George Floyd

BlackLivesMatter.com, art by Nikkolas Smith

We must say the names of victims of racial prejudice and violence. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Bothem Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Philando Castile, Aiyana Jones ….These are just a few of the people who have been senselessly killed in the past several years due to the extreme violence and racism that Black people in the U.S. face daily. We must listen to their stories. We must not forget them. 

The UMF English faculty condemns the treatment of Black people through extreme police force and demands an end to the systemic racism threatening the lives of BIPOC-people in this country. We are committed to the safety and well-being of our students of color. We acknowledge our responsibility in not doing enough to end the violence against Black people, and we pledge that we will work even harder to make our classrooms safe spaces for students to experience equality, respect, and justice. 

As students and faculty in English, we understand the power of language and the need to listen closely to diverse voices in different cultural contexts. We must support actions to bring justice and peace. Therefore, we commit ourselves to talking about racism in America, to engaging in critical discourse about anti-racism, and to recognizing how racial violence and prejudice impacts Black Americans and people of color not only across the country, but also in our own communities–in our neighborhoods, places of worship, classrooms, and more. 

The events of this week have been difficult for all of us. We recognize that they may have been especially difficult for our students of color. Moreover, we recognize that our students of color face many obstacles on a daily basis. If there are ways that we can support you beyond what we have outlined here, please let us know. One of the things we love about our community is the fact that it allows us to develop close relationships with our students: each one of you matters to us. We’re here, and we’re listening.

Review of The Road

By Robert Drinkwater

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a bleak post-apocalyptic novel about a father and his son traversing through the world that has ended. It’s unclear of how exactly it ended, but the world they live in is dangerous and the surviving people are all struggling to survive. This duo struggle issues such as finding food, shelter, and dealing with “bad guys” as the kid calls them. In this book, many people have lost their humanity and have resorted to stealing and cannibalism to survive.

The true heart of this novel is the bond between the father and his son. The father will do anything to protect his son. His son, who seems to have lived in this apocalyptic world most of his life seems to have a good understanding of what is going on. He knows that the world is unsafe and that there are terrible people out there that he calls “The bad guys”. He also keeps asking his father if they’re going to due, to which his father usually responds honestly, saying “maybe”. He does show a lot of naivete as he is still young and doesn’t understand certain things. He wants to help everyone they meet along the way, but his father is hesitant because he worries for their safety.

This book has a unique writing style. It is not split up into chapters, instead it’s just paragraphs. No character in this novel has a name, instead the two main characters are just called “The Man” and “The Boy”. I found that to be strange at first, but I got used to it after awhile.One thing that did throw me off what the dialogue. There were no quotation marks and it didn’t let us know who said what. It got confusing at times because I was trying to follow which character was saying what.

This is a relatively short read, only about 280 pages. At times I found it to be too bleak and at other times a little bit boring. We don’t really know that much about these two characters, just that they’re trying to survive. I also wanted to know more about how the world ended up like that. A lot of those details were vague. I knew very little of The Man’s life before the apocalypse. He mentions having a wife, and there are a few flashbacks, but those were concise and they didn’t give away that much detail on either of those characters. I’m assuming that she died because she wasn’t around with the boy and his father.

I think that this novel does a good job at portraying the love these characters have for one another. The father will do anything for his son. I could really sense the heartbreak and desperation that was going on throughout this book. These characters also seemed drained. They have been living in this post-apocalyptic world for a long time and I could tell, as they both were used to the starvation and the dire state of the world where the only thing that mattered was survival.

Overall, I felt like this was a event novel. It was heart wrenching and poignant. The Covid-19 Pandemic may have you inn a mood to read some post apocalyptic novels. If that is the case then this book is for you. It might make you grateful that things are not as bad as they are in the world we live in when reading this book.

You can but The Road by Cormac McCarthy on Amazon for $10.50 .

UMF English Student’s Plans for after The Pandemic

By Robert Drinkwater

College seniors plans for the future have been altered by a great deal due to COVID-19. Classes are now online and for many seniors, their futures are uncertain. I had the pleasure of talking to a few English majors who are graduating this semester. Jacob Pilgrim, Andrea Swiedom and Vanessa Brown discussed their thoughts on the English degree as well as their plans for the future through email and Zoom.


