Saturday, April 18, 2015

Composition Students Respond to Tom Montgomery Fate Classroom Visit

By Hilary Donatini
On March 30, Tom Montgomery Fate, author of Cabin Fever, visited my English 102: Composition 2 classroom the morning before his public afternoon reading. We had a wonderful conversation about the book, which we had been reading for a number of weeks, as well as a more general discussion about the writing process. Below are the reactions of selected students from the course who represent a range of majors. All found a personal connection with the text as well as the value of studying such a piece of creative nonfiction for their own growth as writers. I look forward to their final papers: 8-10 page analytical research essays incorporating Fate's book as well as outside research.

Zavier Buzard, Psychology

Over the course of our English class this semester, we have been reading Tom Montgomery Fate’s Cabin Fever. Tom Montgomery Fate is an average American citizen who lives in normal civilization with a family, job, and is active in his community. However, he built a cabin in the woods of Michigan for a place to go and read the writings of Henry David Thoreau. By going to the cabin and living off of limited supplies away from civilization, Fate is able to look at the society that we live in from an outsider’s perspective. Fate analyzes what the world we live in today has come to and voices his opinions on specific situations. He also forms ideas off of Thoreau’s writings to view topics in an “old fashioned” manner.

Our class was extremely fortunate to be able to meet Tom Montgomery Fate and talk to him in person. The class was able to ask him questions and learn some of the ways that he thinks, writes, and develops his ideas. Being such a talented writer, Fate’s advice was very valuable and I was able to pull a lot of information from our discussions with him. He explained to us the ways he put together the chapters of Cabin Fever. He also explained the way he became a writer and his life experiences before he started to take writing more seriously. Fate shared with us his techniques and thoughts on how to become better writers. I also found it very interesting to see how he thinks of a topic compared to the way I think about the same topic. By analyzing his skills, thoughts, and ways of writing, I was able to broaden my ways of thinking and writing. 

Terrell Hudson, Criminal Justice
During our recent class sessions we have been reading and talking about Cabin Fever. When I first started reading the book, I wasn't sure what would be interesting about guy who is just writing in a cabin in the woods. During one of our class sessions Tom Montgomery Fate was considerate enough to attend one of our class sessions and allow us to pick away at his mind and discuss his book. As a class we got to ask him questions about his reasons for writing. He said he would go to the cabin when he had free time away from his family, which wasn’t often, and he would spend hours and hours just putting his thoughts on paper. In the cabin he felt free; he was able to block the world out and just focus on his writing. I can't say I have a favorite chapter in the book, but "The Art of Dying" caught my attention because in it he is raising awareness about the world.

Tyren Jackson, Sport Management
The visit from Tom Montgomery Fate was a great way to connect with the author. He was a laid back, intelligent, mysterious person. His reason for writing Cabin Fever was showing where he goes to have a sense of tranquility. I asked Fate a question about why he went to the cabin and what the cabin means for him. He answered “he went to the cabin to escape the regular life, the cabin was where he goes to think.” To this day he is trying to figure out what he wants to be in life. The way he answers questions causes you to think as well as listen for his answer. He answers most questions with a question because he wants to know how you feel before he states his feeling. I found it interesting that Fate is a professor. He has responsibility of grading papers, teaching, and looking after his family. Authors would write in their free time but he found ways to fit the time in because he loves to write. That made me respect Tom Montgomery Fate even more.

Nicole Lederle, Integrated Language Arts Education
We had the privilege to speak with Tom Montgomery Fate in an intimate classroom setting. As a class, we had read and discussed the majority of Cabin Fever leading up to the day he came in to speak with us. At first, he introduced himself, and we did the same. He wanted to know our names and our majors, which made the mood a lot more personal. He showed us videos of the cabin’s surroundings so we could get a real visual of what he was writing about. The videos were my favorite part because it allowed me to think of the chapters I read and put myself into the stories. He answered all of our questions the best he could, sometimes going off in a tangent that allowed us to learn more about him. Some questions had to do with his passion for writing, while others asked for clarity or purpose for particular chapters in the book. He was personable and was not intimidating, which allowed the class to feel open to asking questions. This made talking with him really easy. I have never met an author of a book I had read, and being able to meet Fate was really an honor for me. It was really a great opportunity to be able to ask him about his work and talk about his inspirations. After Fate spoke to us, he autographed my book with a personal message, and I will forever cherish my copy of Cabin Fever.

