On Friday, September 27th, Dr. Lisa Brooks visited UMF as a keynote speaker for UMF’s New Commons project The Canoe. Dr. Brooks is a professor of English and American studies at Amherst College. She is of Abenaki and Polish heritage and she has written several essays and books. This isn’t Dr. Brook’s first time here at UMF either. She visited a few years ago as a Libra scholar in 2012. For this event Dr. Brooks talked about the Wabanaki tribe and how this land in western Maine is their land. The event started off with our own professor of English, Kristen Case as she listed off the upcoming New Commons events coming up as well as introduce Dr. Brooks as she began her presentation.
Dr. Brooks started the presentation by showing us a map of land that the Wabanaki once inhabited. New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, part of Quebec, and Nova Scotia were once Wabanaki lands. Throughout the presentation Dr. Brooks shared her knowledge of this group of natives. The Wabanaki used canoes to travel down rivers because it was a faster way of traveling. These canoes could contain up to twelve people. Brooks also shared a poem by writer, Cheryl Savageau, who is also of Abenaki heritage, who will be giving a poetry reading on October 16th, from 11:45am-1:00pm. As a student living in Maine, I’ve never really thought about the culture of the indigenous people who once resided on this land. Who had their own culture, history, and traditions. I found myself fascinated with the language as Dr. Brooks began her presentation speaking in the language of the Wabanaki. The Wabanaki tribes have three different languages: Abenaki-Penobscot that is spoken, Maliseet-Passamaquoddy, and Mi’maq. I learned a lot of insight about this group of natives, as I don’t often think about who resided here before the colonists came here.
Book to t.v. and movie adaptations are coming and I don’t know about you, but I’m hyped. It seems that each streaming service is in the process of making some of our favorite books into live adaptations whether it be The Wicked Deep adaptation coming on Netflix, or Hulu’s Looking for Alaska. To say that I’m excited for what’s to come would be an understatement. Here are some upcoming t.v./ movie adaptations in the works or coming out soon.
Looking For Alaska
I’ve been looking forward to John Green’s debut novel Looking for Alaska for some time now. This was the first book that got me interested in reading Young Adult literature. This book follows Miles Halter, a sixteen year old obsessed with the last words of famous people, decides to transfer to a boarding school down in Alabama, Culver Creek in hopes of finding “The great perhaps”. There he meets Chip “The Colonel”, hip hop emcee Takumi, and Alaska Young, whom he quickly becomes infatuated with. Green has a way of writing fleshed out three dimensional characters making it one of the most unforgettable Coming-of-Age stories that I have read. I found myself growing attached to these characters over the course of the book. As this book progresses we learn more about each character all leading up to a tragic event that happens about halfway into the novel. Hulu has bought the rights to this book and Looking For Alaska will be a limited eight episode series coming out on October 18th.
The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw, follows Penny, a seventeen year old girl who lives in a rural town in Oregon that has a dark past. About one hundred and fifty years ago three sisters who were accused of witchcraft get sentenced to death. Every year following their deaths the spirits of these sisters inhabit the bodies of girls that were about the age they were when they were murdered and they drown several boys in that town as revenge for their deaths. Most of this novel takes place in the present with Penny who has accepted the fate of the town until a mysterious outside by the name of “Bo” shows up that raises the stakes for her as she is soon faced with a difficult decision. This novel gives me a halloweenish vibe. It could be the witches, or the spooky premise, but that’s all the more reason to be hyped for this adaptation (After all it has been described as “Hocus Pocus meets Practical Magic”). This adaptation is still in the very early stages, but Netflix recently bought the screen rights. As of right now it is unclear on whether it will be a miniseries t.v. show or a movie, but I am definitely looking forward to seeing this adaptation on screen.
This is one of the most recent adaptations that I found out about, and after seeing the trailer, I have to say that it looks interesting. Dickinson is an upcoming comedy that will appear on Apple TV+ on November 1st. It follows … you guessed it Emily Dickinson! From the looks of the trailer it seems like it will explore the early life of the titular poet as she navigates through the conservative society of that time period. It also looks like it will focus more on the relationship between Emily Dickinson and her sister in law Susan Huntington Gilbert whom Dickinson has sent several letters to during her lifetime. This show looks like it will be a unique take on an adaptation based off of a literary figure. I’m not sure how historically accurate this will be, after all she does say “dude!” in the trailer, but I’m sure it will be especially entertaining. This show will star Hailee Steinfield as Emily Dickinson and Wiz Khalifa as Death.
