Getting you behind the blackboard and into the personal office spaces of some of the most interesting professors on campus. Know of some good characters? We’d love to meet ‘em, get to know ‘em, explore their history. Send suggestions with mini-bios (name, classes, why is (s)he so interesting?, etc.) over to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include “office space professor” in the subject.
Photo by Ciera Battleson
Mary Robison has an office in Turlington. It’s on the third floor, after a disorienting number of turns in the hallways. You would hope that as a reward for navigating Turlington without having to ask questions like, What were the last things I said to loved ones? or Will anyone ever find me? the office would be open.
In fact, it’s not. The thing is locked. You can only stare futilely at a very clean, very gold plaque: M. Robison.
Robison is a creative writing teacher at the University of Florida. Aside from teaching, she has stood among writers like Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel attributed with the rise of “minimalist” fiction in the ‘80s. Her work has won the Los Angeles Times Book prize for Fiction and been on Oprah’s 2009 reading list. And as her students will be quick to tell you, she does not use her Turlington office.
So if you need to speak to Mary, you do it on her turf: Pascal’s Coffee. Specifically on the front porch, where she can smoke freely in front of the large, white coffee shop.
Any mention of her Turlington office prompts Mary to bow her head over the table, leaning her forehead over knitted fingers.
See, the story of her office involves a bird.
Mary had one before Turlington, she said. The old one had windows, which she would lean out of to smoke. She said she was doing just this when it happened.
“And I probably did, accidentally, leave the window open,” she said.
In flew the bird. It was about the size of a football and gray-brown. It left behind flurries of feathers in its wake as she and some graduate students tried to chase it out while it careened around the office.
She said her neighbors took offense to the bedlam.
“Soon after that,” she said, “I was told I would have a new office.”
The one they gave her–the one in Turlington–has no windows. Not only does it prevent avian intruders, but Robison can’t smoke. So she’s been inside it a grand total of twice, she said.
“Given the choice of scrubbing the street with a whisk broom or going into Turlington?” she said. “Scrubbing the street. Let me at it.”
So for the past three years she’s taken up Pascal’s as her adjunct office.
If a student needs to meet with Robison he or she schedules an appointment–which is more formal than it sounds, she said, laughing.
Her secretary then emails the student a time and instructs him or her to meet Robison outside Pascal’s.
She also holds informal class at the coffee shop. She’ll sit at her table outside for four to five hours as students come and go as they can. They talk about writing, life or anything at all.
But having a public office is not without troubles. Robison goes through the usual coffee shop woes in claiming her favorite spot, dealing with loud patrons and remembering to bring everything she needs.
In fact, she travels with a portable office. In her sturdy, red leather bag she carries a pair of glasses with large, circular frames; one heavy, silver calligraphy pen; a Zippo lighter and cigarettes; and all of her student’s papers. Spread out on the table, she can smoke and work in peace. So far she hasn’t had any further messy contact with birds: They provide background noise a safe distance away.
Mary Robison’s Suggestions for Books That Will Make You Want to Take Risks With Your Writing
“Jesus’ Son,” by Denis Johnson
“He’s really inspiring.”
Anything by Donald Barthelme. Start with “Sixty Stories.”
“Donald Barthelme did everything from numbers to stories in a box. He just tried all things.”
Junot Diaz–We recommend “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”
“He’s just wonderful…He keeps you company. There’s never anything excluding you.”
“The Circle,” by David Eggers
“It’s irresistible. It’s terrifying and funny…He’s a precisionist.”