Lewis Robinson, Writer in Residence, Combines Family Time with Writing

With his slightly tousled Oxford shirt and patterned tie, Lewis Robinson, Writer in Residence, could be any English teacher at Phillips Academy. However, Robinson’s commitments outside of the classroom vary from that of a typical PA faculty member. Rather than coaching a sport or advising a club, Robinson writes books. The Writer-in-Residence is an individual who teaches English courses while working on his or her writing career. Robinson currently teaches two Senior electives, Creative Writing: Poetry and Creative Writing: Fiction. Robinson said, “I think that the school designs the position so I [can] give back to the school simply through teaching.” Robinson has written two novels: Officer Friendly, which was published in 2004, and Water Dogs, which was published in 2009. The New York Times Book Review, among other publications, reviewed both books. Robinson’s third novel is currently on hold. At present, he is working on a series of short stories. Jeff Domina, Chair of the English Department, said, “We had 197 writers apply for the job, but Lewis stood out early not only as a writer but also as a teacher, which is a special combination we want in a Writer-in-Residence.” “He’s a great talent on the early end of what’s likely to be a brilliant literary career, but he’s also a generous, proven, inspired, and inspiring teacher,” Domina continued. Prior to working at Andover, Robinson taught at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. “I was working in the graduate program, writing, coaching basketball and juggling time with my family. The writer-in-residency combines [all of these jobs],” Robinson said. At Andover, Robinson is able to spend more time with his two-month old son, Leo, and his two-year old daughter, Maisie. Robinson said his typical workday is flexible enough to allow family time, writing, and teaching. “My wife and I are up with the baby around 5:45 a.m. or 6 a.m., so there’s a window of time between [my son’s] first coos and my daughter’s more emphatic stirrings at 7 a.m.,” said Robinson. “Once [Maisie] is up, I give her some milk, read her a few stories, get her dressed and then I walk up to Commons for some cantaloupe and granola,” he continued. Following breakfast, Robinson relocates to his carrel in the basement of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library where he can focus on his writing. “[My space] is very quiet; it’s a good spot for meditative work like writing, though I’ll occasionally venture upstairs to spread out my papers and catch some sunlight,” said Robinson. Back in Maine, Robinson usually wrote in a small ten-foot by ten-foot office that he built for himself in his backyard. The shed-like structure housed a desk, a small heater, and a window. Robinson said his quaint library carrel reminds him of his self-built, homey workspace. Despite a more flexible work schedule, Robinson said he has been forced to make some adjustments in his new position at Andover. “For the last ten years or so, I haven’t had to look presentable at work in the morning, because I was alone at a desk writing stories. Sometimes I would wear my bathrobe. Here [at Andover], I’ve been enjoying wearing a tie. It feels like a novelty,” he said. Motivated by his desire to instill interest and excitement among young students, Robinson looks forward to a year of teaching and mentoring writers. “The idea of teaching writing has, in recent years, become marginalized. Short fiction and poetry are just not as popular as they once were,” said Robinson. “Working with high school students is exciting for me because they are still interested in writing, and can perpetuate the craft. High school students also have one of the most important tools of a writer, the ability to empathize with other people,” he continued. In the past few years, Robinson taught graduate students in one-on-one tutorials. “I mentored these students by helping them with their individual projects out of class, since there wasn’t much classroom time. Usually, they would bring me thirty new pages of writing that I would then critique, and we would work back and forth like that,” said Robinson. Robinson plans to take a similar approach with his creative writing courses at Andover. “[The creative writing classes] will have some structured assignments, but I will be conducting the class like a graduate workshop, where we’ll have volunteers put up their work for individual critique,” he said. Robinson’s advice to aspiring writers originates from his personal experience. “If you are really passionate about writing, my advice to you is to stick with it. Don’t worry about poor first drafts, and don’t be discouraged when something you try fails,” said Robinson. “Many young writers at this age get discouraged because they read something beautiful and want to emulate it. After they write a first draft that is not very strong, they think that they’re not any good at writing. The key is to recognize that the real task of writing is rewriting,” he continued. Domina said, “He’s a superstar, and we’ve been so glad to welcome him to the department and the school.”