our chance.

 

−Kathryn Gessner

 

Written and PhotoGessner2 by Dominic Mallari

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