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home : education : nicolet college June 27, 2017

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Learning in a small group sitting around a table is a hallmark of Ed O’Casey’s creative writing class. Pictured here, left to right, are students Amelia Kofler, Katie Grulke, instructor Ed O’Casey, and Jessie Swearingen.
Submitted photo

Learning in a small group sitting around a table is a hallmark of Ed O’Casey’s creative writing class. Pictured here, left to right, are students Amelia Kofler, Katie Grulke, instructor Ed O’Casey, and Jessie Swearingen.
5/18/2017 7:29:00 AM
Nicolet writing instructor explores life on the Mexican-American border in first book

One hundred feet.

That's the distance between the quaint and comfortable confines of El Paso, Texas, and the decidedly opposite Juarez, Mexico, once a peaceful border city infested today by drug cartels that are violent to the extreme.

Those 100 feet - and the different realities on either end - are well known to Nicolet College creative writing instructor Ed O'Casey. He grew up in El Paso and frequently visited family in Juarez during its earlier, more peaceful times.

"It's a strange paradox and one that today is absolutely insane," O'Casey said of the dichotomies of the two very different current-day realities. "I often think of how different my life would be if I had been born in Juarez."

That question makes up the crux of "Proximidad," a book O'Casey recently authored which was published by Broadstone Media.

In its 92 pages, O'Casey pieces together a series of vignettes, often startling and sometimes even horrific, using a breadth of writing styles that easily transition from memoir, journalism, creative nonfiction, and rich documentary poetry.

Born to a Mexican mother and Irish father, the family frequently crossed the border to Juarez in the late 1970s and 1980s to visit his mother's family.

It was a time that O'Casey remembers fondly, but one he struggles with today considering the current day reality of life just across the thin strip of water known as the Rio Grande River.

"It really hurts to see a place you love so much become something like a war zone," he said. "I have to reconcile the fact that I'm alive and the reason I'm alive is that I wasn't born a mile south of where I grew up."

O'Casey, who has two master's degrees in writing, one in English from the University of North Texas and the second a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from New Mexico State University, wrote the book over the course of three years. This included countless hours of research about the drug trade and the abject violence, murders, and sex trafficking that are all a part of cartel life in Juarez.

Nicolet student Jessie Swearingen is enrolled in O'Casey's creative writing class and held her instructor in high regard even before "Proximidad" was published.

"Without question Ed is an amazing instructor," Swearingen said. "The fact that he's now a published author even adds more credibility to his teaching."

Nicolet student Katie Grulke is also in O'Casey's creative writing class.

"Ed is fantastic writer and a great teacher," she said. "My writing has developed tremendously. There's so much more to writing than what I originally thought."

A writer by nature, O'Casey mentioned he has other manuscripts in the works, and may in the future write a book about something that won't be as emotionally taxing as "Proximidad" was to write.

"Maybe food," he said. "I've always wanted to write a book about food."

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