  1. What are your thoughts on your degree?

I like the English degree a lot. Looking back, I also really enjoyed going through the process of getting it. I think that the English degree can be super versatile in its application after graduation. I think having a degree in English also gives you a very versatile skill set. It has taught me how to read more critically and think more abstractly. This degree has its hand in many other areas, too. Literature, philosophy, art, music, etc. To me, these areas all seem super applicable to each other and I think this degree has only pulled me deeper into these things.

2. What are your plans for after you graduate?

My plan right now is to keep working in construction for about a year or so. After that, I will have hopefully found a job that brings me into a field where I can put my degree to use. Maybe I’ll try to get my master’s degree in the future. I guess whatever I end up doing, I just want to keep writing. 

3. How has the pandemic affected your plans for your future?

It has made every plan a little more uncertain, that’s for sure. I am lucky that I am able to work for a good company, where we will be able to work safely despite the virus. I think the pandemic affected the end of my school year more than my life after graduation. I was excited for Symposium and a May term course that I was lucky to be a part of. So, it was disappointing that these things were shut down. I think we are all disappointed that school ended so abruptly. But, I’m just trying to take it one day at a time and find the positive in the situation, whatever that may be.


  1. For me, pursuing a B.A. in Creative Writing and English was simply a way of doing what I love for the past three years, reading and writing.  Practically speaking, I am hoping the degree will make me a more marketable candidate for jobs.  But as of now, my degree is a whirlwind of memories, growing pains and perspective shifts.  

2. The short answer is, I don’t know.  If there is not another viral outbreak in the Fall, I would like to move out of Maine and look for work in Santa Fe, New Mexico working in some type of creative capacity that incorporates writing.  I want to take some time off from school, delve deeper into some of my personal writing projects and figure out what I want to pursue next.

3. In many ways, this pandemic has made “planning” feel utterly impossible.  For the past year, my goal has been to leave Maine the second I was done with school.  Now, I am considering staying here another year until we have a vaccine or medication to counter COVID-19.  Of all the places to be stuck in quarantine, Maine has been pretty sweet.  I can still walk in the woods everyday without passing a single person.  I don’t want to make any eager moves and be stuck in a major city or a place where I have no friend/family network and face another round of quarantine.  Right now, I am trying to adapt my mentality to this new reality and look for opportunities locally that will pay and continue to stretch me as a writer.  


  1. I love my degree, and I think that a lot of it comes from my concentration in my degree. Even though this last semester has moved online, I’m still working on things that I’m interested in in English. More specifically, I’m a TA for the Hip Hop class, so I’m working on a paper that tailors to my interests of contemporary art and music. I’m staying positive through all of this madness, even with all of this uncertainty, I’m certain the fact that I know what I’m interested in. I know what I want to continue to learn and educate myself about within this degree.

2. I plan on moving back home and taking a gap year before I decide on graduate school. A lot of my decision came from the fact that I didn’t want to jump into a program that I didn’t feel comfortable about or that I couldn’t incorporate what I wanted to do in it. So, I wanted to take time in a gap year to really explore my options to find the best fit for me and to expand more on things that I’m interested in.

3. I think that the biggest thing for me has really been financial trouble. It was difficult figuring out what to do job wise, and I was worried about how my grad school application would be affected. It’s affected me more now because I’ve been so stressed about everything. I think that once I’ve graduated I’ll be more at ease. It’s affected me emotionally, but mentally I still have the mindset of if I can do the things that I need to do the things that I’m passionate about and hold on through it, then I can still make it to the finish line and I’m still going to be able to do the things I have to do. I have to keep the mindset of it’s not the end of the world and I have to do what I have to do in order to make sure that not only myself, but the other people in my graduating class all succeed in time.

As of right now, Commencement for the UMF class of 2020 will be held on August 22.

Review of The Shakespeare Requirement

By Robert Drinkwater

Julie Schumacher’s The Shakespeare Requirement is a satirical novel that centers around Jason “Jay” Fitger the newly appointed head of the English department at Payne University. Jay faces several obstacles throughout this novel as he deals with colleagues that show disdain towards him, his ex-wife, whom he may still have feelings for that may or may not be in a relationship with the dean, a freshmen student whom he is the adviser to, and to top it all off the English department is sharing the building with the Economics department who is slowly pushing the English department out of the building.

