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From the Nightstand: Catherine Tobin

Interview conducted by Zachary Mobrice

Catherine “Kate” Tobin is the Assistant Manager of Parking and Transportation in the Department of Public Safety (aka “The Parking Queen”). She has worked at RWU since 2000. She also is nearing completion of her BA in Criminal Justice Studies.



Current Reads: Fatal Destiny, a novella by my good friend Marie Force.” Tobin describes it as a love story that “helps me relax and take my mind off of things.”


Upcoming Reads: Tobin says she always looks forward to any new novel by Stephen King. With great “anticipation,” she also is “determined” to continue her literary relationship with Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin.




Memorable Reads:  The works of J.R.R. Tolkien—especially The Lord of the Rings books—is the bestset of literature she has ever read. “Tolkien just created this vast, endless universe; and it just can capture like nothing else.”




Essential Reads: “The Holy Bible is the ultimate book to read if you want to better yourself.” As someone who regularly reads the Bible, Tobin says it’s “a great and simple guide of what you should and shouldn’t do.”










What are people in the Roger Williams University community reading? The From the Nightstand team asks which books are on people’s nightstands—either being read, or waiting to be read.


What are the library’s plans for winter break?

What are the library’s plans for winter break?

By Leah Catania

After the last blue book is turned in, the last research paper sent off, and the last dorm locked up, surely the library must close its doors as well. You may think that without students frantically printing papers and searching for that one last elusive research source, the librarians should be able to rest easy until the beginning of spring semester. And yet, RWU’s library stays open for the duration of winter break. But what exactly goes on without the students’ hustle and bustle of the regular semester?

One key benefit of the break is that it allows the librarians to focus on their various projects. Some will present at regional and national conferences and publish papers just as classroom professors do. Others will be able to focus on direct enhancements of library services. Here is a snapshot of some of those projects that will consume the RWU library staff:


  • Christine Fagan, Collection Management Librarian, will collaborate with libraries and museums across the country to create the annual John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Exhibit, this year celebrating the 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Fagan will be compiling documents and artifacts and designing the exhibit for the main exhibit space at the entrance to the University Library.
  •  Instructional Services and Campus initiatives Librarian, Barbara Kenney, will be balancing her preparation for the international students’ library instruction pilot program with a visiting class from Mt. Hope High School.  She and University Archivist, Heidi Benedict, will be building  lesson plans for each group, as well as an assessment to ensure the programs are helpful and instructive.
  •  Susan McMullen, Research Services and User Engagement Librarian, will be preparing for research assistance in support of several student/faculty groups through the University’s Community Partnership Center.
  • Mary Wu, Digital Scholarship and Metadata Librarian, will be updating the Library’s digital Faculty Scholarship Register.
  • John Schlinke, Architecture/Art Librarian, will be working on the reconfiguration and relocation of the Architecture Library’s reference collection.
  • Web & Digital Services Specialist, Lindsey Gumb, will be testing and rolling out the Library’s new cloud-based image management system, Shared Shelf.  Shared Shelf will eventually replace the current image database, MDID, and will be integrated into ARTstor to offer students and faculty seamless access to the thousands of images in our Art History & Architectural image collections for teaching and learning.

Who knows? You may return to campus at the end of January to find more seating available in the library. Remember that Fall 2013 user satisfaction survey you may have taken earlier this semester? John Fobert, Electronic Resources Librarian, is currently working with the Association of Research Libraries to formulate the results of that survey into useful information. He plans to reevaluate and consolidate the library’s collections to free up more room for student collaboration and seating.

Survey says: Students all have positive comments about the library’s staff. Every break, the lull between classes gives the staff time to enhance students’ experience, whether through building interesting and informative exhibits, helping with what the academic classes don’t always have time for, or simply creating more room to study. It makes it that much easier for the students when the eventual hustle and bustle returns to the library floors.



Behind the Book takes an in depth look at the world of the book through articles and interviews about the creative process, issues in publishing, and the writing life.


