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I teach kids writing in schools and I am of the opinion that teachers can teach kids everything there is to know about turning in a good essay (but whether they pick up the teachings and apply them is another story), but the one thing we cannot impress upon a kid is the writer’s voice. The voice is personal, it is elusive, it evolves and grows through every chapter in a person’s life. Yet, not every person who goes through a tumult of soul-shattering experiences becomes a good writer because it takes a special person to want to hone that voice. The voice has to be cultivated, nurtured and it crumples easily. Sometimes I see that magical voice in its infancy within a kid and I wonder if he or she will have the tenacity to grow that talent, realising that words have power.

Marina Keegan has that writer’s voice. It doesn’t take a minute to find that out.

When I chanced upon her last essay entitled “The Opposite of Loneliness” for Yale Daily News, I knew immediately she has it. The essay captures the hope, uncertainty and possibility of newly minted graduates from any university. The working world beckons and who cannot remember how we, buoyant with so much hope for the future, aspire to make our mark in the world.

She writes like a 21 year-old who thinks and behaves like a 21 year-old. This is not someone who is a 21 year-old but wants you to think she is way beyond her years. Five days after graduating magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012, she tragically died in a car crash.

I read this posthumous collection of short stories and essays with a lump in my throat. If she were alive, I have a feeling she wouldn’t have allowed these works to grace us in their current state, but as they were one can immediately discern a refreshing voice full of raw fervour and appealing passion. Her ambition is evident and the enthusiasm infectious. The short stories expand from a small nugget of an idea or a simple notion to a poetic conclusion. Her telling angle captures pensive instants, her prose unsentimental and emotionally adroit, with epiphanies that don’t come with loud clangs but with silences that scream in your soul. This is keen and expanding intelligence at work. Keegan has a writer’s eye for truth and the human condition. It makes me sad that she wouldn’t be able to see her own success.

 

Do you wanna leave soon?
No, I want enough time to be in love with everything…
And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.
– Marina Keegan, from the poem “Bygones”