I enjoyed the humor that was in this novel as Jay deals with a slew of issues that come with being the head of the English department. One of the main conflicts he faces arises when he tries to get one of the oldest English professors and school Shakespearean, Dennis Cassovan to retire which backfires as students think that he is being forced out. This results in a movement among the campus in showing support for Cassovan with pins that say “SOS” short for “Save Our Shakespeare”. Jay also has to take several initiatives that require the approval of the other faculty members in the department causing him to have to do several favors for them such as taking care of another professor in his home after he goes through surgery, taking care of a rescue dog, and removing a masturbating student from another faculty member’s class.

This novel was full of hilarious moments and intertwining plot lines. There were several point of view characters besides Jay. I particularly enjoyed the parts with Angela, the freshmen student. She had an interesting story with her having difficulty adjusting to the college life and becoming acquainted with her adviser Jay. I wish that she had more of a story. I felt like hers was rather short and ended abruptly, but then again Jay Fitger is the main character of this novel.

I also enjoyed the relationship dynamics in this novel. It was entertaining to see Jay have to jump through so many hoops in order to gain the approval of his fellow faculty members. I also liked the interactions between him and his ex-wife Janet. It was clear that they both still had feelings for one another and their conversations were full of witty and hilarious cynicism.

The main antagonist of this novel was the chair of the economics department, Roland Gladwell who whose main motivation seems to be to push the English department out of the building to make more room for Econ. I would have liked to see more of the story take place from his point of view because there were only a few pages of getting his perspective. I feel like his character would have been more fleshed out that way. His disdain for Jay and the English department was obvious, but I found him to be a bland antagonist otherwise.

The other members of the English faculty were interesting and they all provided a good amount of humor and wit. I enjoyed the parts where Jay had interactions with them, all of which had their own quirky attributes, such as Fran, the faculty member who wanted to help out every rescue animal she could and made Jay look after that dog. There was also Helena Stang, another professor who provided hilarious commentary on a wedding that she attends later on in the novel.

Overall, this book was full of humor and wit. Even though it seems like the main demographic is college professors, I still enjoyed the drama that unfolded with the faculty in this novel. I think that it is something that both college students and professors would enjoy if they want something lighthearted and fun to read.

You can buy The Shakespeare Requirement on Amazon for 17.21.

English Majors Coping with Social Distancing

By Robert Drinkwater

With college campuses closed across the country due to Covid-19, students now have to do online classes via zoom from home. This is a time of adjusting to our schedules that have been drastically changed. As students, we now have to take classes at home and adjust to online classes and social distancing. Everyone has been coping with this differently through all of this change. English majors Henry Wanat, Katie Shupp, and Ali Hooper have shared their thoughts on dealing with this.


  1. How are you coping with social distancing?

While I am an introvert, I crave daily human interaction. In order to cope with social distancing, I have been becoming increasingly active on the streaming platform Twitch.tv as well as playing games online with my friends over Discord. It has been helpful to have regular classes over Zoom.

2. How are your online classes going?

My online classes are going pretty well, considering. Sometimes it is awkward since I do not have access to a webcam, but my professors have been taking the transition in stride.

3. How has this change in academics affected you overall?

This has dramatically affected my academics, because I do not have that personal interaction with my professors that I came to UMF for. Now that I am at home, it has been a struggle to stay motivated and to find an adequate place to study in an otherwise busy household.


  1. I’m coping okay. I think that it’s for the best. As much as I want to be with my friends and on campus, I think it’s definitely going to be better and safer for everybody. Personally, I feel better surrounded by people, so being around my family is a little bit tough, but it’s definitely better for everybody around the world and it’ll be okay.

2. They’re going pretty okay. English, I feel like is easier to do online than other classes, mostly because the ones I’ve been in at least have all been discussion based than essay, lecture, or lab stuff, so I think it’s easier for us because we could easily zoom or have text conversations on what we’re doing in class. It’s been pretty okay. I’m happy with what I’ve been doing.

