Things You Find While Cleaning Up: High School Papers


I’m engaged in some spring cleaning that includes going through my many folders of old and/or incomplete fiction and nonfiction writings. The things you find. Like, a long-ass research paper on “The Peoples and Ruins of Great Zimbabwe”. These ruins were a special obsession of mine for a year or so of high school.

An excerpt: “Soon self-proclaimed experts were interpreting the find as a lost Phoenician settlement, as King Solomon’s Mines, as the ancient dwellings of the Queen of Sheba, as an Islamic colony, as anything but the truth. A kind of diseased romanticism infected imaginations everywhere, until not only the builders but even the time of construction became hopelessly entangled in a thick fog of contradictory theories. The single thread of common reasoning was the idea that Great Zimbabwe had been built by people from an area around the Mediterranean. In other words, it was presupposed that white men had been the original inhabitants of the city. Not a single person looked objectively at the evidence garnered at the ruins; otherwise the truth would have been apparent.”


The second thing I found was a paper I wrote on Thai writer Somtow Sucharitkul, who at some point changed his writer name to S.P. Somtow. Sucharitkul was one of my all-time favorite writers. So I was going to write about him. The resulting paper I titled “Somtow Sucharitkul: American Themes, Multicultural Viewpoint” because the assignment was to talk about a quintessentially American writer, whatever that means. Although there are lots of ways to talk about Sucharitkul’s work in terms of his being influenced by US SF/Fantasy writers and also famous poets, I have to admit I might’ve overdone the linkage. But most of the essay is an excitable series of appreciations of the novels, sometimes light on the analysis.

An excerpt: “Time is the essential element of the best novels. How a writer perceives time determines whether a book will be a gateway to an entire world or a narrow gateway into a small piece of that world. This perception also often determines how an author addresses his or her themes. Both Thomas Wolfe and Somtow Sucharitkul have a mastery of time, using three different types of time—ordinary sequential flow, accumulated human experience, and immutable time. However, Somtow’s method of expressing time is vastly different from Wolfe’s. Sucharitkul uses less poetry and more prose in expressing his ideas on time….Still, there are similarities, too. Wolfe is often essentially saying that not only are we the accumulation of human history, but we also repeat history. This is the role of Somtow’s Rememberers—to repeat history so it will not be forgotten. They act as a cumulative conscience reminding the Inquestors to be compassionate.”

I have a vague memory of sending a copy of the paper to Somtow and that he was kind about it, consider what a mess it must have seemed.

Somewhere around here I have the 200-page paper I wrote on post-apocalyptic civilizations that wound up being instead a whole invented storyline set after some catastrophe, including sample poetry and prose from this time period. I remember being utterly depressed when I got an A-. “I did 200 pages and got an A-“. “Yes,” my teacher said, “but the assignment was 30 pages and nonfiction only.” Ah well.


  1. says

    I am now very curious what kind of high school education you had. Based on the excerpts, these look like remarkably well-written pieces for a high school student, let alone for a college student.

  2. says

    So being as flowery in your expression comes from your school days. MAN, when I was in high school I did a 7 page [handwritten] essay on the evolution of Pokemon… :D

  3. jeff vandermeer says


    I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was eight. When I was in middle school, my mom gave me comments on most of my papers. So by the time I was in high school, I had already honed my craft a bit.

    Flowery? I assure you sir it is merely robust.