UMF Creative Writing Department Welcomes Professor Lewis Robinson

by Maxen Ryder, Distribution Manager

    The University of Maine at Farmington welcomes Lewis Robinson as the new fiction writing professor this Autumn. Robinson, a kind and intelligent man, is the writer of  “Water Dogs” and a short story collection “Officer Friendly and Other Stories.” He originally came to campus as part of UMF’s Visiting Writers Series. His first visit to UMF inspired Robinson to take an interest in teaching college students. “I was really struck by how passionate the students were at that reading and just how much excitement there was around the creative writing program,” he said. “And how it just seemed as though in the UMaine system this is the place to be if you’re a dedicated creative writing student.” 

    Two years ago, Professor Pat O’Donnell invited him to teach a section of Introduction to Fiction Writing, it was here when Robinson realized that UMF would be a good place to teach. “I had a great group of students that term and really enjoyed the class,” he said. “I feel like we got a lot of good work done. And so that made me think ‘Oh, this would be a really fun place to teach.” One such former student, Hannah Binder, similarly found Robinson to be a meaningful instructor in that class. “The adaptability of his teaching style is really key, but I also think that lends itself to a freedom that he gives to his students because he respects his students as writers as well as students,” Binder said. “So we were not confined to the ideas or the directions that he previously laid out in the course… if we wanted to run with ideas on our own, he would help us to do that.”

    As a new professor at UMF, Robinson finds teaching a powerful opportunity in the world of creative writing. “I’m thinking about fiction writing a lot, you know it’s at the center of my life, and most of that thinking and work that I do is on my own, so teaching is an opportunity to share some of those thoughts that I have around fiction writing and to work with students who are also doing the work on their own but need to have a forum to discuss works in progress…” he said. “Those of us interested in writing love reading, love writing, and so much of that work is solitary, but I do think that there’s a time and a place for people getting together and sharing their thoughts about how fiction works and how writing works.”

    Growing up Robinson read and wrote, but in college he became more serious about both pursuits. “I had a mentor who really encouraged me to build a life around writing, or he said this was something you could do,” Robinson said. Post-college, Robinson worked as an assistant for novelist John Irving for two years and helped with letters, relations with the public, and was the first reader for the writer’s first drafts among other tasks. After, Robinson moved to New York and worked in publishing and as a driver moving artwork for galleries and museums. During this time, Robinson worked on his own writing and was published. This allowed him to build a portfolio to apply for an MFA in fiction writing at the University of Iowa. Soon he began teaching fiction writing and published his first book. Robinson worked at University of Southern Maine’s MFA program for eight years, and held several teaching jobs at various schools.

    For many years, Robinson has known fellow UMF creative writing professor Jeff Thomson. “I first met Lewis at a writing workshop held by MWPA maybe ten years ago,” Thomson said in an email. “He was the fiction faculty and I was working poetry. We immediately hit it off and have been friends ever since.” Thomson understands the strengths Robinson brings to teaching fiction in Farmington. “I think the most meaningful aspect for him as a teacher—besides his remarkable skill as a writer—is the empathy and care he shows to his students. He knows what it means to struggle to bring character and place to life on the page and is able to nurture students towards that same level of excellence.”

    In addition to teaching fiction writing at UMF, Robinson is working on finishing the third major revision of his new novel with plans to then sell it. At the University, he is excited about “building relationships with colleagues and with students.” Farmington is certainly lucky to have him. In regards to his new role in the creative writing department, Robinson is optimistic. “I’ve really enjoyed this job for the first seven weeks, and that’s despite the challenges we’re facing right now with wearing masks and keeping socially distant so I kind of feel like the job will only get better,” Robinson said. “I think it’s just an opportunity to build relationships with people and help people pursue their own artistic goals.”

Assistant Professor William Mesce Discusses Pedagogy and Screenwriting

Assistant Professor William Mesce Discusses Pedagogy and Screenwriting

By Nathan McIvor Contributing Writer

Assistant Professor of Creative Writing William Mesce is the author of two dozen screenplays and a former corporate writer at HBO. His industry experienc

Mesce wrote the screenplay for Road Ends, a 1997 crime film starring Denis Hopper. (Photo courtesy of IMDB)

e serves him well in teaching a craft that, for better or worse, exists as an industrial product in mainstream Hollywood.

   In conveying the difficulties of the profession to students, Mesce describes the screenplay as “a tool for somebody else, not an end … it’s a document to be used by one-hundred fifty other people.”

   Tinseltown can be a tough on aspiring screenwriters, something Mesce learned as young man when he submitted a screenplay to a contest held by Brian De Palma, director of Scarface and The Untouchables. The rules promised that the winner’s work would be used for De Palma’s next feature film. Mesce received a meager check for winning and no further response.

   When De Palma’s next film Blow Out was released years later, Mesce noticed two lines of dialogue he had written in the film. Mesce had been duped into doing uncredited work on a film “Written and Directed by Brian De Palma.”

   Despite this rude awakening to the screenwriter’s trade, Mesce dedicated himself to the craft.  Mesce likes to impart resilience to his students because they deserve to know the reality of the trade before moving to Los Angeles. The 1997 film Road Ends, a crime thriller starring Dennis Hopper and Mariel Hemingway, remains Mesce’s best known work.

   After leaving HBO in 2009, Mesce found his love for teaching when a friend from graduate school asked him to teach a class at a local New Jersey college. Mesce says there is “no greater buzz than being in a classroom when it’s clicking.”

   A metropolitan man, teaching at a campus like UMF was uncharted territory for him when he joined UMF in Sept. 2017. “This one is the smallest schools I have taught at,” Mesce said. “It gives you the opportunity to have the same student several times.  A professor can watch them grow over the years and develop a bond. That could never happen in any of the other places I’ve taught at. I had the same number of students in my high school class as the entire student body here!”

   Mesce also noted the easy going demeanor typical of a small Maine town, saying “people are nicer and I find that the students have a different frame of reference from what I am used to. So far, I’ve never had a writing student who couldn’t write.”  

   Mesce found his love for movies growing up in Newark, New Jersey, where he spent his summer afternoons at the local movie theaters. Mesce credits Chinatown as his generation’s genre film, and prefers films that have “a sense of place” and lists Sam Peckinpah and Sidney Lumet as his favorite directors.

   Mesce most recent book, The Rules of Screenwriting and Why You Should Break Them was published by McFarland in 2017.