December 3, 2022

Colin Rafferty: A Penchant for Presidents

As a third-grader, Colin Rafferty once pointed out to an autograph dealer that a plaque in his shop had incorrectly listed Abraham Lincoln as the 18th president.

Associate Professor of English Colin Rafferty

Associate Professor of English Colin Rafferty

“He humored me by looking it up, but I can still remember his face when he realized I was right,” said Rafferty, now an associate professor of English at the University of Mary Washington.

Hired at the height of the 2008 election, Rafferty, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s from Kansas and Iowa State universities and an MFA from the University of Alabama, said he brushed up by reading biographies of each chief executive. After all, his new home of Virginia was birthplace to eight presidents – and in play to put another into office. A friend told him, Rafferty said, “I hope you get a book out of it.”

That he did. His essay collection, Execute the Office, hit bookshelves last spring to critical acclaim. Rafferty recently spoke on the international radio show With Good Reason about his experimental compositions, ranging from a movie script for Reagan to telling the presidency of Eisenhower – a fellow Kansan – through the characters of The Wizard of Oz.

Colin Rafferty's 'Execute the Office'“The general perception of creative nonfiction is that it’s mostly memoir,” said Rafferty, who included a Mad Libs-style, fill-in-the-blanks type of epilogue for last January’s inauguration since the book went to press before the election. “I wanted to throw the doors open and show how much more this genre could be.”

His extensive research tackled both the famous commanders in chief and those often forgotten. Some of his favorite discoveries were personality quirks, Rafferty said, like John Quincy Adams swimming naked in the Potomac or that cottage cheese was Nixon’s favorite snack.

What surprised him the most? Finding out that even leaders he admired had flaws, he told With Good Reason host Sarah McConnell. “By deflating my ideas of these heroic presidents, it let me see all of them as human.”

 

In his research for 'Execute the Office,' Rafferty visited the graves of 28 presidents, toured the homes of another 16 and had the privilege of handling a four-page letter written by George Washington.

In his research for ‘Execute the Office,’ Rafferty visited the graves of 28 presidents, toured the homes of another 16 and had the privilege of handling a four-page letter written by George Washington.

Q: How did you get into nonfiction writing?
A: I needed two more credits to keep my undergraduate scholarship. I was going to take glassblowing until I saw a poster for a new creative nonfiction course. After graduation, I worked for a news station in sales, but I found myself writing essays during every meeting and thought, “I should go to grad school.”

Q: What advice do you give aspiring writers?
A: Write the work you want to read. And don’t be afraid to try weird stuff – or fail.

Q: What’s most rewarding about your job?
A: Finding the piece of an essay that unlocks it for me. I love helping students do that, too.

Q: Most challenging?
A: Finding time for everything.

Q: What’s your favorite thing in your office?
A: A bingo card my students made with all of my quirks. I was self-conscious for about 30 seconds before I realized it was created with love.

Q: What have you learned about Mary Washington, the person, since coming to UMW?
A: As much as she’s venerated as the mother of one of our Founding Fathers, she’s just a mom. George still asks her permission to do things and tries to get out of helping her move. It’s that humanity again.

Rafferty Showcases Presidential Essay Book on ‘With Good Reason’

Colin Rafferty's 'Execute the Office'Associate Professor of English Colin Rafferty appeared on the latest episode of With Good Reason, which was entitled, “The Highest Office.” Rafferty spoke about his recent book of experimental essays, “Execute the Office,” which was published last year by Baobab Press. The episode also featured faculty from UVA Wise, Northern Virginia Community College and Old Dominion University. Listen here.

GV Writer’s Series set to hold its second virtual event (lanthorn.com)

Rafferty Publishes Two Essays from Forthcoming Book in The Rumpus

Associate Professor of English Colin Rafferty

Associate Professor of English Colin Rafferty recently had two excerpts from his forthcoming book “Execute the Office: Essays with Presidents” appeared on The Rumpus. The first, “Preamble,” is the first essay of the book, while the second, “Dissolve To,” considers the Reagan presidency through the lenses of film scripts and John Wayne movies.

