Creative writing department welcomes Robinson

Born in Natick, Mass and raised in Buffalo, NY and Yarmouth, Maine, Visiting Assistant Professor of English/Creative Writing Lewis Robinson attended Middlebury College where he majored in English and took creative writing classes in nonfiction and fiction.  “I was…fairly preoccupied by intramural hockey, being a DJ at the radio station, and leading trips for the mountain club,” he said. 

“I took a term off during my junior year, and through one of my anthropology professors I got a fellowship to work with a group of doctors in London who lived together and ran a homeless shelter in the bottom two floors of their flat.  When I got back to Middlebury for my senior year, I was starting to get more serious about writing short stories, and I did an independent project with Jay Parini.  We established a schedule to meet every week at the diner in town to discuss the stories I was writing.  It was incredible.  Jay demystified ‘the writing process’ for me.  He emphasized the importance of devoting at least a little bit of time every day to writing.  He also said that allowing for idle time, and going for long walks, was good for writers.  Amen!” Robinson said in an email correspondence.

After Robinson graduated, he began his career in southern Vermont, working with novelist John Irving for two years. “Irving writes on a typewriter, so I retyped all of his work onto the computer, provided him with initial line edits, and managed his correspondence,” he said.

He then moved to New York, where he worked as an editorial assistant at a publishing house and as an “art mover,” which involved driving a truck to deliver paintings and sculptures to various galleries, museums, and collectors. “I worked 12 to 16 hours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and on my off days, I wrote.  That was a productive period for me; little by little, I was learning from my mistakes.  The only problem was that I was working in isolation and didn’t know other writers.  (I lived in Brooklyn and somehow I didn’t know that my neighborhood was teeming with novelists.)….I had mixed success with the freelance writing; I didn’t sell any of my fiction, but I wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated about visiting the Maine State Prison with my family, where we played against the prison basketball team,” Robinson said.

Robinson went on to enroll in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. “It was a relief to get to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where I joined a cohort of 25 similarly-obsessed fiction writers. My teachers were Marilynne Robinson, Frank Conroy, Ethan Canin, James Alan McPherson, and Chris Offutt.  All of them are writers I admire, they each had a wildly different pedagogical approach, and they all taught me something important,” Robinson said.

“But I learned even more from my classmates.  We only met for workshop once a week for three hours, but we met every night around kitchen tables or in bars or restaurants to talk about that week’s New Yorker story, or other things people had been thinking about, reading or writing.  And I continue to learn from them.  We’re still sharing work and critiquing each other,” he added.

In 2003, Robinson published Officer Friendly, his first book of short stories, and followed with a novel in 2009, Water Dogs. “My story collection, Officer Friendly, consists of 11 stories all set in the same fictional town of Point Allison, Maine.  My first novel, Water Dogs, is set in midcoast Maine in the 90s, and it’s about two brothers whose fierce loyalty to each other is tested.  Robinson has just finished his second novel, Halfway Rock, which “is set in modern-day Portland and … involves the smuggling of mountain lions, marijuana farming, and girls’ basketball,” Robinson said.

Citing John Cheever as his favorite writer, Robinson added, “I’m drawn to stories about families and relationships.  I like character-driven fiction, the kind that allows you to witness and consider the choices people make, the actions they take.  Most of my work has been set in Maine, an endlessly fascinating setting in all its contrasts: wealth and poverty, coast and inland, winter and summer, beautiful and terrifying, sacred and profane.”

Over the past ten years, Robinson has worked at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program, where he mentors graduate students. He has also worked as the writer-in-residence for three years at Phillips Andover Academy, and he currently teaches online classes in fiction writing for Stanford University. This semester, he is teaching three fiction writing courses on the hill.

On why Robinson decided to teach at Colby this year, he said, “I visited Colby about seven years ago to talk with a few creative writing classes and give a reading.  I loved the atmosphere.  The students I met seemed engaged, friendly, curious, smart, and unpretentious.  The faculty, too.  I’m feeling grateful to be on campus now for an entire term, to work more closely with students on their writing.”

When he is not working, Robinson enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife, six-year-old daughter, and four-year-old son. “We have a little sailboat in Portland, and I like to hike, cross-country ski, and sled with my kids, too.  I play in basketball and hockey leagues in Portland, allowing me to relive the minor glories and embarrassments of my past.   I have a tiny role (one line) in a feature film coming out this year (Tumbledown), which I’m sure will catapult me to international fame,” he added.

Lewis Robinson Web

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