The Master of Fine Arts in Writing presents "The Human in Humor," featuring Sanjiv Bhattacharya, Bernard Cooper, and Mapmakers Scholar Angela Wang MFA '23 (Nonfiction).
As writers, we sometimes forget or underutilize the inherent superpower of the absurd residing inside all of us. And yet, our readers’ being “in on the joke” is often exactly what makes humor such a compelling vehicle for emotional truth-telling. So how can we harness humor as a specific craft element to explore difficult or heavy topics in real life? How can we as writers who are bound to an element of emotional truth shape and craft difficult stories using comedic elements?
Wang wrote her critical essay for her Pacific MFA on Cooper’s memoir, Bill from My Father, where humor plays a large craft element in Cooper’s storytelling and in showing us underlying complexity in various family relationships.
In Bill from My Father, memoirist Bernard Cooper uses his deft touch of humor to move his readers from tears of laughter and recognition to sadness, grief, and longing. We feel and see the stakes in what a son owes his difficult father, and Cooper’s use of humor in dialogue and scenes is one way he shows us the complex underlying emotional dynamic between his characters. Cooper’s memoir is all the more powerful because we as readers are laughing with an understanding of the universal love and longing he portrays.
In nonfiction work by Sanjiv Bhattacharya, we also see and hear his unique and wry sense of humor through dialogue and scene. We also feel a deep sense of humility and empathy through his memoir writing because he is often making fun of himself.
Sanjiv Bhattacharya is a writer and teacher based in Los Angeles. Originally from London, he moved to LA 20 years ago, where he has written for Esquire and GQ in the UK, as well as the Observer, the Telegraph and others. He is the author of the book Secrets and Wives: The Hidden World of Mormon Polygamy, and his work also includes profiles, essays, and longform reporting. He teaches nonfiction at the Pacific University MFA program.
Bernard Cooper’s most recent book is My Avant-Garde Education. He is also the author of The Bill From My Father, Maps To Anywhere, A Year of Rhymes, Truth Serum, and a collection of short stories, Guess Again.
Cooper is the recipient of the 1991 PEN/USA Ernest Hemingway Award, a 1995 O. Henry Prize, a 1999 Guggenheim grant, and a 2004 National Endowment of the Arts fellowship in literature. His work has appeared in several anthologies, including The Best American Essays of 1988, 1995, and 1997, 2002, and 2008. His work has also appeared in magazines and literary reviews including Harper's Magazine, The Paris Review, Story, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Granta, and The New York Times Magazine. He has contributed to National Public Radio's This American Life and for six years wrote monthly features as the art critic for Los Angeles Magazine.
A graduate of the MFA in Writing program at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, Angela Wang was a recipient of the Kwame Dawes Mapmakers Scholarship. She currently resides in Seattle with her family.