Though 2020 might have been a challenging year for many people, the faculty of College of Liberal Arts (COLA) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) have remained productive by showcasing their magnitude of knowledge and skills. Aside from teaching classes in-person and online and attending virtual seminars, some faculty have furthered their research or worked on fiction writing.
In 2020, COLA faculty produced books ranging from translations, political analyses and novels. Among the 19 books published were “The Paradox of Suicide and Creativity: Authentications of Human Existence,” “Teachers and Their Unions: Labor Relations in Uncertain Times” and “Beneficence.”
Mike Alvarez, the author of “The Paradox of Suicide and Creativity: Authentications of Human Existence” is a postdoctoral research associate in the communications department at UNH. Alvarez said that the inspiration for the book came from his life experience. “I myself am a creative writer who struggled with mental health and suicide in my late teens and undergraduate years, during which I attempted suicide and was admitted to a mental hospital,” he explained.
In “The Paradox of Suicide and Creativity: Authentications of Human Existence,” Alvarez dove deep into analyzing 11 creative individuals who took their own lives – Iris Chang, Kevin Carter, Phyllis Hyman, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Jeremy Blake, Theresa Duncan, Alan Turing, Yukio Mishima, Reinaldo Arenas and Robin Williams. Alvarez said that he chose these 11 individuals because of the “wide array of creative domains” and “their diverse race-ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, social class, and ability.”
Alvarez said that upon being released, he took some time to understand “the intimate connection between phenomenal creativity and self-destruction, from the point of view of those who exhibit both tendencies,” to which it became a foundation towards his senior honors and master’s thesis, and eventually became a book.
As you can imagine, the writing process for the first-time-published-author took a long time. “This book was many, many years in the making, and involved close readings of my subjects’ creative productions, in-depth examination of biographical data, and situating the work within the life and the life within the work,” said Alvarez.
However, Alvarez felt that it was important to write this book as “there are virtually no books on the creativity-suicide connection published in the last 25 years, despite the fact that eminently creative people are at heightened risk of suicide.” With this book, Alvarez’s main goal was “to write a book that didn’t reduce the suffering of suicidal people to psychopathology. “I wanted to bring attention back to what creativity and self-destruction meant to these individuals—in their own terms—and to the social, cultural, historical, and relational contexts that produce much human suffering.”
Another book written by a COLA faculty member, “Teachers and Their Unions: Labor Relations in Uncertain Times,” is the tenth book that was written by Todd DeMitchell. DeMitchell is a professor emeritus in the justice studies department at UNH. Much like his other books, the veteran writer said that he “used the same techniques of literature review, legal analysis of case law and legislative enactments that I use for my research” to write this book.
Coming from a strong background in labor relations, DeMitchell’s inspiration for this book came from the combination of his interest in labor relations in education and his experience as the chief spokesperson at the bargaining table for two school districts in California.
Though the title of the book suggests that DeMitchell might have written this book amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it wasn’t. In fact, “Teachers and Their Unions: Labor Relations in Uncertain Times” was published in January 2020, right before the COVID-19 outbreak. DeMitchell’s goal for this book was “to provide an analysis of a tumultuous decade for labor relations in education.”
Additionally, this book is an updated version of “Labor Relations in Education: Policies, Politics, and Practices,” which was written by DeMitchell and published in 2010. “My 2020 book updates the significant events since my 2010 book,” added DeMitchell.
Meredith Hall, lecturer emirita in the English department, gained publicity from her 2010 New York Times Bestseller “Without a Map: A Memoir.” This publicity made her explore into the world of fiction writing for a more private life. The initial idea for “Beneficence” sparked Hall’s imagination when her neighbor mentioned a small story from his childhood. “Once I had that idea, the book took shape of its own,” she explained.
As a passionate writer, Hall struggled emotionally while writing her novel. “Beneficence” is about a family living on a farm in Maine that encounters a shocking tragedy. In her novel, Hall wanted to explore the struggle of the characters as they try to crawl back into their normal life. “Although I was the one orchestrating the story, it was very hard to watch [my characters] suffer. It was a strange experience. Their grief really hit me,” commented Hall.
Hall stated that most novelists do not have a defined goal in writing their novels. However, she added, “I certainly wanted my readers to find their own lives in the lives of my characters. We all know loss and grief, and we all know the loneliness of that sorrow.”