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.”