Behind the Book: November 22, 1963

In observance of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assasination, Roger Williams University Professor Adam Braver’s book,  November 22, 1963, was highlighted by Dallas Morning News as one of their picks “for the best JFK books…” Here’s what they had to say about Braver’s novel:


November 22, 1963, by Adam Braver (Tin House Books)


Published in 2008, this novel, like DeLillo’s, is another exercise in postmodernism. It zeroes in on Jackie Kennedy and captures the horror and trauma of the murder of her husband. For readers more interested in emotion than history, this novel certainly puts the reader there, in that limousine, in Dealey Plaza, in history.

— Don Graham, J. Frank Dobie regents professor of American and English literature at the University of Texas at Austin.

Adam Braver is on faculty and writer-in-residence at Roger Williams University, and has been a regular writer-in-residence at the NY State Summer Writers Institute.  For more information visit his website.



Behind the Book takes an in depth look at the world of the book through articles and interviews about the creative process, issues in publishing, and the writing life.


From the Nightstand: Professor Michael Scully

Professor Michael Scully has been on faculty in the Communication Department since 2007. He teaches in the journalism major.


Current Reads: Professor Michael Scully is currently working on getting his PhD in Humanities at Salve Regina University. For his coursework he is reading a large collection of texts that span the humanities, philosophy, and western literature.


Two books that Professor Scully specifically notes are The Prince by Machiavelli and All That is Solid Melts Into Air by Marshall Berman, the latter of which he describes as a great piece of modernist work illustrating the economic modernization of New York City.

Memorable Reads: The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. Professor Scully recalls it as one of the most poetically written books he’s ever read. He also can’t leave out In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, due to its role in spawning the “potential for great non-fiction storytelling.”

Essential Reads: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. “An eye-opening read for anyone interested in learning about what they eat.” Another book that Professor Scully notes as “an important read” is John Galbraith’s The Affluent Society, which discusses how post-WWII America is privately rich yet publicly poor.



What are people in the Roger Williams University community reading? The From the Nightstand team asks which books are on people’s nightstands—either being read, or waiting to be read.


Behind the Book: Ray Rickman, An Interview with Hester Kaplan, and RI’s Native American Heritage

Ray Rickman

By Leah Catania


Though Rhode Island has long had a storied history filled with tolerance and acceptance, in the early 19th century, the state was not immune to the rising tensions that gripped the rest of the United States. Race and class often came to a head in the poorer districts of Providence. The low rent in areas like Hardscrabble and Snow Town brought different races together, along with crime and businesses that were looked down upon by much of society.  In 1824, a white mob formed and razed twenty homes in Hardscrabble that belonged to blacks. The riot in Snow Town seven years later resulted in the death of four whites by the militia called in to control the mob. Both riots were incited over minor or individual acts, but they caused the population of Providence to  demand a stronger police force from their government.

When it comes to Rhode Island African American history, there are few people as well versed on the subject as Ray Rickman. On November 5th, at 4:30 p.m., he will be in the Mary Tefft White Center speaking as the last installment of the Talking in the Library Series. Interestingly, as a former State Representative, one of the bills he worked on established Rhode Island’s Poet Laureate position, currently held by our first speaker, Dr. Rick Benjamin, our first speaker in the Fall 2013 series. In addition to his lawmaker duties, Rickman has served as secretary of the Rhode Island Historical Society, and he was also formerly the president of The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society and is currently a Senior Advisor. On Tuesday, he will discuss the Providence race riots, how race and class were factors, and the demand for a larger police presence in the city.


An Interview with Hester Kaplan

By Leah Catania


Hester Kaplan’s first collection of short stories, The Edge of Marriage (1999), won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. The Tell (2011), her most recent novel, examines the ways in which gambling can tear apart a marriage. In the fall 2013 issue, Roger Williams University’s literary journal, Mount Hope published Kaplan’s short novella “This is Your Last Swim.” That publication includes her appearing in the Mary Tefft White Center’s Talking in the Library Series on October 22nd. She teaches in Lesley University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. Hester lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where we conducted the following interview by phone.

LC: Your novel The Tell incorporates so many different themes and idea. What was your first idea that served as inspiration for the rest of the novel?

