Remembering Lydia Fakundiny

 Lydia Fakundiny's ground-breaking survey of the "personal" or "casual" essay from Montaigne to the present day. 

Lydia Fakundiny's ground-breaking survey of the "personal" or "casual" essay from Montaigne to the present day. 

Lydia Fakundiny inspired me with her tremendous passion for the long tradition of "personal" or "casual" or "informal" essay in all its guises.

She was my very favorite college professor, and I just learned she passed away at the end of March last year (2013). Though I talked to her on and off for a long time after I graduated, we hadn't been in touch for well over a decade. 

Lydia was utterly brilliant, but could be intimidating too. She once skewered an overly-entitled and fatuous frat boy in class who was going on about being a "freethinker" without really understanding the term. (What she would have made of a tea party idiot I can't help but wonder).

She could also be incredibly generous and insightful, and it's these qualities that the obits and blog entries I quickly found online testify to. Lydia could follow the subtle filament of an argument, tease out every nuance and implication, with breathtaking skill. Here's another former student on the power and mystery of this teacher.

One of the great experiences of my life was getting to take not one but two writing workshops with her at Cornell in the late 1980s, and then again as an alum in 1999 and 2000.

She also edited one of the best anthologies of essays I've know of -- The Art of the Essay (Houghton Mifflin, 1990) -- so terrific because she includes her own lengthy thoughts on every aspect of reading and writing essays. 

To be honest, I've always thought it puts Phillip Lopate's better-known anthology to shame.

The anthology looks to be out of print, though there are second-hand copies available. If you care about the essay at all, on any level, you owe it to yourself to buy a copy today. It's the best way I can think of to remember a teacher who made the connection between living, writing, and thinking indispensable.