3. It’s making me more aware with how much time I’m spending. Before, I was spending more time with everything all together at one time and now I’m splitting it up into hour increments where I’m doing one thing at one time. I feel like I’ve been noticing I need to spend more time on each class than I have been so I’m thinking more study time. I think that goes hand in hand with making schedules. I’m hoping that everything’s going to stay the same and not gonna change and go negative. I feel like everything’s going to go up from here, so I’m staying positive.


  1. Social distancing has been really hard. I’m a social person and I miss bumping into past classmates and professors around campus. Luckily, I’m fortunate enough to live with my good friends, and I speak to my family often so I don’t feel lonely, but I miss physically being in a community.

2. Internet aside, I think my classes are just starting to make sense again. After the initial scramble to figure everything out, I really wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish the semester. I’m glad I stuck with it because it’s really starting to come together and make sense again, but it’s taken a while.

3. I’m finding that who I am as a student has changed a lot since transitioning online. I’ve always put school first and been very organized and focused, but with recent events I’m finding my focus has shifted. Getting organized has been a fruitless battle, deadlines in my classes are still shifting, assignments are being added and dropped, and writing daily to-do lists is only adding to my stress not helping it. I’ve had to adopt a go with the flow attitude and learn to just take each day as it comes. My motivations, energy and environment have changed, along with the expectations I held myself too. I’m not longer aiming for A’s, just aiming to get though this semester with my sanity in tack.

Film Review: Emma (2020)

With various levels of sheltering in place happening during the recent pandemic, movie studios have starting making recently released films available for viewing at home through a variety of pay services. I had been itching see the new film version of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, directed by Autumn De Wilde (and starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the title character) because I love the novel, and I mostly love the various adaptations of it (and there have been a lot), especially Amy Heckerling’s resetting of the story in 1990s California in Clueless (1995), with Alicia Silverstone as the Emma character (renamed Cher in this version).

I mostly liked Emma 2020, and, if hadn’t read the novel (or seen any of the other movie versions), and didn’t have any of the expectations that I brought to the film, it’s a perfectly fine and enjoyable movie, and if you’ve already seen the movie and enjoyed it, I don’t want to harsh your squee, but, as much as I want to write a breezy and pleasant review, I have a feeling I won’t be able to contain some of the irritation I felt while watching the film—any more than I could prevent myself from jumping up (much to the annoyance of my cats) and yelling, “Oh, no, no no no no no no, oh, hell no” on at least three occasions.

What I really liked about the film were the portrayals of Emma’s father Mr. Woodhouse by Bill Nighy, and Miss Bates by Miranda Hart. These are both minor characters who usually get short shrift in the adaptations, but they are more fully realized characters here, both of whom, I think, get more screen time than Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) and Frank Churchhill (Callum Turner), and both of whom deliver the comedy that a romantic comedy needs. Nighy’s Mr. Woodhouse is as vigorously energetic as he is an equally vigorous hypochondriac. His aggressively ordering his servants about with standing screens to shield him from (likely non-existent) drafts is one of the highlights of the film.

Miss Bates, as a character, is known for talking a lot and saying little, which annoys Emma to no end, but, the difficulty with such a character is that she can also become very annoying very quickly to the reader or the viewer, but the performance here by Miranda Hart is deftly comic in multiple ways. And, in the best staged scene from the novel, Emma’s callous insulting of Miss Bates at a picnic, Hart’s performance of confusion, hurt, and embarrassment effectively underscores how “badly done indeed” Emma’s actions have been, especially welcome in a film that otherwise treats its heroine and her mistakes a bit too generously.

At one point, Mr. Elton (who Emma mistakenly believes is in love with her friend Harriet, when it is Emma that he wants to marry) encourages Emma to paint a portrait of Harriet, offering to purchase an appropriate frame for the painting when finished. One of the better moments in the film is the revelation of that frame, which is both expensive and ostentatiously tasteless, and, delightfully, equipped for sound.

Although the 1996 Emma (with Kate Beckinsale) does this as well (and perhaps does it with more consistency), I like the way the film shows us the role of servants in Emma’s world. Especially in the early part of the movie, they are constantly present (even as Emma seems not to notice their existence).

