“Today’s office hours are at Sunset Lake.”
Amitava Kumar, Helen D. Lockwood Professor of English, recently wrote a beautiful piece for The Vassar Fund. He spoke about adapting teaching and learning during the pandemic – including how he held office hours by walking with his students around Sunset Lake.
He also shared a drawing of Sunset Lake. Many people expressed how moved they were by both his text and his drawing.
Professor Kumar was kind enough to share more of his drawings with us. They are images from all around campus, including Casperkill Creek and Vassar Farm.
Amitava Kumar is the author of several books of non-fiction and two novels. His latest novel Immigrant, Montana was named one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker and The New York Times—and included in Barack Obama’s list of favorite books of 2018. Among Kumar’s honors are a Guggenheim fellowship and a fellowship from USArtists. His writing has appeared in Granta, Harper’s Magazine, The Guardian, The Nation, and The New York Times. Kumar is the Helen D. Lockwood Professor of English at Vassar College. His new novel, A Time Outside This Time, will be published by Knopf in 2021.
Follow Professor Kumar on Twitter: @amitavakumar
Follow Professor Kumar on Instagram: @amitavawriter
Even during what we now – post-COVID – call normal times, I would be walking to my office in Sanders Classroom and look at my watch – fifteen minutes left before office hours begin? Let me take a stroll around Sunset Lake! During these days of the pandemic, I have been teaching outdoors under tents. Tent #1, close to Rocky, and Tent #7, next to Chicago Hall. A few students are attending class remotely, from places as far away as Brazil and China. On occasion I turn the Zoom camera around to show those students what our beautiful campus looks like at that hour.
The essence of creativity is to imagine new possibilities even in adverse conditions. Outdoor teaching under the tents, the wide-angle camera on a tripod that shows our remote students their classmates sitting on desk-chairs six-feet apart, the antiseptic wipes we use to disinfect the surfaces we touch, are creative responses to a problem we are all facing together as a community.
As I write this, the pandemic has resulted in over 200,000 deaths in our country and has devastated families and the economy. I have been able to take note of the positive, healthy, even euphoric, effect that a return to Vassar has meant to our students. They are glad to be together with their friends and attending classes. During my walks on campus the last few evenings, I have seen them sitting under the tents where I teach. The lights are on. It is a pleasant sight, young people having socially-distanced dinner from take-out containers, or wearing masks and seated in a wide circle engaged in discussion, or laboring silently over their homework.
I have a friend who is a senior editor at my publishing house – she is also an alum, Vassar ’90. Occasionally, I send her pictures and sketches from all around campus, especially Sunset Lake, where, many years ago, she sat on a hill and read War and Peace. I cannot wait to tell her that, exercising my creative option at this time, I have been holding office hours at the lake these days. We walk around the water that reflects the trees and the blue of the sky. With wisdom borrowed from a great spiritual leader, I say to my students: Have calm thoughts. Meditate on the words you have written. And as you walk, imagine you are making flowers bloom under your feet.
— Amitava Kumar