Professor ‘buys’ time for extra writing

Erin Ghere

Julie Schumacher might be one of the only writers to thank her children’s day-care center in her first novel, but they deserved it, she said.
Schumacher is the mother of two, a University professor, director of the Creative Writing Program and a writer hurriedly trying to finish her second novel.
“Juggling is my middle name,” she said jokingly.
But recently, she was awarded a little extra time.
A recipient of the $10,000 Loft McKnight Award in Creative Prose, Schumacher is going to use the award to “buy” herself more time. The award was given by The Loft Literacy Center in Minneapolis.
“The aim of every writer is to have more time to write,” she said.
During the school year, Schumacher doesn’t have time to write much more than short stories; in the summer months, she works on novels and longer pieces.
For five years, she has worked on the story of two adolescent girls at a turning point in their lives and describes how the influences of their parents, friends and lovers affect them, said Allison McGee, a friend and fellow writer.
It is a novel Schumacher is pushing herself to finish this summer. But she already has two books under her belt.
Novels abound
Her first award-winning novel, “The Body is Water” — the story of a pregnant, unmarried woman who moves back in with her father — was published in 1995.
The second book, published in 1997, is a collection of short stories she wrote in a decade.
Most of her writing deals with family, emotions and relationships, but not necessarily those from her own life, Schumacher said.
If she does take inspiration from her own life, it might be from her husband and two daughters, ages 8 and 11, whom she lives with in St. Paul.
To get from here to there
Born in Wilmington, Del., Schumacher was the fifth of five daughters.
She graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Latin American studies in 1981.
Three years ago, she joined the University faculty, after earning her master’s degree and teaching elsewhere.
This year, she was appointed director of the Creative Writing Program and spent the past year learning the ropes, she said.
A master’s degree program in the English department stands out by offering writers three years of expenses-paid free time.
“Anyone who is admitted to the program is given tuition and a stipend in exchange for (teaching),” Schumacher explained.
The program’s full funding allows writers to fully concentrate on their writing.
As director, Schumacher recruits new students, does thesis-advising for many fiction students and attracts well-known writers to speak at the University, said Leslie Cooney, creative writing program coordinator.
“(Schumacher) has been great to work with this year,” Cooney said. “She has added a lot to the program, both personally and professionally.”
In addition to her role as director, Schumacher teaches two English courses each year, primarily contemporary fiction, child narration and Latin American literature.
“The best thing about teaching is to sit in a room with a bunch of people who understand the possibilities of literature and want to talk about it,” she said.
McGee said Schumacher is unique as a writer because she wants to take time out of writing to teach others.
Keeping her sanity
The summer months and writing allow Schumacher to keep some peace of mind.
“It’s very hard to be a writer, an organized (director) of a department and a mother of two young children,” McGee said.
To do it all, she has to prioritize.
“Being a writer is who she is at the core,” McGee explained, adding that everything else falls into place around that.
With few duties as director and no courses to teach, Schumacher writes during the summer.
During the school year, she tries to set aside Fridays and an occasional weekday morning to write. But most of her writing is completed in the summer.
This summer, Schumacher is concentrating her energies on finishing her second novel. Actually, it’s been finished for some time, she said, but it’s still not quite right.
While Hollywood portrays writers as jumping out of bed in the middle of the night to pour inspiration out onto paper, Schumacher said the process is much more disciplined.
She sits down for several hours at a time, forcing herself to stay there. Some days, she will write nothing; other days, she might write several chapters.
While writing her first novel, “I taught part time, wrote part time and watched my kids part time,” Schumacher said, leading her to thank her daughters’ day care in the acknowledgements for her novel.
“She’s one of those rare people who can do it all,” McGee said.
Although her life does not leave much time for writing, Schumacher says she cannot complain.
“There is luxury in the academic life,” she said. “You end up with little pockets of time to yourself that you wouldn’t get (in another profession).”
In those pockets, she also tries to find time for other hobbies, including playing lacrosse and basketball, sewing and reading, McGee said.
Beginnings as a child
It is a “fuzzy line” when people begin to call themselves writers, Schumacher said.
She has written things down since she was a child, she said, and will continue to do so.
In the near future, she hopes to finish her second novel and publish another collection of short stories in the next few years.
“The ultimate writer’s goal is to keep going,” she said.
“Writing is what keeps me sane; it’s what I do in order to explain the world to myself,” Schumacher said.
As a child, she wrote “terrible rhyming poetry” when dying pets and other hardships urged her to write. Even then, it was her escape.
“Writing has always been a solace to me,” Schumacher said.

Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected]