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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Here’s a novel idea: UA grads bring life to the page

    Heres a novel idea: UA grads bring life to the page

    Writing is something that takes great effort, intellect and persistence. It’s a lonely occupation that forces the writer to be self-reliant and disciplined.

    Why would anyone participate in this isolating, competitive craft? Most writers can confirm it’s that byline, the book deal or the promise of being published that keeps them going.

    Although most literature classes concentrate on older, more established authors, there are a select few visionaries at the UA making waves in the world of professional writing.

    Howard Axelrod has come full circle. The 32-year-old creative writing graduate student received his bachelor of arts in English from Harvard University in ’95, opening up a world of opportunity.

    It was after a few years of small writing stints that he decided to, as he says, “”drift out”” for a while, buying a mobile home and traveling to remote areas of the country like Montana and Idaho.

    “”I wanted to be as far away from people as possible,”” Axelrod said. “”I knew nobody, talked to nobody.””

    At dinnertime, Axelrod’s jaw would ache from his lack of conversation.

    Eight years later, the talented writer decided it was time to come out of what had been a long state of depression and embark on what was to become a promising career in writing.

    “”Writing is something that always came naturally to me,”” Axelrod said. “”I didn’t know how I could translate it into a profession. It never occurred to me that there were so many possibilities out there.””

    After moving back to Boston, Axelrod was just starting to formulate ideas of what he wanted to do with his life when he came across a short article on professional tennis player James Blake.

    The article caught Axelrod’s attention not only because Blake’s name was familiar – Blake played tennis at Harvard before going pro – but also because of the uniqueness of his story.

    “”In a two-month span, he (Blake) had broken his neck, his father died and he came down with a virus that paralyzed half of his face,”” Axelrod said. “”I finished the article and I did not know where I was, I was so moved by it. I related to it and I had so many questions.””

    Axelrod felt a connection to Blake’s struggles and was inspired by his ability to overcome them; he wanted to write a feature on the young athlete.

    Beginning what turned out to be quite an adventure, especially since Axelrod had no journalism experience, he contacted Blake to do the story.

    Axelrod said that Blake was flattered and accepted. The two arranged to meet at a match in Miami, which evolved into a series of meetings.

    “”So I got the interview and it was great, he was very candid,”” Axelrod said. “”I remember thinking if there were video cameras how moved people would be.””

    Although there were no cameras rolling, others had the opportunity to learn Blake’s heartfelt story when Axelrod got it published in New York Times Magazine.

    At the same time that things were coming together for Axelrod, they were looking up for Blake, who had increased his rank from 196 to 70 and was receiving more media attention.

    “”Afterwards he was on ‘Oprah,’ ’60 Minutes’ and suddenly he is everywhere,”” Axelrod said.

    Blake was not the only one of the two, however, to spark someone else’s attention. Random House publishers contacted Axelrod, proposing he write a book on a topic of his choice. He is currently working on a memoir about his own life for them.

    Blake’s agent also contacted Axelrod, who suggested he write a screenplay, or “”treatment”” as they coin it in Hollywood, on Blake. Axelrod, to put it simply, liked the idea.

    “”People don’t really like to read books about sports. Sports are visual,”” Axelrod said. “”It is really fun to write a treatment. I tend to think imagistically. I started to think about what to focus on, what was at stake. I found it all very natural.””

    Yes, things are looking good for Axelrod, who hopes that either the screenplay or his book will pan out by February of next year. He will definitely, however, receive his master’s degree this spring and has enjoyed teaching in the English department during his time spent here.

    “”I imagine I’ll do it (teach) for a long time. Writing is such a solitary endeavor,”” Axelrod said. “”In teaching, I have a sense that I’m accomplishing something on a daily basis. I like it. I’ll finish my degree this year, and I have no idea where I’ll be next year, but this is a pretty nice place to be.””

    Like Axelrod, assistant professor Jason Brown is drawn to write about those who struggle.

    “”I try and write about the side of Maine that people don’t see,”” Brown said about the state he grew up in. “”Addicts and losers.””

    Brown got an early start in writing, putting the pencil to the paper at a young age. While growing up, Brown says he enjoyed writing “”kid stuff”” such as plays and a personal journal. Although he talks about his work in his youth with a shrug, it couldn’t have hurt, considering where he is today.

    After attending Bowdoin, a small liberal arts college in Maine, he then went on to get his master’s degree at Cornell University. During his time at Cornell, Brown was published in an anthology of young writers 25 years old and under. Coincidentally, Axelrod had work included in the publication as well. Brown continued to get his work published, including his first collection of short stories at the age of 29.

    Although he has been teaching at the UA for five years now and enjoys his new desert residence, Maine will always be home to him.

    “”I’m still writing about that same world,”” he said. “”I like it out here, but I’m in Maine a lot. I still go back every summer. I’m writing about isolated communities that I’m familiar with, where I’m from.””

    While Brown has had a fair amount of success in the literary world, he says it isn’t easy.

    “”The main thing (in getting published) is persistence,”” said Brown, who empathizes with those whose work does not make it into print. “”Rejection is just part of it.””

    Like Axelrod, being a teacher as well as a professional writer, Brown does not have the leisure to sit around in a cafǸ on his laptop all day either.

    He is working on a novel about a fictional island off the coast of Maine that he hopes to complete by the end of next year.

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