HK: My first inspiration came from finding myself in a lot of casinos sort of by accident. I didn’t go there to gamble. I don’t gamble. I don’t like gambling at all. But in various places in the country, I found myself in casinos for one reason or another. I was just drawn to the people who were there, trying to figure out what was going on in this place that made me feel really so awful, so depressed. Then from there, I really thought, who was the most unlikely woman I could put in the casino and have become a slot machine addict? And that turned into Mira. And then I built a world around her. You know, I was interested in casinos but I’m most interested in marriage, particularly in this book. This was just a bad bump in the road for [Mira and Owen]. To further see whether this was even a viable idea, I did a lot of research on gambling, particularly women on slot machines, and ended up talking to a number of women who are addicted to slot machines. I found some of the stories so unbelievably devastating and hard to fathom, these quick demises that really seemed almost sudden and inexplicable to these women. One day they were not addicted, the next day they were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. It was really quite stunning. And living in Rhode Island, you can’t really ignore the conversation that goes on all the time about whether we will have a casino of our own. It just seems to be a topic that comes up all the time. So when I started writing the book, the idea of a casino in Rhode Island was very much in the air, and now it looks as though we have one.

LC: You include such vivid detail in your writing, and much of that detail is directly tied to the settings of the novel: Providence, Rhode Island and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. How did you decide which details to include and which might be too obscure?

HK: I’d like to think that no detail would be too obscure. That if it’s well enough drawn, it will be sort of “visible” to the reader. Rhode Island, particularly Providence, is a wonderful place to live as a writer because it’s so rich in really amazing contrasts. Wonderful stories, amazing contrasts—many of them upsetting, troubling—but it’s just a very rich and vibrant place to set a story. Particularly among the architecture, where Mira and Owen’s house is. Cape Cod—I really just have a passion for the place. I’ve gone my entire life. It really feels to me like the antidote sometimes to city living, even though I’m not sure I would call Providence city living so much. In my mind, the Cape is still a pure place. I don’t think it’s really like that but that’s my imagination. You have to look hard. But details, I don’t know. I think reading is an act that involves all your senses. Even as a reader, you’re not necessarily aware of it. But as a writer, to be precise about smell and sound and all the senses, I really believe that helps draw in the reader, and brings them fully into a story.

LC: Do you think that The Tell would have turned into a different story if you had chosen a different city or state?

HK: I do think so. There is a real flavor about Rhode Island. In the book, there’s a section where Owen goes downtown, and he talks about the city gangs that are proud of being almost backward. That’s really how I feel. People are very protective of status quo in Rhode Island. For better or for worse. But yes, a very different story in another place. Absolutely. I can’t tell you what that story would be, but yes.

LC: So you never even considered a setting other than Rhode Island?

HK: I was firm in Rhode Island, absolutely. I had set some stories here, but I had never written a novel here. In Providence, I am just fascinated by the architecture. That was a way every day to sort of brighten the picture for myself. To walk around or drive around and look at these houses—and people do take an enormous amount of pride in their houses, I think, in Providence—as I’m sure they do in other parts of the state too. People are proud of the history of Providence. And it shows in the architecture. I think in some ways it must sort of bleed into how people view the city itself and their place in it. Very steeped in history.

LC: That actually brings me right to my next question. Did you intend for the Thrasher house, with all of its rooms, objects and portraits, to be a character in itself?

HK: Yes, and I’ve seen the power that houses have over people. Certainly they’ve had power over me. Not houses I’ve ever owned, but for instance my grandparents’ house, which in my memory as a child was just this enormous, labyrinthine place full of mystery and secret rooms and hidden spaces, that sort of thing, and it was just a wonderful place to let the imagination go wild. You could imagine anything happening in those rooms. So I do love the idea of people being almost captive to their homes. I don’t mean that I love it in terms of that’s how I would like to live, but that they do feel that they interact with their homes in the way that they might interact with another person. They have an intimate relationship with their home. It’s often love and it’s often hate.

LC: Can you tell me more about the writing process you went through while working on the novel?