To All the Boys: P.S. I still Love You
Last year Netflix blessed us with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, an adaptation of Jenny Han’s novel of the same name. In 2020 will be getting the sequel for that movie that is also based off of the second novel in the series. The series is a trilogy so there will likely be one more movie after the next. Will Lara Jean stay with Peter K? Or will somebody else enter the picture? We will find out soon enough on February 12th, 2020. Just before Valentines Day!
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series has been one of my personal favorite fantasy series for some time and I am excited to see it getting adapted int a TV series on HBO. The first book took place in an alternative world, with a Victorian era style. Every human in this world has a daemon that is sort of a companion to the person. The daemon and their person cannot be separated at too much of a distance or they will be physically hurt. This is a series for all ages to enjoy. It is full of unforgettable action and adventure. The HBO series will star James McAvoy as Lord Asriel, Ruth Wilson as the cruel Marisa Coulter, and Dafne Keen as the main heroine of the series Lyra Belacqua. The first season will consist of eight episodes that is set to premiere on November 4th on HBO.
Vanessa Brown is a senior English major here at UMF. She is currently one of the leaders in Clefnotes, and plans to be taking a travel course to Paris, France in May as her last elective course here at UMF before she gets her degree. In this interview we discussed her passions as an English major, why she chose her concentration, and her role in Clefnotes.
Every English major has a concentration. What is your concentration?
My concentration is Race Studies in literature and music. Mainly because when I made my proposal I wanted it to be something that had to do with my own personal identity as well as music. Growing up I had a white mom and a black dad so I’m biracial and I thought that race studies in general is something that always interests me and in the future I hope to write more stuff on mixed race children and mixed raced literature as well, and just contribute in that aspect. The music part is just that I grew up in a very music oriented family and I joined Clefnotes so I do a lot of singing. My dad also did a lot of music when he was growing up, so I wanted to incorporate music in that aspect. It has always been an important part of my life.
In May you’ll be taking a travel course to Paris. Can you elaborate on your decision on taking this course?
Kristen (Case) actually reached out to me last semester during a New Commons course because she thought that it would be a good fit, and I was like ‘yes!’, not only because it’s going to Paris, but it was an opportunity for me to learn about English language writers and their influences in writing stuff that is either based in Paris or has Paris influences, and I’m not completely familiar with and I thought it would awesome to go on this trip for, as well as find more writers, or artists, or musicians that were influenced by France or Paris specifically, and learn about that more. It’s also my final four elective credits, and it’s one of the opportunities that if you have the chance to travel, take advantage of that because you’ll never know how many of those opportunities you’ll get again.
This year you’re leading Clefnotes. Can you decribe what that’s like?
Leading Clefnotes has definitely been a new experience for me, it’s music so I’m very interested, and it’s also a student run group so you’re also dealing with people that are of your own age or slightly younger, so at times it can very difficult, but for the most part, it’s a great experience, it’s something I’m learning from. I’m learning leadership skills from it and being able to communicate with my peers very well as well as talk with not only people inside my group, but so people outside this group, about music and performance. This year we lost a lot of good people so we’re really looking for more people to join our group. Clefnotes was the first group that I joined on campus, so it holds a very special place in my heart because it was one of the things that helped me connect with the community. A lot of people can connect with music even if they think that they’re not musically inclined. A lot of people enjoy watching it or performing it. I’m also not the only one leading Clefnotes right now. Kate Graeff is also leading it. She is a sophomore and she is awesome. We’re doing our best to lead the group, and as of right now things are going really well.
Do you have any plans on what you’ll be doing after graduation?
The goal right now is to take a gap year and then look into graduate school. I want to look more into African American Studies. It’s really where my central interests are and in terms of career wise, I will always hope to do something that’s in that field. I don’t like to limit myself in what I can do, but if I can do something that’s either African American studies based or music based, that would be the best, but the hope is grad school.
How would you describe your experience here at UMF as an English major?
Enjoyable. I do enjoy being an English major, a lot. I initially came to UMF as a theater major. I knew I was always good at writing and reading, but I never had the confidence in believing that could be an English major, but second semester of freshmen year I changed because I realized that I have a passion for writing and I have passion for so many different things that can go along with reading and writing and we have so many passionate and great professors at this school that are so interested in what you bring to the table. Even if it’s something they’ve seen before, they want you to bring yourself into it, and I admire that so much. As an English major too, it’s been good because I’ve been able to stylize it in a sense so that I can be true to myself. Most majors, it’s hard to find yourself in it. You have an interest in something, but it’s not, like completely what you want to do, but having the opportunity to make your own concentration and being able to take classes that suit to your interests, or even taking an independent study. I haven’t had the chance to take that yet, but having that opportunity as an English major is amazing.
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?
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 Creek: Finding 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)
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.