Visiting Writer: Professor and Author Julie Schumacher

Julie Schumacher

Julie Schumacher

Next month, the English Department will welcome Julie Schumacher, author and Professor of English and creative writing at the University of Minnesota. Schumacher’s most recent book, Dear Committee Members, is an epistolary novel made up of a year’s worth of recommendation letters written by Jason Fitger, a Professor of literature and creative writing at a fictional university.

Schumacher will read excerpts from Dear Committee Members on Wednesday, February 3rd in Leighton 304 from 5:00-6:30 pm. Refreshments will be served. Read the NPR review of Dear Committee Members here.

This week, Julie Schumacher fills the Miscellany in on her path to writing, her own experiences in academia, and her love of word games.

What inspired you to write Dear Committee Members

The idea for the novel came to me while I was teaching an undergrad fiction-writing class.  I asked the students to begin a short story — as an exercise — in a particular structure or format:  a story as a list of facts, or series of increasingly personal questions, or a to-do list, etc.  One of the students asked me what structure or format I would choose if I were doing the exercise myself, and I said, jokingly, “I should write a work of fiction in the form of a recommendation letter, because I write so many of them for you folks.”  And then I started to wonder whether it might be possible to pull that off.

 

You’ve written a number of Young Adult novels. How was writing Dear Committee Members different?

 

I never felt there was a great gulf between the two types of projects.  In writing for a younger audience, you obviously focus on a young protagonist, and I think in general you emphasize a plot and emotional arc that are more direct.  But the best works for children are entirely appealing and applicable to adults.  Or, in C.S. Lewis’s words, “a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.”

 

If you and Jason Fitger taught in the same department, do you think you would work well together? Would you be friends outside of work?

 

Outside of work, no.  At work, possibly.  Personally, I think Fitgers abound in academia.  Some people have read the novel and decided that Professor Fitger as a thoroughly hostile man, 100% cantankerous.  But I find him endearing.  He’s entirely lacking in diplomatic skills, personal boundaries, tact, and common sense; on the other hand he cares deeply about education, the arts, literature, his students, and the future of the university.  And, like me, he gets tired of hearing people talk about education as if its exclusive purpose were producing bodies for the job market.

What do you enjoy the most about your role as a professor at the U of M? Do you have a favorite class to teach?

 

I love teaching.  There is nothing better than talking about books with a group of people who are intellectually curious and artistically alive.  I like teaching fiction, and I like teaching freshman literature, and I like teaching the graduate MFA students.  It’s all good.

 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

 

Yes, but at first my plan was to be a journalist, because writers seemed to me mythical beings.  I had never met one until I got to college.  During high school and college I worked on the school paper, and I tried to be a journalist, but found that I wrote much too slowly, and I was bored by assignments thought up by people other than myself.  I spent a few years trying to be an editor as well, and the discipline was very good for me — but I worked on magazines rather than books, and the material left something to be desired.

What do you like to do in your free time?

 

I don’t have a lot of free time, because I try to use the free time for writing.  But when a few empty hours crop up, I usually spend them reading something.  I do love word games (which makes my life sound terribly exciting, I know), and I have three cats, which offer excellent opportunity for distraction.

 

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