HK: Well, I think for me the most memorable part of the process was that I had worked for about three years on the book, and it had the same characters, but it was set somewhere past Warwick, and it took place at a point in time after the events that are in the book now. I’d worked on it for about three years and I had this just sinking feeling that I was starting the book in the wrong place. I kind of pushed that feeling aside for quite awhile until I just couldn’t ignore it anymore. And then I realized I had to essentially ditch what I had done and start the book from a different place, from a different time. All the interesting stuff, where the heart beat the loudest in what I had written, was all in the past. You can’t really—I can’t really write a book that way. I needed to be unfolding in the present. So that was part of the process: finally admitting to myself after way too long that I needed to put it down and start over again. And then, for me, writing a novel, which is not my more natural form I don’t think, is a sort of circular process. I start it at almost an arbitrary point and just circle over and over again, so it’s just layering and layering on. So by the time I’ve finished one draft, I know so much more about the characters than I did when I’d begun. Then I go and circle over it again. At a certain point I just have to say “Okay, stop, that’s enough , now you’re driving yourself and everybody else crazy.” I know the book is done when I get to a point where I say “Okay,” to these characters, “You’re on your own. I cannot deal with your problems anymore. Really, you know, just stop complaining and just go do something. I’m done with you.” And that’s a nice feeling: “Okay, I’ve put in my time, you’re on your own now, see ya.” That’s really part of my process. And most of my process is just basically sitting down and working at it. I don’t ever believe there’s any sort of secret process. It’s just a long, long, haul and a lot of very careful attention and intention.

LC: You have a novella and a collection of stories coming out in the spring, correct? Is there anything else you’ve been working on?

HK: The novella is part of a new collection of stories, called Unravished. I’m putting the finishing touches on that collection. That’s stories written over the past five or six years. I’m always writing a story if I’m working on a novel, and if I’m working on a novel, I’m working on stories; I think one will give me relief from the other. Of course that’s pretty much just an illusion. So that collection is coming out, and then I’m toying with something that I’m refusing to call a memoir. I’m calling it instead a nonfiction narrative, because I think the word memoir is a little too loaded. And again, it is centered around a house. It’s really very very much about a particular house that I grew up in in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the ’60s and ’70s. At this point, I’m sort of poking around the edges of that. I have not quite committed to it yet. In between, I’m writing stories. I just finished a new one last week, but I’m sort of anxious to get going on some others. In the meantime I do a lot of teaching. That can often take some of the writing time up. I try not to let it too much, but it often does.

LC: Now do the stories and the novella coming out in the spring mostly focus around marriage as well?

HK: That’s an excellent question. No, they’re. . . Let me see, yes, they’re about marriage. For the most part, they’re about marriage. They’re about slightly older, or longer married people now, trying to take a look at where they are and some of the decisions that they’ve made. I also think that they’re a sort of—people might argue with this—but a sunnier bunch of stories than I generally write. People often say that I write stories that are very depressing, and very dark and claustrophobic, (And that happens to be the kind of stuff that I like to read!) But with these I’m trying to interject, or inject, a lot more joy and playfulness into the narratives. One of the stories, the “Aerialist,” which is about a man who loses a tooth and sort of bonds (bonds, there’s a nice pun) with his dentists who puts in a new tooth for him while they both watch an aerialist. It was just a real pleasure to write. It was almost like learning how to fly a trapeze myself. It was really quite different. I always hope to get back into that state, whatever that state of writing was. I hope to find that again someday. Hopefully tomorrow. Or after I get off the phone with you even.

LC: I actually thought you did a fantastic job injecting just a little humor to balance the darker subjects in The Tell, as well as the novella being published in Mount Hope, “This Is Your Last Swim”.

HK: Good, good. The thing that’s always sort of confounded me a little bit is that I don’t consider myself— in terms of my writing, I’m very serious in my career, I’m very serious—but I’m really sort of a big goofball. I make lots of jokes. I love dirty jokes. One of my favorite movies is Jackass. I will laugh at anything, it doesn’t matter how dumb. So I think that’s sort of part of my inclination, to show that there’s often humor in every situation. Sometimes it goes over the line, but you can always laugh.  That sounds a little bumper sticker-ish, but it’s important to see the humor in situations too.