About twenty minutes into the film, we are introduced to a character getting dressed, and my first thought was, who is that?  Is that Frank Churchhill? And here, dear reader, is the crux of the problem with the film for me, as we eventually discover that this is Mr. Knightly (Johnny Flynne) of Donwell Abbey, friend of the Woodhouses, and brother to John Knightly, who has married Emma’s sister Isabelle. And, as Emma and Mr. Knightly comment, the fact that he is a brother-in-law and not a brother means that there is nothing improper about them dancing together, although, it does raise a familial barrier to potential romance, as does a pretty hefty age difference in the novel (close to twenty years?).

Mr. Knightly and Mr. Churchhill are veritable opposites, Mr. Knightly’s steadiness and concern for others contrasted with Frank’s caprice and self-centeredness, his maturity and emotional control a contrast to Frank’s youth and (upon occasion) youthful pique. At no point in an Emma adaption should one ever be  able to confuse one for the other. No, no, no, no, just, hell no.

That difference should be clear from the moment we first see each character. Mr. Knightly should not have the best head of hair in the film, and the most beautifully styled (certainly among the male characters). With his bushy blonde hair and generally youthful appearance, Mr. Knightly looks like he stepped out of a California beach movie and into period clothes. And certainly, any character who has clearly spent two hours in front of a mirror carefully arranging his hair to create a faux-disheveled appearance has no business complaining about Frank Churchill’s vanity and foppishness in traveling to London for a haircut.

When Frank Churchhill appears (Callum Turner), there seems little difference between them (except that Frank’s hair is cut shorter and seems to get little attention from him). To be fair, actor Johnny Flynne is close to being the right age to play Mr. Knightly (he’s a few years older than the 30 year old Callum Turner), and he is significantly older than Anya Taylor-Joy, so the age difference is there between the actors . . . . but that difference doesn’t play on the screen.

After dancing with Emma (after he rescues Harriet from the snubbing by Mr. Elton), Mr. Knightly is so overcome with emotion that, after Emma boards a carriage to take her home, he runs all the way through the grounds by himself, arriving at Emma’s house shortly after she does and watching her enter. And, I’m not sure where the next scene takes place, perhaps he wanders forlornly back to Donwell, but he goes into a dark empty room, where he tosses off his shirt, and throws himself down on the floor in emotional anguish. No, no, no no no no, just hell no. Such adolescent acting out of emotion is completely at odds with the Mr. Knightly that we see in the novel. For that matter, it would be too much for the more emotional Frank Churchhill.

As is the case with the 1996 version of Emma (with Gwynth Paltrow in the title role), Emma 2020 reimagines the novel from a modern perspective, projecting contemporary understandings of individual psychology and social roles onto the characters. As numerous reviewers have pointed out, the film uses clothing to suggest the artifice of social roles, and it uses the removal of clothing to suggest moments when the characters are being their private—real—selves. This is not the understanding of character that informs the novel, but it’s a reasonable interpretation for a contemporary film to take that approach (although, I must admit, I have found the reviews to be a little annoying, as they seem to suggest that the film is correcting a mistake that Austen made, failing to consider that our current sense of the relationship between the individual and society is no more the absolute truth about the way things are than the understanding of Austen’s era).

There’s a hilarious moment in the film when Emma and Mr. Knightly walk through a room, and the camera stays in place after they’ve moved on, and we realize that Mr. Woodhouse is sitting there, so thoroughly surrounded by screens that only a part of his head is visible. I love the way the director keeps the camera in place and lets us find him.

But that scene also seems emblematic of the film’s view of humanity. We are all isolated and alone. And, more than any adaptation of the novel that I’ve seen, there are multiple scenes of the characters by themselves. The letter writing and letter sharing that are central to the novel, part of the technology of the era that enables community and communication, is barely referenced in the film.

For a two hour movie, there are so many elements of the story that are missing, and, as a result, a lot of the characters seem flat and lifeless. Frank Churchhill barely makes an impression, and, with the exception of a delightfully energetic piano performance, Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) seems barely there. The friendship that develops between Emma and Frank (they are very much alike in their intelligence, fondness of dancing and games, and possessing a bit too much uncontrolled imagination) in other versions of the story is not developed here. There are also a number of moments (various puzzles and games, Harriet’s destruction of her precious mementos of Mr. Elton) that aren’t there in the film. A film needs to cut things, but other versions of the story have managed to have reasonable running times and still fleshed out the relationships between the characters.

