“Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood” by Michele Morano (2005)

December 5, 2012 | Posted in Essays in America |

Michele Morano, author of “Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood.” Professor at DePaul University.

Michele Morano is a contemporary essayist with a unique and meaningful voice. Her prose is as impressive as her essays are memorable. She is a vital contributor to the genre.

Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, Michele Morano decided to become a writer in the eighth grade when she first realized writing – something she loved to do – could be a career. Morano said she didn’t become serious about writing until graduate school at the University of Iowa, where she earned her MFA in nonfiction writing and her Ph.D in English.

Morano is drawn to writing personal essays “whose subject matter is drawn from [her] life but whose aim is to transcend that subject matter and get to something true.” She considers herself a “binge writer” that “rebel[s] every time” from the promise of establishing some writing routine or schedule. She believes essay writing “involves interpreting your own experience, recognizing and understanding patterns that point toward some kind of truth.” She feels that writing well about herself allows the essay to become something larger, so it can affect others and shed light on some universal truth.

She is currently an Associate Professor of English at DePaul University and working on a new book about a girl who works with fireworks for her summer job.

Essay’s Form

Morano employs the discussion of the subjunctive mood in Spanish grammar to relay her personal struggle of doubt and uncertainty over an unstable relationship. She effectively supports the essay’s grammar lesson with poignant examples while emphasizing the uncertainty she experienced when dealing with her suicidal boyfriend through the subjunctive mood.

Michele Morano taught English in Oviedo, Spain. Oviedo is part of the setting of Morano’s essay.

Morano structures her essay like a typical grammar lesson, using subheadings to introduce new conjugations or uses of the subjunctive mood. She uses the linguistics both to emphasize her story and to act as a catalyst for relaying her feelings without appearing too drowned by her woes. The grammar allows her to distance herself somewhat from the emotional subject and reassess or reflect on the situation through a different lens.

She also separates herself from the memory by utilizing the second person tense. The second person reinforces the grammar lesson feel and presents the story to the reader like a personable textbook would teach a student. It forces the reader to regard the story as if it were the reader’s own situation or responsibility, so the reader can see the narrator’s decisions through her perspective. It simultaneously distances the author from the memory while connecting the reader to the feelings and situation.

The second person also allows Morano to reflect on her feelings and decisions for herself by working through them via the essay. She is talking to herself, narrating her own thought process and giving herself reasons for her actions, or attempting to find those reasons.

Within the grammar lesson is Morano’s narrative. She tells us a story through her memories and reflections, with the subjunctive mood acting as a bridge into her experiences.

Immediate Context

As Morano explains in the essay, her experiences with her boyfriend happened while they were both graduate students, which would have been sometime before her graduation in 2001. She taught English at Oviedo University in Spain as her post-graduate work, which would places these events sometime around the early 2000s.

Morano’s essay first appeared in this issue of the Crab Orchard Review. Source: Screencapture from Amazon

Morano submitted her essay to the Crab Orchard Review for the John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize, which she won in 2005. The Crab Orchard Review is a biannual journal that features new literary works selected from submissions for their annual awards and publication. The Crab Orchard Review helps promote new writers and poets and circulates through the academic and literary community.

The COR is freely distributed to libraries and universities across Illinois and sent to book fairs across the country. The COR appears to be a fairly localized and small publication.

Subsequent Appearances

The COR reaches a relatively small audience compared to the Best American Essays Series that picked up Morano’s essay for the Best American Essays of 2006. Morano’s “Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood” appears alongside essays originally published in Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, and The New Yorker in this publication of her work.

Morano’s essay was also published in Best American Essays in 2006. Source: screencapture from Amazon

The University of Iowa Press published Morano’s book Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain in 2007 with the revised title “In the Subjunctive Mood” included as the fourth essay in the book. The essay appeared here with a few minor wording changes and spacing differences but overall no major edits. The book received wonderful reviews, with specific mentions of the essay citing it as succeeding in “explaining a complex grammatical concept” while telling “a compelling story” and not lacking in “internal dialogue and thoughtful self-questioning.” Michael Steinberg said she “uses her travel experience…as a lens through which she examines more deeply what it means to be human.”

The essay was also included in the sixth edition of the anthology The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction by Robert Root and Michael Steinberg where it appeared under Part 1: Writing Creative Nonfiction. The sixth edition anthology was published by Longman in 2011. The Fourth Genre is a best-selling anthology that will likely reach many university classrooms.

Bibliographical Materials

Morano, Michele. “Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood.” Crab Orchard Review  10.1 (2005): PDF file. John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize Winner

–“Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood.” The Best American Essays . Ed. Lauren Slater and Robert Atwan. N.p.: Best American Paper, 2006. 107-121. PDF file.

–“In the Subjunctive Mood.” Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007. 25-38. Print.

–“Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood.” Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers on/of Creative Nonfiction. By Robert Root and Michael Steinberg. 6th ed. N.p.: Longman, 2011. N. Print.

Picture source: http://timeoutchicago.com/sites/default/files/export_images/98/98.ft.people18.jpg

Text and images: Erin Wall.