Rhode Island and its Native American Heritage:
A Lesson for Today

By Leah Catania


As Rhode Island celebrates the 350thanniversary of its royal charter this year, founder Roger Williams’ progressive ideas continue to circulate. His passion for equality extended to all areas of his life, including, most notably, the Native Americans in the area that would become Rhode Island. Tribes such as the Narragansett and Wampanoag lived, farmed,

travelled and hunted for several thousand years in the area before the Europeans stepped off their ships. In fact, it was the Wampanoag that first took in Roger Williams following his banishment from the Massachusetts Bay colonies. Williams’ ideals were so inclusive that he refused to simply settle wherever he pleased, as most colonists did, so he paid the Narragansett for the land he called Providence and continued his peaceful negotiations with the tribes in the area.


The legacy of the Native tribes is still very much a part of our state’s identity. As Roger Williams University honors the life of our namesake, we need not do anything more than look out of our campus windows to see Mount Hope rising gently on the horizon, one of the most important Native American sites in Rhode Island. In a nearby swamp, Wampanoag sachem Metacomet’s murder marked the turning point in King Philip’s War, the most destructive conflict in New England during the 1600s. As richly documented by Nathaniel Philbrick in Mayflower (the University’s 2013 Common Reading selection), Roger Williams tried his hardest to prevent the war, but could not reconcile the two sides.

Today, when understanding and tolerance are so important to our state, we can look at Mount Hope and recall what happened in the past when our founder’s ideals were ignored in favor of violence and bloodshed.

As part of the Talking in the Library Series, archaeologist and anthropologist and RWU adjunct professor, Alan will be speaking about his work at Rhode Island’s archaeological sites on Tuesday, October 8th, at 4:30 p.m. With twenty-five years of experience in cultural resource management, Leveillee’s focus is on sharing information gleaned from archaeological research with nonprofessional audiences. Currently, he works as a principal investigator for the Public Archaeology Laboratory, lectures for the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities, and serves as an advisor at four local museums.

In the Mary Tefft White Center, Leveillee will discuss archaeological finds from as far back as 11,000 years ago, what those artifacts can tell us about the populations that lived off the same soil we walk on every day, and how those ancient peoples are related to present-day Native American tribal groups.



Behind the Book takes an in depth look at the world of the book through articles and interviews about the creative process, issues in publishing, and the writing life.


From the Nightstand: Provost Andrew Workman

Interview conducted by Zachary Mobrice.

Dr. Andrew Workman, is Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. He has been at RWU since 2012.


Recent Reads: Provost Workman’s current reading reflects his extensive research and study of history, and is grouped into schemas according to topics. The first grouping, he tells us, was sparked by the captivating story of Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, RWU’s 2013 Common Reading selection. It led him to three other books discussing colonial/revolutionary America: The Name of War by Jill Lapore, The Marketplace of Revolution by T.H. Breen, and Minutemen and their World by Robert Gross. For the second grouping, Provost Workman turned to World War II and post-war Europe, having recently finished Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Tim Snyder, and Endgame, 1945 by David Stafford.


Memorable Reads: Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution by Eric Foner, who Dr. Workman believes to be “the best U.S. historian of our time.”

Essential Reads: “Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle are essential reads for those who wish to become both morally sound and knowledgeable in the way America works; these Greek philosophers were, after all, the revolutionary thinkers whose ideologies became the basis for our government.” The provost also recommends Letters from an American Farmer by J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, a series of fictional letters written by an American farmer in the years prior to the American Revolution. Published in 1782. “It is an early take on this multi-cultural, multi-ethical, multi-racial, new nation.”




What are people in the Roger Williams University community reading? The From the Nightstand team asks which books are on people’s nightstands—either being read, or waiting to be read.


Behind the Book: Rhode Island’s State Poet


By Leah Cantania

Poetry: the art often overlooked by today’s general public. As an artistic expression built primarily on the emotions of the writer, and one that makes little money, poets no longer hold the same prestige they did in the days of the travelling bard. However, the United States still appoints a Poet Laureate, and in 1989 Rhode Island made a move to recognize the importance of poetry by establishing a State Poet.

