Interview With Camille T. Dungy

By Robert Drinkwater

Writer, essayist, poet and English Professor at Colorado State University, Camille T. Dungy will be a visiting writer here at UMF this Thursday, 09/19/2019. Dungy will be the first visiting writer of the semester kicking off our visiting writers series of the academic year. Her debut collection of personal essays Guidebook To Relative Strangers was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, and she is the author of four books of poetry, the most recent one being Trophic Cascade (2017). I had the pleasure of interviewing her about her writing.

How would you describe your writing?

At one point in Guidebook to Relative Strangers, I write about the fine line between hearing a dog’s master say sic her versus sit girl. There was a bully in my elementary school who liked to use his Dobermans to intimidate me. I learned about the fine line between those two commands at a very young age, and I also learned the ways that things that some people love can simultaneously be tools of violence and devastation. Language is the seat of so much power and, like all power, we get to decide whether we use if for good or ill. I can’t remember a time I haven’t known that. Perhaps because, as a black woman, I have always known how common it is for language to be used against me. I think I have also always known about this power because I have found great joy in language, in writing and speaking and thinking about the many things words can do to make the world a more beautiful and loving place. I would make it past that bully and his Dobermans and walk into a house where someone said, “I love you, beautiful.” I’ve always known that language can do revolutionary work in this world. This book, all my writing, is an exploration of the beloved and the beautiful, as well as the opposites they so frequently contain.

What inspired you to write Guidebook To Relative Strangers?

This book started the same way all my books do. I was curious about the world in which I found myself at a particular moment, and I started taking notes. These notes seemed to want to be organized in the manner you read now in Guidebook to Relative Strangers. I didn’t sit down one day and say, “I’m going to write a memoir in essays.”  I write a line and then another line and then another, and soon enough, those lines begin to reveal their direction to me. I was keeping notes about my experiences traveling as a black woman and a mother. I was working towards a deeper understanding of what was being revealed to me about who I was and who I was becoming, and also about who we were as a nation. These notes began to overlap and speak to each other and, soon enough—by soon enough I mean, after a lot of hours at the desk— the book’s path began to reveal itself to me.

 Guidebook To Relative Strangers talks a lot about your experience with race and motherhood. How has that shaped your writing?

Initially, I thought that I was writing a book that explored the early years of motherhood. That was the new thing in my life at the time that I thought was the most interesting. I’ve been a black woman in America for several decades, and so my understanding of what it means to be black in America hasn’t really changed. The book does explore motherhood, but being a mother changed my approach toward my writing, my communities, and the world at large. For instance, on a trip to Aroostook County, here in Maine, I took a long walk through Presque Isle with my daughter. She was only about 9 months old, and as I pushed her stroller through town I had interactions with people I never would have had if I were walking the same steps alone. My daughter expanded my sense of commitment to hope, to possibility, and to actively working to build strengthening connections between vulnerable communities. To write about motherhood meant writing about why and how this was. I became more aware than ever of our vulnerability, so to write about motherhood meant to write about the past and present traumas that my black daughter and I must live with every day. This awareness of vulnerability is partly due to the presence of my child in my life, certainly, but it is also due to the awareness cultivated as a result of living a politically, historically, and environmentally conscious life for all these years.  

How would you describe your experience in writing Guidebook To Relative Strangers?


I had already published four books of poetry and edited three anthologies by the time Guidebook to Relative Strangers was published. So I was familiar with what it meant to be a writer. Still, there are some differences in writing prose. When I first turned my attention to writing prose, years before this book was published, it would take me an impossibly long time to finish anything once I’d gotten past the first 5 pages. This was because I wanted to start every new writing day as I might with a poem. I would reread what I’d written thus far before I started the next new word. So, if I’d written a lot of pages, I’d find that I would spend my whole writing time rereading rather than writing forward. With the project that became Guidebook to Relative Strangers, I was constantly taking notes as I moved through the world. I journaled regularly on my trips around the country, and I found myself taking notes on a lot of the follow up research that came out of things I discovered on those trips. I journaled about my daughter and the ways she was influencing how I saw the world and how the world saw me. While I was gathering the notes that would eventually develop into the essays in Guidebook to Relative Strangers, I employed the attention to every word I’ve trained as a poet, but I figured out ways that I could productively concentrate my attention on writing new lines to keep the energy moving forward. So the writing of this book felt like writing a carefully crafted letter to myself, or to my daughter, or to a close friend who might want a guidebook when the walked out into the world. The lessons I’d learned in the years leading up to this book made the writing of this book go that much more smoothly.

Are you currently working on any projects?


Always.

What are your reading recommendations?