Abby Shafer, Early Childhood Education and Intervention Specialist
Tom Montgomery Fate’s visit and reading was very informative and interesting. It was great to hear some specific things he was thinking about as he was writing the book, such as inspiration for the topics he chose to put in the book. Fate went into more detail about some of the stories he told in the book and we got to know some more information about the people in the book too, such as his wife and his friend Dan, whom he mentions in several chapters. Fate explained that he uses etymology numerous times in the book because that is something Thoreau did a lot and he also likes to talk about the original meaning of words instead of using the more current definitions. I thought it was interesting to hear how Fate chose the cover of the book and the meaning behind it. He said the picture on the cover is supposed to show that since he can’t live a balanced life all the time, like he does when he is in the cabin, he likes to take the person he is when he’s at the cabin wherever he goes. Fate also said that living a deliberate life is a perpetual act of finding balance and it is hard to find this balance in our world today. It is clear that Fate wants people to think deeply about his writing because during his visit if he was asked a question, he would often ask the same question back to the person because he was interested in the way others analyze his book. I learned a lot from Fate’s visit and his reading, and I think this allows me to have a better understanding of Cabin Fever.

Amelia Sidley, Nursing

My experience with Tom Montgomery Fate and the in class discussion and reading were very enlightening. I enjoyed listening to Fate talk about his experiences with developing his book Cabin Fever. I was interested to find out that many of the chapters in the book we actually published first as radio essays and then put into the book later. Throughout the book there was a lot of underlying meaning in a lot of the chapters. We were able to ask Fate about some of these passages and he explained what he was thinking when he wrote them. It was interesting to hear what he meant by a lot of the passages and being able to compare it to what I thought when I read the same passages. Fate was very open to answering all of our questions and would often respond to our question with asking the question back to us. He was very interested to hear what we thought about many of the chapters in the book and of the book as a whole. One of my favorite parts of the experience was when we discussed the cover of the book in our in class discussion. He asked us what we thought the meaning of the hawk feather on the cabin meant and then he told us why he choose that as the cover having to do with escaping society. It was interesting to me that he found that as a painting separate from the book and found it to fit and used it as the cover of the book. Overall the experience was very beneficial to me even as a non-English major to be able to develop my writing further. I was able to take away some writing advice from Tom Montgomery Fate.

Tyler Sibbersen, Finance
 While the class was asking questions to the class, Fate would often ask the same question to the person who originally asked the question. He left much of the questions to open interpretation. Before answering, Fate wanted to hear first what we thought of the passage. He would use these to shape his response so that we could better understand, but he also opened up a new way of viewing his own passages. Sometimes writers may not be able to see things from a certain point of view, and being able to interact with the readers allows them to see the ways their passages relate to others. I thought it was important that Fate has had the chance to interact and gain feedback from readers, especially those at a college level. The way he responds can tell you a lot about what kind of a writer he is and what his approach is. Fate seems to leave much of his work open for interpretation, which is one reason why I believe his work is successful. Having Mr. Fate visit our class was a great experience and opened up the book for understanding. I recommend having him back or authors of future class works to visit.

William Totten, Biology

Since we are writing our papers on Tom Montgomery Fate’s Cabin Fever, it was great to have him in for a class visit. Interacting with him let us know what he thought about what the passages he wrote meant in comparison to what we thought they meant from our interpretation. Throughout his book when he had a thought as the narrator he made sure he approached the idea from the outside in. He took moments in his life and turned them into bigger scenarios and thought about them deeply. Having him in class provided a better experience in understanding the book. He was a very nice guy and was willing to communicate with us. He was very open in discussing anything in his book and we had great conversation amongst our peers. I really liked the video he showed [about the "Lake Glass" chapter in Cabin Fever] to give me the actual visual of what he was talking about in his book. I also liked how open he was to talk about the cicada section in his book and the procedure on his wife and how their friend died of cancer. His intellectual mindset helped realize that I should reread some sections and explore further what the book actually is trying to say to me. I felt that his visit will be crucial for my paper because with this type of paper very in depth thinking is essential.

Brooke Zwilling, Middle Grades Education

Tom Montgomery Fate visited our class while we were reading his fifth book, Cabin Fever. Throughout his visit, we had a discussion about both the book and about his process as a writer, amongst other things. The origin of the title Cabin Fever was one of the various topics we talked about, and how the modern day idea of cabin fever is the opposite of what it was during Henry David Thoreau’s time. Something he talked about during his visit that I found interesting was how he does not feel that he has found the deliberate life that he wrote about in Cabin Fever. We also talked about what the cover signifies and about his previous novels that he has written. That day he also gave a reading on campus, and the reading was a great supplement to reading the book. He read different passages that he enjoyed and thought were important, and was able to give a bit of a discussion on the different passages that he read. After he read different passages, he read an article that he had written a few years ago about the dangers of smart phones, which is something he felt strongly enough about to touch on in Cabin Fever as well. Fate admits that he eventually broke down and got an iPhone, but had decided to write the article before buying the smart phone. Having Fate visit campus and our class was a great experience, and added great insight into the book.