Emma 2020 spends so much time observing the characters in isolation that the relationships between characters seem underdeveloped. This makes sense in terms of the film’s philosophy that humans are only truly themselves in private, and, thus, we spend more time observing those moments. I think that approach works pretty well, even if it’s not what I’m looking for in an adaptation of Emma.

So, if I’m thinking of Emma adaptations that I’ve seen, I believe I would rank them this way.

  1. Clueless
  2. Emma (2009; miniseries, with Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightly); with four one hour episodes, the miniseries has the advantage of more time to be more inclusive of characters and incidents from the novel).
  3.  Emma (1996; with Gwynth Paltrow, and, philosophically, very close to the 2020 version, but also very much a romantic comedy, and a very enjoyable romantic comedy, and, also, Ewan McGregor as my favorite version of Frank Churchhill).
  4. I’m going to place Emma (2020) and Emma (1996) as tied. Both are good and worthwhile, but it’s hard to imagine more different versions of the same story. Emma (1996) is more critical of Emma as a character, and is a little creeped out by age difference between Emma and Mr. Knightly, and, thus, really plays up that difference.

Interview with UMF English Faculty Steve Grandchamp

By Robert Drinkwater

This semester the UMF English department has been going through a hiring process for who to hire as a new member of the English faculty. Now, a candidate has officially been hired and that is Stephen Grandchamp who will now be a full time English professor here at UMF. I had the pleasure of interviewing him about his time at UMF, his work with The New Commons Project, classes he will be teaching in the future, and the projects that he is working on.

Describe your experience at UMF.

I love it at UMF!I think that the students here at great. They are creative, curious, resilient, and I really enjoy working with them. Also, I think my colleagues here are fantastic too. They are really understanding and overall I just felt very welcomed by the UMF community.

How do you feel about officially being hired by UMF?

I’m thrilled! I think from the moment I started visiting UMF to start my original contract, I originally applied to be the assistant director of The New Commons Project in February 2018, I knew right away that this was a very special place, so I was absolutely thrilled when I heard the news that I’d be able to sty permanently.

Could you describe your work on the New Commons Project?

Right now, I’m the co-director of The New Commons Project with Kristen Case, my colleague in the humanities division. The New Commons Project, to give a broad outline is a public humanities initiative that seeks to initiate conversation between students, faculty, and community members between cultural works that are important to them. We do that by having them nominate cultural works that are important to them in video form. After that, we have a committee that consists of faculty, students, and community members who pick twelve of them and then we have free public programming to go along with the,. So, we’ve had concerts, scholarly talks, round tables, we’ve had a symphony orchestra. I think overall, it’s been such a positive and inspiring experience to be part of the New Commons Project because it really shows how people in Farmington in particular are passionate about works of art, literature, music, and they love sharing with others their love of these works which has been really great to see.

What classes do you plan on teaching?

Next semester, I’m going to be teaching English 181, a course on literary interpretation and analysis. I’m also teaching English 377, a class on video games as literature. Students are going to play through six or seven video games from the 1970’s to the contemporary moment and we’ll talk about the aesthetics, the narrative and analyze the video game we would if it were a work of literature.

Are you working on any projects?

I recently finished an article that is out for review that is about how to use Spotify playlists to teach students poetry. I’m also working on a piece that makes the claim that Kendrick Lamar is engaging with nineteenth century individual development with his album Damn. I’m looking for ways in which hip hop narrative is similar to that of traditional European narrative modes that create them. Lastly, I’m working on my book project Accounting for Failure: Arrested Development and the British Bildungsroman which makes the case that in the nineteenth century, British narrative established the idea that we accept today which is that failure doesn’t have to define a person in order to succeed.

Book Review of Roughhouse Friday

By Robert Drinkwater

Roughhouse Friday by Jaed Coffin is a memoir about a man who travels to Alaska from Maine by kayaking and lives there as a teacher and boxer. Throughout this memoir we get several excerpts on his upbringing, his family, and his relationship with his parents that played a pivotal role. His race and identity play a significant role in this memoir as he writes about his mom being Thai and his dad being white. His parents split up when he was a child, but his mom still stayed in touch with his dad’s side of the family. Jaed and his dad have a rocky relationship. His ideas of masculinity stem from his upbringing and how he sees things. 

