Julie Schumacher found plenty of fodder for her career detour into adult coloring books from two decades teaching at the University of Minnesota, which has its own therapy animals for stressed-out students to pet.
With simple line drawings by illustrator Lauren Nassef, “Doodling for Academics” (The University of Chicago Press) pokes fun at the college world the professor of English and creative writing last skewered in her 2014 satire, “Dear Committee Members.”
Its 41 pages of wry jokes ready for coloring include a cross-section of a student’s brain (“Weekend Booze Run” and “YouTube Binge” take up a lot more space than “Assignments.”) Schumacher doesn’t spare her colleagues, with a cross-section of a faculty member’s brain preoccupied by “Colonoscopy Results,” “Hole in Favorite Pants” and “Pending Divorce.” She also includes a panel showing “the many readers who will enjoy your dissertation” – it’s a field of flowers with a deer, pheasant and mouse.
Schumacher, 58, won the Thurber Prize for American Humor for “Dear Committee Members,” a comic series of imagined and increasingly desperate letters of recommendation from a hapless professor at a small Midwestern college.
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Her protagonist in that book, Jason T. Fitger, an English professor at fictional Payne University, “knows he’s riding his profession on the way down, and it’s very depressing to him,” Schumacher said. Fitger’s litany of complaints included the school’s lavish spending on its business department and the constant renovation of the crumbling English department building.
“Doodling for Academics” picks up many of the same themes, including lack of love for the arts and humanities amid preoccupation with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field.
The slim book is meant to follow a day in the life of a student or teacher. It starts with what Schumacher calls the “magical dreamworld of academia” with a No. 1 best-seller, money falling from the sky and an endowed chair. After that, she argues, the career path starts to resemble the board game “Chutes and Ladders,” including such pitfalls as “Angry Department Chair – Lose Two Turns.” The book ends with after-hour drinks at the visiting scholar dinner.
It also includes a therapy dog – a nod to some of the actual animals the campus health office makes available at Schumacher’s school.
“It’s intended to be funny, whether you get the crayon out of the box or leave it in there,” Schumacher said.
She originally thought the book would be easy – a “two-week interruption” – but it ultimately took half a year. Nassef, her Chicago-based illustrator, had also never done a coloring book before.
The two started with a long list of possible working pages and pared the final edit down from “all the brainstorming we did,” Nassef said.
“The text and illustrations have to work together,” Nassef said. “I really tried to understand the tone Julie was going for … while using the drawing style I feel comfortable with.”
Schumacher, who graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio and got her Master of Fine Arts from Cornell University in New York State, published her first novel, “The Body Is Water,” in 1995. While trying to write another novel she got stuck and spent a period writing children’s books before returning to more grown-up fare with “Dear Committee Members.”
Now she is working on another novel. Will it be funny?
“I hope so,” Schumacher said. “ ‘'Everything to me starts with real life, and then it takes a left turn somewhere. Because again I have trouble sticking to the facts.”
Julie Schumacher website: http://julieschumacher.com/
The University of Chicago Press: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/index.html