Read what you love. Then find something that shares some commonalities with what you already know but is also quite different. Read widely. And read frequently. I can tell you ten of the books I am loving right now, and maybe you’ll discover something you love along the way. Notice that I am incredibly ecumenical where genre is concerned. The point is to read good writing. A lot of it.

Dungy’s Book Recommendations:

Deep CreekFinding Hope in the High Country, Pam Houston (memoir)
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng (novel)
Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, Jake Skeet (poetry) for black girls like me, Mariama Lockington (middle grade) Notes from No Man’s Land, Eula Biss (essays)
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, (middle grade)
Holy Moly Carry Me, Erika Meitner (poetry) An American Marriage, Tayari Jones (novel) Heavy, Kiese Laymon (memoir) The Broken Earth Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin (speculative fiction)

Guidebook To Relative Strangers :

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/guidebook-to-relative-strangers-camille-t-dungy/1125527352

Advertisements

Interview With Shana Youngdahl

by Robert Drinkwater

I had the pleasure of interviewing Assistant Professor of English, the faculty advisor to The Sandy River Review’s The River, and the director of the Longfellow Young Writer’s Workshop, Shana Youngdahl about her debut young adult novel As Many Nows as I can Get where we discussed her novel as well YA literature in general.

What inspired you to write As Many Nows As I can Get?

There were several different things that I was thinking about. The trigger event was probably that I knew a couple people in high school that I heard had died. And I couldn’t write poems about that. I knew that I needed to write a novel about them. It has nothing to do with the people that I knew, but I knew that it needed to be a YA novel.

What have you learned from writing your novel?

Well, I learned a lot about plot. Which isn’t something we think about poetry in the same way. It really forced me to think about long term stories and characters, and characters intentions in new and different ways.

What do you hope that readers will take away from this book?

Well, that’s complicated because they get to have that experience on their own. I would hope that one of the things that comes across in the story is that everybody makes mistakes. Everybody at some point in their lives makes some catastrophic mistake or nearly catastrophic mistake, and that doesn’t have to define you, it’s part of your story. It can change you, but it doesn’t have to define you.

What interests you about YA Literature?

What doesn’t interest me about YA literature? I think there are so many interesting conversations happening in the space of young adult literature right now about the importance of multiple and diverse voices about what it means to grow up in our culture now. I also think that there is a lot of experimentation going on in terms of the form of the novel. I also think that we’re not usually genre separated in bookstores because they don’t have enough room for that. There ends up being a lot of cross pollination in conversations between authors who write very different things that lends itself to a really exciting space. There are good reasons why it’s getting so much attention now.

Are there any books that you are currently reading and do you have any YA recommendations?

Right now I’m reading Julia Drake’s The Last True Poets of the Sea. It’s coming out in the next week. She is going to be in Farmington on October 7th at Devaney, Doak, and Garrett. I just read Samira Ahmed’s second novel Internment. Which is a great example of the resistance literature happening in YA literature right now, and I loved Julie Berry’s The Lovely War. There’s not a lot of young adult historical, but that is one of them and it is fascinating. It does a great thing with form. The speaker of the book is Aphrodite and she is telling this love story. American Panda by Gloria Chao is also really good, and I’m teaching Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi in one of my classes.

Shana Youngdahl’s book As Many Nows as I Can Get can be purchased on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/As-Many-Nows-Can-Get/dp/0525553851 and at DDG https://www.ddgbooks.com/book/9780525553854.

Other books mentioned:

Internment https://www.amazon.com/Internment-Samira-Ahmed/dp/0316522694

American Panda https://www.amazon.com/American-Panda-Gloria-Chao/dp/1481499106

The Last True Poets of the Sea https://www.amazon.com/Last-True-Poets-Sea/dp/1368048080

The Lovely War https://www.amazon.com/Lovely-War-Julie-Berry/dp/0451469933

Leadership Award

tegan

UMF student from Windham honored with International Student Leadership Award

FARMINGTON, ME  (May 15, 2019)—
University of Maine at Farmington senior Tegan Bradley, from Windham, has recently been honored with a Student Leadership Award by the International English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta.

She is one of only three recipients of the 2018-19 leadership award.  Introduced in 2008, the competitive Student Leadership award recognizes student members for demonstrating outstanding service and leadership on the chapter level.

Bradley joined the newly installed UMF chapter of Sigma Tau Delta in 2017.  During her time as a member of the honor society, she has served as both treasurer and vice president.

Her outreach to individual members and ongoing dedication to the society’s goal to promote interest in literature, writing and the English language has helped to advance the organization on campus. Her leadership was instrumental in bringing honor society members together to obtain official recognition of the UMF chapter by the University’s Student Senate.