While part of the memoir is told through flashbacks, the majority of it takes place in Alaska when Jaed works at that high school and becomes a boxer. This work seems to be a sort of coming of age memoir about him learning more about himself and learning more about his heritage. At the beginning when he first decided to kayak to Alaska, it seemed like he didn’t really know what he was going to do with his life and this was the start of his journey to learn more about himself.

Coffin wrote this memoir in a way in which it grapples with a few main themes. One of which is his relationship with his parents, along with his mom’s heritage. This part of the book seems to focus on Coffin trying to find his identity as he struggles with that when we read through the flashbacks. It seems like he feels disconnected from his mom’s heritage because she chooses to stay close to his dad’s side of the family. There weren’t a whole lot of scenes where he was with his mom’s side of the family, in fact I don’t remember them being mentioned. His mom seemed more connected with his dad’s family which made Jaed seem all the more disconnected from his mom’s side. Identity comes into play when he is with his dad and his new wife and her kids. He seems like an outsider amongst them and disconnected from them in a way because they are not related to him. This theme of identity plays a large role in this book because he struggles with his relationship with his dad. They weren’t really on good terms until the very end when he won that fight in Vermont and his dad seemed proud of him. Identity is important to him when it comes to his job, assisting Native students, as well as his relationship with his parents. 

Jaed leaving Maine and traveling to Alaska by Kayak is another way in which he searches for his identity. In Maine people pronounced his name “Jed”, but in Alaska they pronounced it “Jade”. When he was in Alaska he started boxing, an activity that changed him as he made new friends, and did something that he enjoyed but also learned more about his own masculinity. By participating in this sport he created a reputation for himself that gave him a bit of fame and money along the way. This sport helped him connect with his students and other people in a way that he wasn’t able to when he lived in Maine. The time he spent in Alaska was a relatively short period, but it was one that had a major impact on his life as he makes new friends and discovers more about himself as well as his own family. 

Another important theme in this book is masculinity. Masculinity played a large role in this memoir because there were many instances in which Jaed was grappling with his father’s ideas of masculinity and fighting in barrooms is typically associated with masculine or “manly” activity. Boxing plays an important role in this theme because that was a way for Jaed to deal with his situation with his dad. In the end he becomes closer to his dad because of boxing, but it was also a way for him to express his feelings to him when they were at the diner. Throughout the book, his dad is telling him to read books about masculinity and about being a man. His dad was often described as showing little to no emotion. We never see his dad talking about his feelings with anyone in this memoir. This appears to frustrate Jaed because he doesn’t seem to know that much about his dad. 

Overall, this memoir tells a story about a young man who travels to Alaska and starts boxing. This book is split between the present, Jaed boxing and his relationships in Alaska, and the flashbacks that tell us more about his family and the role that both masculinity and his heritage played in his life. I felt like this memoir was deep and personal and it gave us as readers a close and intimate look into his life during a significant and life changing period.

You can buy Roughhouse Friday: A Memoir on Amazon for $15.79

Interview with UMF Alum Hannah Zimmerman

By Robert Drinkwater

Tell us a little about yourself:

I graduated from UMF and got an English degree with a concentration in contemporary literature. I just got a job with Seeds of Peace, so I’m going to be a camp coordinator for them them and I’m moving to New York at the end of the month.

What were the most memorable parts of UMF for you?

I had Christine Darrohn as a professor and I just loved her and adored her classes and her commitment to her students. I learned so much from her and I grew so much as a writer and as a person from her. All the other professors I had like Dan Gunn were really great. All of the professors were fabulous. All the people that I met while at UMF were also wonderful.

What was your favorite part about studying English at UMF?

One of the things that I learned from Darrohn was to really look at the text and to look at it closely and better understand what the author meant intentionally or unintentionally. We’d find so much in such a small paragraph, sentence, or word. So we were really going into the text to figure out what these different meanings were. It was really great and it helped me post UMF.

How did your time at UMF help you beyond the classroom?

Getting my English degree has helped me become a better writer and it has helped me with finding jobs and writing cover letters. I found a cover letter that I wrote before I went to UMF and a cover letter I wrote post UMF and there was a huge difference. There was a huge difference. A really good difference. Going to UMF also taught me to work hard.

What made you want to study English at UMF?

