SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – When Eastern Upper Peninsula native Joseph Haske enrolled at Lake Superior State University after graduating from Cedarville’s Les Cheneaux Area High School in 1992, his plan was to transfer to a bigger school after a couple years of study. But a class with Prof. Eric Gadzinski changed his path.
Gadzinski urged Haske to pursue his dream to become a writer at LSSU, and helped pave the way. While at LSSU, Haske placed stories and poems in school literary competitions, completed a short story cycle as his senior project, graduated summa cum laude, and earned the LSSU Outstanding English Graduate Award. Following graduation, he headed to Ohio, where he earned a master’s degree at Bowling Green State University, and he eventually landed in Texas, where he received a master of fine arts degree from University of Texas-Pan American.
Today, he is encouraging students of his own as a professor and chair of the English Dept. at South Texas College in McAllen, while continuing with his own writing. He is a contributing editor to the American Book Review, the book review editor for The Texas Review, and his critical and creative works have appeared in many national journals.
Haske at home in Cedarville
This fall, he published his first novel, North Dixie Highway, which draws from his roots in Michigan’s EUP. The novel is named after the Dixie Highway, a series of roads built to connect rural areas of the eastern United States, the remains of which still exist today in parts of M-129 and Mackinac Trail in the EUP. The prologue of the novel introduces a murder that could have occurred during the construction of its northernmost section.
“There’s no historical document that speaks of this supposed tragedy,” Haske says. “However, the prologue does state that the workers were paid to keep quiet, so how would one know if something similar might have occurred?”
Writers such as Ernest Hemingway have already written about the EUP, in books such as In Our Time, as being beautiful and tranquil. Haske’s novel attempts to capture the darker side of the area. The book’s narrator, Buck Metzger, is a soldier who comes home from serving in Bosnia with an intense desire to avenge his grandfather’s murder.
“People who live in the EUP year-round understand its complexity and its duality better than fair-weather, seasonal visitors,” Haske says. “There is something about the EUP that lends itself to the ‘gothic’ and the traditional theme of revenge. Characters such as Buck would have plenty of time during those dark northern winters for their revenge plans to brew. The beautiful, natural scenery also works well as a backdrop for this sort of revenge to occur; the evergreen forests and cedar swamps ultimately serve as ideal places to hide their deeds.”
Growing up in the area gave Haske plenty of insight for his first novel. It also made him familiar with LSSU, which draws many students from the region.
“If I hadn't attended LSSU and met people like Prof. Gadzinski, I may have never majored in English,” Haske said. “My initial plan was to transfer elsewhere after my first two years and go to law school. I could have transferred to some other really great, larger schools and gotten scholarships…However, everybody at LSSU was so supportive, intelligent and accessible, I didn't want to leave.
“I changed my major to English after taking a class with Eric. He told me that I was a strong writer and encouraged my critical and creative endeavors in English, as did the other English faculty at the time, as I got to know them. Diana Pingatore was another strong advocate and mentor.”
At the time, creative writing courses were limited at LSSU, so Gadzinski and the department chair set up an arrangement with Algoma University in Sault, Ont. that allowed Haske to focus on his writing.
“I got to work on a journal called Algoma Ink. I believe this was the first time a program was set up like this, but Eric knew I wanted to pursue creative writing further and he went out of his way to help me. He oversaw the work for my final project, which was a story cycle. All of the faculty in the department really encouraged me. I've always written, since I was a kid, but there's no doubt I'm a better writer because of guidance from LSSU faculty.”
Today, while a variety of cooperative academic programs exist between LSSU, Algoma, and Sault College, creative writing students at LSSU do not have to cross the international border to hone their craft. A creative writing program has been established and students have the opportunity to work on both the LSSU student journal, Snowdrifts, and the LSSU international literary journal, Border Crossing, which was founded in 2011 and is published by the program. A total of five full-time faculty members now teach courses in creative writing, including courses in fiction, poetry, and performance writing. In addition, a visiting writer series brings famous writers, including National Book Award winners, to campus to give readings and master classes.
LSSU English professor Mary McMyne, who teaches in the LSSU creative writing program, read an advance copy of Haske’s book and accepted an excerpt called “Bear Hunt” to appear in Border Crossing’s forthcoming special feature on Michigan and Ontario writers. She said she found it interesting how the novel explores the cultural shift that occurred in the EUP between the 1980s and 1990s.
“Reading the novel, I began to feel nostalgic for a way of life I had never experienced, having grown up elsewhere,” McMyne said. “The lead character witnesses a great deal of violence, hardship, and abuse, as a child. Yet, when he comes back from his service in Bosnia and notices the changes that occurred while he was gone, as a reader, I felt a real sense of loss.”
The novel, published by Texas Review Press, has already appeared or is forthcoming in excerpts in Pleiades, Boulevard, Rampike, Fiction International, The Texas Review and elsewhere. Excerpts have also been translated to Romanian and are published or forthcoming in Romania Literara, Convorbire Literare, Boema, and Alecart. In the EUP, copies are available for purchase at UP North Books in Sault Ste. Marie and Safe Harbor Books in Cedarville. Readers may also buy the book at Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.
Click here for more information on LSSU’s creative writing program. -LSSU-
CONTACT: Tom Pink, 906-635-2315, email@example.com; John Shibley, 635-2314, firstname.lastname@example.org; Prof. Mary McMyne, 635-2327, email@example.com