A creative writing major, Bradley was awarded funding through a competitive Proctor & Gamble grant last fall to complete an urban internship in The Telling Room in Portland. She is planning to graduate from UMF next fall and wants to pursue a career in teaching creative writing and publishing.

Sigma Tau Delta has more than 900 active chapters worldwide and inducts approximately 9,000 members annually. The organization presents awards annually in the areas of writing, performance and service.
Photo Caption: Tegan Bradley
Photo Credit: UMF Image

Humanities Spring Reception 2019

Spring was (and, as of May 13, still is) late in coming this year, but the annual Humanities Spring Reception arrived right on time, providing a bit of sunshine (well, emotionally anyway) in a gloomy spring and on an otherwise gray day.

hum9

hum3

hum6

hum12

hum2

Pre-ceremony and post-ceremony music was provided by English major Cora Curtis.

hum1

Faculty member Pat O’Donnell read from her most recent novel, The Vigilance of Stars.

The Spring Reception also provides a chance to acknowledge student accomplishment from the preceding year.

hum5

Pictured from left to right, Eireann Lorsung, Annie Moloney, Tegan Bradley, Sabine Klein, and Master of Ceremonies Christine Darrohn.

Two students from the Humanities who received Wilson Scholars awards for Spring semester were recognized: Annie Moloney, Creative Writing/English, whose project “To Touch One Another: Ethical Boundaries of Human Violence” was sponsored by faculty member Eireann Lorsung; Tegan Bradley, Creative Writing, whose project “Hair: A Graphic Narrative” was sponsored by faculty member Sabine Klein.

Currently off campus for a study abroad program in Peru, Andrea Swiedom (Creative Writing/English) was recognized as a Wilson Fellow, for the project “The Recipe Commons,” sponsored by Luann Yetter. As part of her project, Andrea has created an active blog called The Recipe Commons: Telling Stories of Migration Through Food.

 

hum13

 

Each year, Islandport Magazine sponsors a writing contest. In 2019, several UMF students performed well in the contest, including prize winner (and Creative Writing major) Aimee Degroat (for the story “Down to It”), and honorable mentions Meagan Jones (Creative Writing; standing, to the left), for the story “The Wish,” and Bethany Wicks (Creative Writing; standing, to the right), for the story “Frosted Windows and Salt Stains.”

The Spring 2019 BFA Senior Award went to Kristine Sarasin, who was present but somehow didn’t make it into a photograph by herself, although you can see her in the background behind Megan and Bethany in the picture above.

The UMF English Department offers two yearly awards to students in English, the Maude L. Parks Award and the Eleanor Wood English Scholarship. The Maude Parks Award is given to a junior student at UMF demonstrating excellence in communication arts in the field of English. The Eleanor Wood English Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding junior or senior English Major (including Creative Writing and Secondary Ed-English) who has been a student at UMF during both his/her freshman and sophomore years. It is to be based on academic achievement in the field of English.

hum7

Awarded Honorable Mention for the English awards were Kasey Erlebach (English/Secondary Ed-English), Syl Schulze (Creative Writing), and (not pictured) Margaret Pomerleau (English/Secondary Ed-English).
hum8

The Eleanor Wood Memorial Scholarship winner was Zoe Stonetree (Creative Writing), above. The Maude L. Parks award winner was Andrea Swiedom (who is still in Peru). Zoe and Andrea were multiple winners this year, as Zoe was also the recipient of the Alice James Books Director’s Chair Fellowship for fall 2019, and Andrea was also named as the recipient of the Beth Eisen Memorial Scholarship.

The reception was also a time to recognize members of the UMF branch of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society, including newly inducted members, Rowan Bagley, Grace Barnard, Juliana Burch, Aimee Degroat, Ali Hooper, Jennie Ingall, Meagan Jones, Darby Murnane, Liz Niznik, Billie Rose Newby, Bethany Wicks, and Meaghan Wildes. Also recognized were the slate of officers for 2019-20: Tegan Bradley, President; Billie Rose Newby, Vice President; Liz Niznik, Secretary; and Grace Barnard, Social Media Liaison.

Photography by Bob Bailie.

