By Ciera Miller, Staff Writer
Hannah Binder at Colby’s HT94 installation (Photo courtesy of Ciera Miller)
Since September, University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) students across five disciplines participated in filling out a total of 1,370 toe tags for the Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94) installation at the Oak Institute for Human Rights at Colby College. A toe tag is a piece of cardboard or paper attached to the toe of a deceased person used to identify them. HT94 is an art project organized by the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), directed by anthropologist Jason de León.
HT94 was born out of the term “Hostile Terrain”, a direct quote from the U.S. government’s Prevention Through Deterrence (PTD) policy. PTD uses the desert and mountains as a form of border patrol to deter people from migrating into the United States through Arizona. However, PTD has failed and migrants continue to flood in.
For this project, toe tags are filled out and pinned to a large wall map at the coordinates at which a dead migrant body was found. Orange tags belong to unidentified people and white tags belong to the identified.
Dr. Gaelyn Aguilar brought HT94 to UMF because she believes in “teaching justice in an unjust world.” She said, “I was hoping that filling out our toe tags would feel an awful lot like the naming of names,” which she compared to the most recent surge of Black Lives Matter protests throughout the country.
Cassie Donald, a UMF student who participated in filling out over 20 toe tags, echoed Aguilar. It made them feel more personally involved and was more than just an assignment. “Putting names to the issue made it very real,” they said. “It brought forward a lot of emotion that reading an article might not.”
Aguilar discussed the language used to dehumanize migrants coming into the U.S. from our southern border. “We call undocumented immigrants ‘illegal’―folks do that to avoid speaking the names of those who’ve died, or even having to imagine their faces,” she said. Aguilar believes contributing to this toe tag installation allowed herself, her faculty members, and her students to reinvision these migrants and give them their names back, not only in individual consciences but in our national conscience as well.
Senior Adriana Burnham knows what it’s like to experience this language. “I’m half-Mexican, and I get a lot of jokes about jumping the border,” she said. Due to Burnham’s heritage, it felt personally disrespectful not to fill out these toe tags. Living in the U.S., Burnham reflects that most don’t have to stress about crossing into a new country to start a new life and/or supporting families from afar. “It gives a reality to something we don’t see in Maine,” she said. “We have this chance to recognize these people who risked their lives.”
Laney Randolph, a senior education major, was blindsided by the amount of tags UMF received to fill out. She hadn’t realized how many people died crossing the border. “It’s horrifying to think that this isn’t something most people are aware of,” Randolph said. “I think Americans would have a much more empathetic attitude towards immigrants if they knew just how difficult and dangerous it was to get here.”
Their reactions are the purpose of HT94. This installation is a moment of global reflection and remembrance of those who’ve died on this hostile terrain, trying to cross into the United States. Donald said it best: “It’s important for people outside of the issue to gain awareness of the issue.”
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.”
By Nathan McIvor Contributing Writer
Novelist Hannah Binder is a freshman in the Creative Writing program who has published her first novel, “Why We Don’t Wave” under the name Hannah Paige. The novel is an ode to sisterhood and family.
Binder describing the novel in an email interview, said that the plot concerns four sisters who “grow up scattered across the U.S. unaware of each other’s existence .. [and] the trials that come about when four lives try to converge.”
Binder wrote the novel in “the lowest point I’ve ever been in my life so far,” crediting her older sister with spurring her improvement. “When I started writing, I wanted to dedicate this book to her. [The novel] was really a project to try and depict the importance of having a sister and it was an ode to her for all that she has done for me. The four sisters in the novel all depict pieces of who my sister is,” Binder said.
Binder began writing at six years old and finished “Why We Don’t Wave” at sixteen. Binder said that she enjoys “creating characters and establishing a story that I hope many people will be able to connect to” through her work.
When asked about the publishing process, Binder replied, “My age was most likely the biggest hurdle to surmount. I was sixteen and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was not about to let my age keep me out of the publishing world, so I held myself to the same standard that writers twice my age do. I edited my manuscript as best I could and started submitting.”
Despite rejections, the UK-based Austin Macauley accepted her manuscript. Much to her surprise, Binder had to ask for a modified contract, ”I needed a place for my mom to sign as well, they had no idea how old I was.”
As a freshman, Binder appreciates “close-knit” campus. A native Californian, Binder had “a bit of a culture shock … but the Creative Writing program and the professors … are exactly what I’d hoped they would be.”
She continues her craft and has already written another novel. Austin Macauley recently accepted “30 Feet Strong.” Binder hopes to have the book released this year. “Writing is a huge part of my life and who I am as a person. That process of finding the perfect word, of composing a page of text that evokes so much emotion or just paints an especially effective image is exhilarating. It’s everything to me.”