University of Minnesota
Department of English

Department of English

Five X Friday

Past Alumni News Stories
Josh Ostergaard (MFA), writer
Mary Nyquist (BA), professor
Tom Rademacher (BA), teacher
Erik Storlie (BA), meditation teacher
Nadia Hasan (BA), lawyer
Naomi Ko (BA), actor and writer
Shae Moloney (BA), HR specialist
Swati Avasthi (MFA), novelist
Kate Hopper (MFA), writer & teacher
Kevin Fenton (MFA), writer & ad creative
Alex Mueller (PhD), professor
Ellen Boschwitz (BA), consultant
Ethan Rutherford (MFA), writer
Tina Karelson (BA), advertising creative
May Lee-Yang (BA), playwright
Elizabeth Larsen (MFA), writer/editor
Angela Smith (PhD), professor
Jerr Boschee (BA), social entrepreneur
Reina del Cid (BA), bandleader
Dr. Arthur Schuhart (BA), CC professor
Amanda Coplin (MFA), novelist
David Wojahn (BA), poet
Dr. Sarah Wadsworth (PhD), professor
Mark Baumgarten (BA), writer/editor
Andrew Nath (BA), banker
Esther Porter (BA), editor
Dr. Gerald Jay Goldberg (PhD), writer
Peter Geye (BA), novelist
Sam Kean (BA), science writer
Dr. Joyce Sutphen (BA, MA, PhD), poet
Susan Taylor (MFA), CC professor
Sheila O'Connor (BA), novelist
Susan Niz (BA), YA novelist
Scott Burns (BA), screenwriter
Swati Avasthi (MFA), YA novelist
Dr. Marilyn Nelson (PhD), poet
Garrison Keillor (BA), radio show host
Dr. Carol Mason (PhD), professor
Amy Shearn (MFA), novelist
Dr. Virginia McDavid (BA, MA, PhD), prof
Tim Nolan (BA), poet
Dr. Kevin Reilly (PhD), higher ed admin

Michael Tisserand (BA), journalist

Back to the Future

An alum's writing path takes a turn with an unexpected gift

Mary Petrie and son StrykerYou may have read Mary Petrie’s story in The Star Tribune this summer, or on the Today Parents site. Not long after her oldest child, Stryker, graduated from high school last spring, he presented Petrie (PhD 2000) with a wrapped gift. Inside was a book proof of a novel Petrie had written more than a decade ago—a novel a New York agency had shopped unsuccessfully, which Petrie then put aside in the whirl of raising kids and teaching English and gender/women's studies at Inver Hills Community College. Stryker had proofed, formatted, and readied the book for self-publishing, awaiting only the finishing touches of a synopsis and dedication. “I wanted her to have something she could hold onto,” Stryker told The Star Tribune, “to say, ‘Look, this is mine.’” Inspired, Petrie celebrated the publication of At the End of Magic with a reading at SubText Books. Four months later, she’s sold hundreds of copies of a novel she'd thought was shelved. A story that good needs a follow-up: Petrie answers our questions about writer’s remorse, successful blogging, and her current book-in-progress.

1. The story of your son’s thoughtful gift really resonated with readers of the Star Tribune feature. One question us nervous writers were burning to ask: Did you wish you could revisit parts of the novel before it was published? What reader response have you most found most surprising?

Anxiety quickly followed my initial joy over the gift: What if the novel was horrible? So it was with trembling hand that I turned those first few pages—and thankfully, my hand only grew steadier. I’m satisfied with the book: It’s not going to win any literary awards, but it’s a brisk and complex story with some dazzling moments at the sentence level. That’s good enough for me! That said, one of the things I would do differently is treat a few of the characters with a little more subtlety and depth. One character in particular sort of screams “gay brother” when he would more realistically be a man who loves his coffee with caramel and can’t tolerate sweater labels scratching the back of his neck.

The most surprising reaction to the book has been the many requests for a sequel! Lots of people— including complete strangers who’ve found me online or on Facebook—have asked what happens to Delphi, one of the book’s narrators. I love that people care enough about a character I created to want more of her. That said, I don’t have any plans for a follow-up. We’ll let Delphi’s fate play out a thousand different ways among (hopefully) that many readers!

2. You are currently on sabbatical from Inver Hills to write a book on student-teacher relationships in the online classroom. More on that, please?

Professional discourse about online education does not specifically engage with what has heretofore been understood as the heart of education--the student-professor relationship, both idealized and viscerally experienced. Instead it has developed entirely around concepts like student engagement, best practices, and emerging technologies. The goal of the book is to bring the student-professor relationship to the forefront of our conversation so that we can more accurately understand the circumstances shaping our shared digital space, the tensions and opportunities that exist here, and how we may (must) consciously create the relational model that emerges.

While it’s entirely possible that an online class is poorly constructed or the instructor unapproachable, it is also possible to take a class on campus and have a similar experience.

3. You have blogged regularly as "Minnesota Matron" since 2007. Would you offer a couple tips for successfully maintaining a blog?

Be all Nike: Just do it. Blog readers like regular new content. Most of the time--say, 75%--don’t worry about perfecting the prose. Get something up there to satisfy the faithful. Know what your blog goals are too. Some folks don’t care if they have a lot of readers; they’re blogging as a writing practice. But if you want readers, build on the themes and posts that are most popular. Understand what readers are coming to your blog for and get really, really good at that.

4. Your doctoral dissertation here, “The Anorexic's Story,” was so interdisciplinary that a faculty member from the Medical School was on your advising committee. We'd love to know more!

Feminist scholar Marta Robertson argues that anorexia is not as much a medical category as it is a “folk term.” Children and parents can delineate the symptoms and signs of anorexia in a way they probably can’t with any other mental illness. The dissertation asks why this is so and why it’s significant that such a uniform definition of anorexia appears in medicine, feminism, popular culture, literature, and the self-help recovery movement. I argue that the tightly drawn and highly recognizable definition of the disease is deeply flawed and even dangerous. Limiting our scope to a superficial quest for thinness, we fail to understand the multiple meanings of and purposes for female self-starvation; the dissertation attempts to outline some of those purposes and meanings.

5. What English professors do you remember most?

Ellen Messer-Davidow, Madelon Sprengnether, Toni McNaron, Robin Brown, Michael Hancher--to name a few. Ellen was my dissertation advisor. I decided to drop out of graduate school, and I called her to explain that I couldn’t finish my dissertation while caring for a new baby and toddler. If memory serves, the conversation went something like this:

Me: “I’m going to quit.” Ellen: “I won’t let you.” And she didn’t. I defended six months later, thanks largely to her unflagging determination and support.

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