Capstone-Alone in the Dark: Isolation in the Horror Genre

Hi all! I was encouraged by Dr. Johnson to share the website of my Capstone with everyone! I look at the role of isolation in the horror genre by analyzing the books Frankenstein and Dracula, and the movies Alien, Scream, and HushClick here!Screen Shot 2019-05-10 at 2.41.03 AM.png

English Majors Get Jobs

Recommended article by Paul T. Corrigan, “English Majors Get Jobs,” from Corrigan Literary Review: (click on title to to full article)

Over the past several years, I’ve collected stories and advice from well over a hundred duly employed English majors (see “Want a Job with that English Degree?”). Overwhelmingly, they share that their degrees have helped them find meaning as well as money. According to multiple surveys, most employers in the U.S. positively want to hire college graduates with the kinds of skills fostered in English and other liberal arts—with skills in writing and communicating most important of all. But perhaps the most convincing evidence about English majors’ financial prospects comes from recent data on employment and earnings from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. That data, analyzed in several reports, overturns some of the most widespread stereotypes about English majors with the following facts.

The Echo of History & The BlacKkKlansman

Amidst the cultural events on the UMF campus, the New Commons Project has been off to a radical start this spring. Beginning with lectures on hip hop and Kendrick Lamar’s latest album Damn to most recently with a screening of BlacKkKlansman this past Friday, February 8. Focusing on cultural events having to do with race and racial equality, the New Commons Project followed the BlacKkKlansman screening on Friday night with a symposium day of lectures on Saturday, February 9.

Directed by Spike Lee, the BlacKkKlansman came out in 2018 and is based off of a true story which was originally a memoir written by Ronell Eugene Stallworth that was published in 2014. Stallworth wrote this memoir based on his experience working as a cop for the Colorado Springs Police department in the 1970s.

Lincoln Auditorium in the Roberts Learning Center was packed on Friday night with only a handful of empty seats. The main character in the film, Ron Stallworth, is a young African American that joins the Colorado Springs Police Department to infiltrate the local KKK chapter. In the film, Stallworth’s actions and interactions with the KKK chapter are a wonderful paradox. First, Stallworth calls the chapter on the phone to pretend to be interested in becoming a member and then is partnered with a fellow cop, who is white to be the white Stallworth that interacts with the KKK in person. It isn’t until the end of the film that David Duke, the KKK leader, learns that Ron Stallworth is in fact African American. No one knew that he was black because of his white partner — Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver — and all of the KKK members began to accept him and eventually nominated him to be one of their leaders.

Ron Stallworth’s two-part character presents us with the ultimate racial duality or double consciousness. Firstly, Stallworth’s character is an African American in a mostly caucasian police department. Secondly, Stallworth risks his life and his partner’s life (character, Flip Zimmerman) by pretending to join the KKK in order to learn more about the violent and racist organization.

The film screening was followed with a panel discussion with several professors from UMF and our partner University of Le Mans, France. UMF faculty Sarah Maline, Associate Professor of Art History; Andre Siamundele, Assistant Professor of French; and Michael Schoeppner, Assistant Professor of History were led in discussion by UMF’s Libra Scholar Delphine Letort. Professor Letort is visiting UMF from Le Mans University. The panel members shared their thoughts on the film. Professor Letort commented on how Spike Lee reversed the message of D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation of white people being afraid of black people to the reality that it is black people that are more rightfully afraid of white people. UMF’s Professor Schoeppner was really taken aback by the film and shared with the audience his observation that “history doesn’t repeat itself, it echoes.”

This idea of history echoing itself was brought up again in Saturday’s symposium. Audience members of students and faculty talked about how violence against race keeps on happening, why it keeps happening, and what we can do about it. It was agreed by many that there is no immediate or sole solution, that there is no one film or work of art that can change the world, no matter how moving it may be. The change is with the people and the people — us, me, and you — need to keep the conversation going. Talking about racial injustice issues in academics and in our everyday lives will help to keep replacing ignorance and fear with education and open-mindedness.

BlacKkKlansman Discussion

symposium

Some Sentences From “Persuasion” – A New Commons Project Talk

RP101-0701Daniel Gunn, professor of English at UMF gave a talk last Wednesday December 5, 2018 in the Emery Community Arts Center on Some Sentences From ‘Persuasion’, a Jane Austen novel. This talk took the form of an academic reading journal of the profound intricacies that fascinate professor Gunn in Austen’s Persuasion. This talk was part of the Jane Austen series put on by the New Commons Project.

Kristen Case, associate professor of English and colleague to professor Gunn, prefaced the audience for what they were about to experience. Professor Case described professor Gunn’s investigatory research as slow, quiet, and “attentive to really understand the meaning of another’s words and sentences.” It is not every day that one pays such meticulous attention to the functionality of another’s writing. Professor Gunn is truly “Austen’s ideal reader,” affirmed professor Case.

