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The Magic of Magical Realism

“What is it like to live in a world where the ordinary transforms into the magical? Come explore the works of Isabel Allende and Nobel Prize-winner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and find out! Enter worlds where nature has gone mad, death is conquered, beauty is redefined, and time has no meaning. Leave normal behind and transcend into the supernatural— if you dare!”

~ Nicolette Kostiw, Instructor of Latin American History in Magical Realism, VSA Session III

For years there has been a joke around here that if we put “engineering,” “nano–” or “medicine” in the title of a course, it will fill in an instant. Other classes–without those particular hooks in the title–can take a little more time. But we offer them enthusiastically because we believe in a summer program that allows all kinds of talented students to rise to their fullest potential, this means students in humanities courses as well as the go-to STEM courses. (I am a humanities guy myself, so I love to promote our humanities offerings to students and families who might be searching for that very thing.)

This year, the course that gets me all giddy is our Session III course on Latin American History in Magical Realism. We have found that interdisciplinary courses can be a bit harder to convey in a quick course description; we have also found that many of our interdisciplinary courses have been the most incredible courses offered!

So allow me to take a few moments to tell you why I think our Magical Realism class is likely to be one of those incredible courses talked about for years to come. While it’s one of the few classes in Session III that is not full yet, here’s why I think it should be:

  • The Instructor — The way some people react to Taylor Swift is the way I reacted to Nicolette Kostiw (pronounced “COST-yoo”) after she came in to pitch the course. Okay, maybe I wasn’t jumping up and down and saying “Ohmygosh! Ohmygosh! Ohmygosh!” But it was pretty close. She’s just that…well, extraordinary.
  • The Genre — There is a good chance you have never heard of magical realism before. It is not something they tend to teach in high school. The easiest way I can think to explain it is: imagine you were walking down the street, and a dog came up to you. “Excuse me,” he says, “Can you please tell me how to get to the nearest bakery.” You tell the dog that it’s just around the corner, and then keep on walking as if nothing unusual happened, because nothing unusual did! That’s simplified, of course, but the idea here is that the “magic” one encounters in magical realism is very much real and entirely expected.
  • The Context — Beyond the magical, there is real world politics at play. The genre developed as a way for those without a voice in oppressive regimes to tell a story that was at odds with the official state narratives. So not only will you learn about the history of an increasingly important part of the world, but you will also learn about how the act of story-telling itself can speak truth to power.

So, if you’re a student, take a few minutes to look at our website again. Read the course description, and think about whether or not this is a class you might be interested in, especially if you are on a waiting list. If you love books or history or anthropology, or if you’re thinking about a career in law or politics, this might be the class for you!

Of course, like we always say, do not sign up for a class if you do not see yourself truly enjoying it. Three weeks is a long time to immerse yourself in a topic that only registers so-so on the interest scale. Like I said, just read over that description and think about it. I have been with VSA in some capacity since 2007. I know from experience that interdisciplinary classes without buzzwords can sometimes get overlooked. If anything I’ve said here strikes a chord, you might be the student I’m hoping to reach, and if you’re ready to sign up, give our admissions coordinator a call. She’ll take good care of you.

Dr. David J. Dunn, VSA Academic Director



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