The State Poet of Rhode Island is typically an individual who represents poetry’s highest achievements in the state. Every five years, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts receives nominations for the State Poet. A panel of experts in the literary field (from out of state, to avoid any potential conflict of interest) then presents their choice to the governor, who makes the announcement. To date, there have been five State Poets, each serving a five-year term.

There are no officially assigned duties for the State Poet of Rhode Island. Rather, each State Poet devises his or her own contribution. Michael Harper, the first State Poet, wrote a poem honoring the christening of a navy ship in Newport. Following him, C. D. Wright published a literary map of Rhode Island, and Tom Chandler wrote a column in the Providence Journal containing commentary on different poems. The last State Poet, Lisa Starr, produced (and continues to produce) the Block Island Poetry Project each April.

Perhaps the most important contributions the State Poets give to the Rhode Island community are their readings at public schools, colleges and universities, assisted living centers, writing groups, and many other venues. After all, what could be more important for the State Poet than to spread the joy of poetry throughout the general public? Tom Chandler, State Poet from 1999 to 2006, points out, “Always and still, we crave things that are genuine and handcrafted.” In poetry, we can enjoy both.

Dr. Rick Benjamin is the current State Poet. In addition to his monthly poetry column in the Providence Journal, Benjamin has set his agenda toward promoting ideas of community and the role that poetry can play in building a more compassionate citizenry. Speaking at the Mary Tefft White Cultural Center’s Talking in the Library series, he talked passionately about the duties of citizenship, and the ways in which we can be connected to and serve our community. And though poetry may be an art form sometimes not fully understood by the general public, Rhode Island’s State Poets, each in his or her own way, has been dedicated to showing us that in fact poetry is all around us—speaking for us, giving context to our world, and helping us tell our own stories.


But perhaps we should let the poetry speak for itself. Following is a poem from Rick Benjamin’s first collection, Passing Love:

What It’s All About

It might be about
preserving life for life’s

sake: someone planting
pachysandra at the foot

of the Japanese maple
& watching it come back

year after year. Some folks
stretch harvest past

what their bodies
can store, their hedge

against death.
They’ve seen the slightest bounce

bruise beds where their seeds
still sleep in the warming

ground: better to bury
as many as you can.

Like leatherbacks
lumbering large

bodies up-beach where
they were born, burying

hundred of eggs for a few
hatchlings, who,

even if they survive
sand-crossing, head-first hurtle

through surf, years-
worth’s swimming through

impossibly open
seas, may still not live

to spawn the next

All of us stand
by our young ones’

beds hoping for a better
bounce. & some of us

sea-turtles don’t even
look back. We trust

what we’ve buried
in the ground.


Photograph of Rick Benjamin & Adam Braver by Jill Rodrigues



Behind the Book takes an in depth look at the world of the book through articles and interviews about the creative process, issues in publishing, and the writing life.


From the Nightstand: President Donald J. Farish

Interview of Presdient Farish conducted by Jillian Jennett

Dr. Donald J. Farish is the tenth and current president of Roger Williams University. He has been at RWU since 2011.



Recent Reads: President Farish tells us he often has many books going co-currently. However, he concedes, “I have a nasty habit of bringing books with me on trips and leaving them half unread.” Still, Dr. Farish presently is deeply engaged in Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson. “It gives an entirely different insight into the famous story of Lawrence; much more factually based, it’s a breath of fresh air.” He is also reading Bunker Hill and The Last Stand, both by Nathaniel Philbrick (author of Mayflower—the 2013 Common Read).

Memorable Books: “War and Peace, it has to be my favorite book of all time. When I was in college, I had two weeks to kill between the end of school and the start of my summer job. I read for hours every day and when it was over, it was over; and I loved it.” When it comes to a favorite author, Dr. Farish goes right to John Steinbeck, citing his style and fluidity of his stories as something to be cherished.

Earliest Reads: “The first books I ever loved were the Hardy Boys. They were light and didn’t have much substance, but I still eagerly awaited each and every new book.”



What are people in the Roger Williams University community reading? The From the Nightstand team asks which books are on people’s nightstands—either being read, or waiting to be read.