It is the language at the sentence level in Persuasion that fascinates professor Gunn. His unusual, experimental readings of individual sentences captivated the audience in the Emery last Wednesday as professor Gunn took us all on a journey through his mind of the inner workings of Austen’s language. Gunn spoke with such passion and excitement as he shared his discoveries with us. “The narrator’s voice is not always the narrator’s” and “the withholding of the last phrase of the sentence is powerful” in select sentences throughout the Austen novel.

IMG_5865

If there is a heaven, Austen would have been smiling down upon professor Gunn last Wednesday. Among linguistic and grammatical investigation, there was also immense praise of Austen’s genius on Gunn’s behalf. He claims that her “arrangement [of syntactical elements] as brilliant” and the “sequences of phrases as ironic.”  One such example: … a dead young lady, nay, two dead ladies, for it proved twice as fine as the first report, gives the notion that Persuasion is “Austen’s saddest novel,” claimed Gunn. He also believes that the work is “a reminder of how precise Austen is to the natural world.”

Gunn delivered his discoveries with passionate understanding and appreciation of Austen’s technique. He continues to dissect her sentences, looking for more meaning, that Gunn knows is there, awaiting to be unpacked. At the conclusion of his presentation, professor Gunn called “the novel itself a ‘tender sonnet’ with a sense of loss.”

IMG_5869Upon hearing the enthusiasm in professor Gunn’s talk and learning about the profound inner workings of Austen, I felt a deep need to acquire a copy of Persuasion and save it for the day when I can read and experience for myself the inner workings of Austen’s genius.

Professor Gunn’s deciphering of thirteen select sentences from Jane Austen’s Persuasion can’t help but excite the mind of the listener. We discovered, with and through professor Gunn, the relevance and significance of Austen’s inner workings, truly a rare event.

For more information on upcoming New Commons Project events, please click here.

Special Event: Jonathan Cohen on “Disciples of Dionysus: Nietzsche and the Ramones”

On November 7th, I attended Jonathan Cohen’s talk on “Disciples of Dionysus: Nietzsche and the Ramones”. I walked into the even not knowing what to expect because I knew nothing about Nietzsche or the Ramones, and my knowledge of Dionysus was limited to his association with wine or alcohol. Cohen began his talk by discussing who Dionysus is the Greek God of wine, fertility, chaos, and the law. While this is a confusing mix of traits to associate with one God, Jonathan Cohen thoroughly explained how all these things could connect. Dionysus is a God of the law because in mythology he decided which laws were good enough to be followed, and is therefore not always lawful. His disciples were often women who, if I remember correctly, would punish men by ripping them apart and eating the pieces of their bodies.

Clearly, there is a lot of lawlessness here as well as the association with outcasts. Next, Cohen gave some context as to how Nietzsche connects to this. This part was a little difficult for me to follow and retain, as I don’t have a lot of practice with philosophy, but I know that early in his career, he positioned himself musically with another composer and later in his career was fervidly against him. His musical progression became less neat and more chaotic in order to achieve a different sound.

Finally, we arrived at the Ramones. Cohen explained how the Ramones are the true disciples of Dionysus and Nietzsche because of their outcast brand of rock. Everything from their physical appearance, their sound, and their lyrics suggest a group of people who are outside of order and have their own rules. Cohen showed us his point by having us listen to songs by the Ramones and read the lyrics at the same time. They are tricksters, similar to Dionysus, and use terms that embody the other, such as pinhead, punk rocker, punk, cretin, and lobotomized.

Ramones-1st_Album_Placeholder_Image-698x392

This connects to Josh Kun’s Audiotopia most strongly through the idea of discovery. In his introduction, Kun describes how the music around him growing up influenced his perception of the world. It created this audiotopic space where things he had never thought of before were possible. As he exposed himself to new music his understanding of the world grew. Cohen described that during the Ramones’ time, there were not many bands quite like them. In fact, they often drew themselves in direct contrast with the Beach Boys, who were clean and had a clean, good sound. The Ramones projected a new identity for listeners, and they projected a new sound. Their sound was more chaotic and allowed listeners to bring their own experiences to the table when listening to their music. This is evident by the followers they attracted and how popular they became. Music allows people to gain access to different kinds of culture and learn about new ideas in a safe way. Even as Jonathan Cohen played their songs for us, we too learned more about the Ramones and their connection to Nietzsche and Dionysus.

Belanna Morales is a senior English major at UMF. This post was originally written for the UMF Literary Theory 2018 blog, which is used by students in ENG 455 Literary Theory to write about course reading material and sometimes to apply the ideas from course readings to events on campus. The Jonathan Cohen talk was scheduled as part of the ongoing Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Lectures in the Arts and Humanities at the University of Maine-Farmington, sponsored by the Humanities Division at UMF.