I went to three colleges, UMF was my last one that I graduated from. I ended going to UMF because it had a really good reputation with getting a good education. I’d known a few people who went to UMF and one them said that they had a really good English class and that they really liked that class. I also heard that they had a really good English program. It was also a way cheaper option to go to school, which was important to me.

Where do you see yourself in 10 to 20 years?

I guess I’d love to see myself working for one of the big time publishers in New York being an editor or marketer. Ideally I’d be an editor for Penguin Random House or something like that. That would be great.

What advice do you have for current or future students?

I think taking advantage of the time that your professors are giving you. I would not have gotten as much out of my education without going to conferences and talking to my professors because they have so much to teach you and if they’re willing to give you the time then you should take them up on it because they’re there for a reason and you’re just going to learn so much more if you just spend the time.

Interview with Jaed Coffin

By Robert Drinkwater

On Thursday February 27th, Writer, Jaed Coffin will be visiting UMF in The Landing at 7:30pm. He is the author of A Chant To Soothe The Wild Elephants, a memoir about the summer he spent as a Buddhist monk in his mother’s village of Panomsarakram , Thailand. His latest book Roughhouse Friday chronicles the time he spent in Alaska as a boxer and won the middleweight title in a barroom boxing show in Juneau.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

That’s a tough one. I usually think good stories begin with some original revelation, but I know that when I tell the story of how I became a writer, I’m kind of making that moment up, because really it was a very gradual process. Anyway, I remember one Saturday afternoon my senior year of high school, sitting at my kitchen table in the empty house I lived in with my mother, staring at a yellow legal pad, very aware that all my friends were up to no good, killing the afternoon at a house down the street. I remember realizing that if I could just start writing a story like the ones I read in English class (we’d just read Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce) then my life would be quite different. So I got to it, and wrote for maybe two hours straight, and when I was done, the house seemed even quieter and the daylight had faded a bit, and I looked down at the legal pad with several pages filled up…I don’t know. That was a very powerful moment that I still remember, about devotion to one’s art and not running away from the sometimes scary impulse to be alone and make something. 

What made you want to write Roughhouse Friday?

I have a list of about fifteen different reasons in my head. To keep it simple: the year(s) I spent living in Alaska filled up that pivotal time of my early twenties when I knew I needed to leave behind the familiar world of Maine and New England and force myself to change in some fundamental way. I also knew–albeit diffusely–that there was a part of my personal history (relating primarily to my parents’ separation, my mother’s heritage, my father’s influences) that I needed to see more clearly. To find that clarity I needed to leave town. In many cases, good stories are built on an arc of change. This first year in Alaska, fighting in bars: I knew even then that I was going through some major changes in the way I understood my life, and so writing this book was my attempt to document that change, or at least put a name on it. 

How would you describe your experience writing Roughhouse Friday?

Writing Roughhouse Friday was pretty brutal. I thought I was going to just write a very interesting story about rural Alaskans fighting in bars, with me as the guide/interloper. But something at the center of that story kept messing everything up, and I went into a kind of creative paralysis and ultimately my first publisher dropped the book. The publisher wanted to know my family history and place that history at the center of the story–I remember the editor said something to the effect of “it looms so large” over everything else–and I just didn’t know what that story was. So then I had to sit with the total (expensive) failure of that, and kind of look myself in the mirror and say, “Ok, time to tell that story whether you like it or not.” So I did it. I had no idea this experience was coming for me, and articulating some very complicated feelings I had toward my father was one of the most emotionally unsettling things I’ve done. I’m just glad it’s over. 

What advice do you have for writers? 

Be nice to your parents, because it’s very likely that in order to find time to write, you might need to live at home while all your friends are starting their more important-looking lives. Also, there’s so much craft advice out there but for me it’s really simple: pay attention to what you love, and then copy it with your own material. 

Are you currently working on any projects? If so, what?

You know, I never understood why people used to say “I’m not ready to talk about my next project.” When other writers were cagey about what they were working on, it always seemed kind of precious to me. But now, I’m in that place where I just don’t want to tell anyone what I’m thinking, because I’m worried that I might jinx the story, or have to own up to something that isn’t what I planned to do. So, yeah, it’s a secret. How mysterious!

You can buy his memoir Roughhouse Friday on Amazon for $15.79.