Writing for Your Life: Celebrating Jake Seliger

By Genie Giaimo

Dear Clark English community,

We share a lot of good news on the Next Chapter, and of course, sometimes sad news as well. Today, we are sharing a post written by Genie Giaimo (BA ’06, MA ’07), which readers might find very hard as well as moving. I offer my deepest gratitude to Genie for managing to write in the face of a situation where words can so easily fail.

-Meredith Neuman, Chair

CW: Mentions cancer, death

My best friend, Jake Seliger is dying of squamous cell carcinoma (a cancer). I’ve known Jake since we were undergraduate English majors at Clark University. Back then, we became friends in spite of one another—neither of us were necessarily easy people—through a mutual and shared love of writing and literature. I remember bickering with Jake in Heather Roberts’s Survey of American Literature I (yes, gender does matter in Last of the Mohicans and no, the changed ending in the movie was not a good decision on the part of the director). From the beginning, I found Jake—a tall kid with curly brown hair, colorful t-shirts, and a clipped way of speaking—fascinating and frustrating. We both had opinions which often did not intersect. We both participated too much in class. We never seemed to agree.

Jake Seliger (pictured).

But then Jake got cancer in 2005 while he was studying abroad, and the petty intellectual squabbles melted away. Like the Transcendentalists and Modernists (or other figures from literary movements that we learned about in our major), we began a regular, near-daily correspondence. I talked about my classes, what I was reading (largely for my honors thesis but also a lot of detective fiction, what I was thinking (about graduation and the future). Jake talked about his cancer treatments, what he was reading (a lot of Lord of the Rings), and what he was thinking (about getting better, about coming back to Clark for the second part of his senior year). From the summer between junior and senior year and into the fall, we wrote to each other. Jake saves all of his emails and has since 2002. In returning to our messages all these years later, I see the beginnings of a friendship that has spanned nearly two decades: from tentative and cerebral to far more open and vulnerable. Through graduate school, moves around the country, and all kinds of familial and personal life events, we remained in touch. Our friendship is one of the constants in my life. His new diagnosis is gutting as he and his wife have written about.

As for me, well, I’m writing but I am also taking an action of another kind and one that I hope has staying power for generations of Clarkies to come. I created the Jake Seliger Emergent Writer Fund (see below).

Now I’m a professor at Middlebury College, and I’m bound to talk about the importance of things like literature and writing for many abstract and academic reasons—BUT there are times when we need to must write for our lives. We need to write like there’s no tomorrow. For Jake, there aren’t a lot of tomorrows. We need to write so badly to make sense of what we are experiencing that doing anything else might drive us mad (or make us explode). Jake understands the need to write for your life. He’s been doing it for decades; words like “obsessive” or “maniacal” may describe him. Before this cancer diagnosis and before the first one, Jake was a writer. I, too, have been writing personally since I was a teen. I’ve turned to writing in some of my darkest moments as well as my brightest. Writing allows me to make meaning and bring to the surface the swirl of emotions and experiences I otherwise might not be able to process. I’m writing about Jake personally and here in this blog. Jake, and his wife, are writing about their personal and shared experiences. In the end, writing might be all that is left to commemorate all of the memories and experiences with and about Jake.

Jake and Genie at the Biosphere in Arizona.

I’m creating the Jake Seliger emergent writer fund because I’m looking to the future and trying to find a way to honor a person who’s been so important to my intellectual and socio-emotional development. As I say in the title of this piece, I am writing for my life right now, as I know others are doing and I hope to support others who feel this call to write at Clark in the future. This fund will support English majors at Clark when they can do nothing else but write; when they have a burning need to write outside of the classroom and formal assigned projects. I hope this fund will support young people like Jake and I once were, who have a burning desire to write and who need support. In creating this fund, I hope to help create some community around the process of writing in informal and creative ways. And I hope that what comes from this fund will help us to see Jake in large and small ways long after he is no longer with us.

Clark English brought me and Jake together. We found a mutual love of writing and reading and did these activities long after the classes ended, and the grades were posted. Jake helped shape my reading and writing interests—indeed he has been there at every step of my academic and creative career. I, of course, like to think that I helped shape his writing through his blog and commenting on his novels, though Jake was a writer long before we met. After he’s gone, I hope his memory will live on in many ways—large and small—and I know, I am certain of this, that writing will be a part of his legacy. So, I am here to support that legacy in the way I know best: through writing and supporting the writing needs of others. I hope you can join me by donating to this fund. But, if not, that’s OK, too. Keep writing: our lives, our legacies, really are made better by it.

To Donate: Here is the link to donate: https://alumni.clarku.edu/clarku and check “Other” in the drop-down menu. Donors can write “Jake Seliger,” or “Jake Seliger Emergent Writer Fund,” and the Alumni team will process accordingly.

Description of the fund below.

The Jake Seliger Emergent Writer Fund:

Jake Seliger (BA, English ’06) was dedicated to writing long before entering a classroom. As an undergraduate student at Clark, he wrote more than six novels from coming of age stories, to a sci-fi spin on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, to a fantasy novel—A Glimmer in the Dark—about a group of young adults who discover magic powers through wielding the written word. Jake also wrote on his blog, The Story’s Story for nearly two decades, which started when he had his first bout with cancer.

This fund celebrates all that is good in higher education—intellectual curiosity, creative output, meaningful writing— but, specifically, independent creative writing that is shared among friends and peers, as well as in the world outside the Clark community. Funding will be awarded to aspiring novelists and essayists who are working on projects outside of required coursework. This fund is available to all English and Creative Writing majors/minors. We hope to support emergent writers as they develop, carry-out, and revise longer-form writing. At least one award will be given annually.

Adding my contact info in case of questions: geniegiaimo@gmail.com and ggiaimo@middlebury.edu 

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