Rafferty Publishes Essay Collection on the Presidents

Execute the Office: Essays with Presidents book coverAssociate Professor of English Colin Rafferty’s forthcoming essay collection, Execute the Office: Essays with Presidents, will be released by Baobab Press in Reno, Nevada.

Execute the Office uses lyric prose and formal invention to explore the humanity, or lack thereof, in each of the forty-five American presidents. Whether these powerful individuals have been remembered for infamous deeds or heroism, or they have been forgotten as placeholders in the annals of America, too often presidents are commemorated by the sterility of simple fact. Execute the Office builds upon factual accuracy with essays that are equally invested in lyrical writing and experimental forms. To balance these factions, Execute the Office uses constraint, metaphor, allusion, and epiphany to explore not just the facts and artifacts of history, but describe the connections between those facts and human nature in thought-provoking and inventive ways. These essays discuss the modes in which we remember. Through screenplays, death songs, footnotes, infinite rooms, evacuation routes, and nomenclatures, to name a few examples, these diverse essays engage with history from fresh perspectives. Execute the Office contains histories in and of unusual objects. While unfamiliar at first, they soon become distinct, unforgettable, profound, human.

Rafferty Publishes Essay on Eisenhower, Participates in Panel on Historical Commemoration

Associate Professor of English Colin Rafferty

Associate Professor of English Colin Rafferty

Colin Rafferty, Associate Professor of English, recently published an essay on Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Kansas, She Said, Is the Name of the Star (#34),” that appears in the newest issue of Bennington Review.

He also recently participated in a discussion regarding nonfiction writing, historical commemoration, and monuments through Fountain Bookstore in Richmond with Connor Towne O’Neill, author of Down Along with That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning with Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy. The video of the talk is available here.

Podcasts on UMW Activism Spell ‘Good Trouble’ for Students

As part of this year’s Common Experience, first-year students are listening to “Good Trouble: UMW,” an 18-episode podcast that chronicles the long history of student activism at Mary Washington. Logo by Peter Morelewicz at Print Jazz.

As part of this year’s Common Experience, first-year students are listening to “Good Trouble: UMW,” an 18-episode podcast that chronicles the long history of student activism at Mary Washington. Logo by Peter Morelewicz at Print Jazz.

Eliza Vegas marched in her first protest this summer for Black Lives Matter. The University of Mary Washington is inspiring her to do more.

“An overwhelming sense of home and community brought me here,” said Vegas, a Mary Washington first-year student who learned of the University’s long history of student activism when she listened to a new podcast on the topic. “Now I have a deeper appreciation for my new school.”

Since 2015, incoming students have read and discussed written works with the UMW community as part of the Common Experience. This year, instead of a book, they’re exploring four timely and topical podcasts about COVID-19 and civil rights, connecting events of the past to the present. They’re also listening to “Good Trouble: UMW,” a new podcast named for the late Congressman John Lewis’ lifelong philosophy, which he shared in his 2011 Commencement address at Mary Washington.

The 18-episode podcast series chronicles Mary Washington student activism throughout the decades, relating back to Lewis’ directive to get in “good trouble, necessary trouble.” Read more.

Rafferty Publishes Essay, Presents at Rappahannock Writers Conference

Associate Professor of English Colin Rafferty

Associate Professor of English Colin Rafferty

Colin Rafferty, Associate Professor of English, recently published an essay on Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust documentary Shoah in the new issue of Wig-Wag, a literary magazine on film edited by UMW graduate Brad Efford.

Rafferty also gave a talk on “Writing the Travel and Food Essay” at this past weekend’s Rappahannock Writers Conference, sponsored by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library and held at UMW’s Stafford Campus.

Rafferty Publishes Latest Essay in Presidential Series

Colin Rafferty, Associate Professor of English, had his essay on Chester A. Arthur, “Smear Campaign (#21),” to appear last week in the new issue of storySouth. This is the latest in his series of essays devoted to the U.S. presidency and the men who have held that office.

Rafferty Reads at Brigham Young University

Colin Rafferty, Associate Professor of English who specializes in the writing of creative non-fiction, gave a reading at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, as part of their English Reading Series on February 16, 2018.