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Lucas Mann: a passion for writing and baseball

Lucas Mann Lucas Mann's first book, Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere—an exploration of the world of minor league baseball—was published in 2013. That's the same year he joined UMass Dartmouth to teach classes in creative writing, journalism, and professional writing in the Department of English and the Professional Writing master's program.

Mann earned his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa, where he was an Arts Fellow and a Provost's Visiting Writer in Nonfiction. He is a self-professed "writing nerd," and just the kind of professor you want in the classroom.

How does it feel to have your book published, and for it to have earned positive reviews?

It's still pretty surreal. When you're writing, you spend most of your time alone working on something that you're fairly sure nobody will read. Then, all of a sudden, it exists in the world. That's scary, but amazing. The first reviews meant a lot to me, not only because they were so generous, but because they seemed to meet the book on its own terms.

As a writer all you can ask is for a reader to buy into the way you see the world for 300 pages. I feel incredibly lucky that at least some readers did that for me.

What drew you to your topic, minor league baseball? And when did you know that your initial explorations would gel into a book?

I grew up playing baseball with my father, and I played in high school and for a couple of years in college, so I knew there was a treasure trove of personal nostalgia that I had attached to the game. I thought it might be interesting if a team would let me hang around.

As a writer all you can ask is for a reader to buy into the way you see the world for 300 pages. I feel incredibly lucky that at least some readers did that for me.

Then when I went to Clinton, Iowa, the town where the book is set, it was just so vivid. The stadium is 75 years old, right on the banks of the Mississippi. I was hooked by that image; I wanted to know what kind of stories played out in a setting like that. I spent most of my research and writing time entirely unsure if I was looking at a book. I knew that I was fascinated by the world around me, the people I was meeting, so I kept showing up.  I wrote one essay that ended up being the first chapter of the book. Then I wrote another essay about a fan that I'd grown close to. It kept building like that, piece by piece, until a narrative began to form.  

Why are you drawn to writing nonfiction?

Every new essay feels like an experiment—what kind of research can I do? What kind of personal connection is the material going to evoke in me? What form does the piece need to take? It never gets old.

I love that it's a genre constantly defining and redefining itself. There are still arguments about what nonfiction means, and if it's even a useful term. There are so many types of writing that fall under this umbrella—memoir, journalism, criticism, lyric essays—and writers are combining and stretching each of these subgenres all the time. I'm drawn to that sense of possibility. Every new essay feels like an experiment—what kind of research can I do? What kind of personal connection is the material going to evoke in me? What form does the piece need to take? It never gets old.

What are the strengths of UMass Dartmouth’s writing programs: its undergraduate writing/communications major and its graduate program in professional writing?

I'm really excited by the openness of the UMass Dartmouth programs. I've gotten to teach fiction and creative nonfiction, and this coming semester I'll be offering courses in sports writing and comedy writing. I know my colleagues teach a huge range of classes, as well, so in any given semester a student can learn about document design or technical communications while also taking poetry or screenwriting or autobiographical writing or review writing. Nobody gets pigeonholed. The programs show students the full spectrum of writing's possibilities, and that's crucial.

I'm a writing nerd; I love this stuff. Whatever I'm teaching—fiction, creative nonfiction, journalism—I hope that my students leave the class excited to write more.

The graduate program, in particular, brings together such a variety of writers, with different ambitions, experiences and backgrounds. That makes for a rich, passionate classroom.

How do you see yourself contributing to the programs?

One of the best things that a writing classroom can give students is a community of collaborators, and I hope that I can foster that sensibility when I teach.

I'm a writing nerd; I love this stuff. Whatever I'm teaching—fiction, creative nonfiction, journalism—I hope that my students leave the class excited to write more.

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