Muaddi Darraj on RateYourProfessor

9781625341877A blog post from our Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction author Susan Muaddi Darraj, whose book A Curious Land: Stories from Home includes the wonderful story “Christmas in Palestine.”

Nobody in academia will admit to checking RateMyProfessors, but we all do, secretly, at night, on our smartphones.

I’ve read my reviews, and I can quote some of the lines verbatim, the way I used to memorize poetry in grade school.  My personal favorite is a flippant comment by one student: “Does she like teaching?” (This has actually become a punchline among my friends. When I am cooking, for example, my friends will whisper to each other in my kitchen, “What an attitude. Does she even like cooking?” Or at the playground, when I am reprimanding my kids for throwing sand, my colleague and fellow mom will sarcastically wonder aloud, “Does she even like children?”) One student wrote that I am a terrific professor because I don’t care when people walk in late to my class, which astounds me to have been misread like this. One review stated bluntly, “Buyer beware. Her moods seem to swing.” (I kinda love that one.)

Another student wrote that I “go out of my way” to help students, which makes me feel – honestly – fantastic.  And I’m going to do it now.

Here’s the deal: Negative reviews frustrate me, not because they are attacks on my teaching or that they hurt my feelings.

My real problem is that they’re just not written well.

As a teacher I feel compelled – even at this point, post-semester – to “go out of my way” and to give those students, who are considering writing a negative review, some advice.

So, to my students, here’s a rubric (since you’re always asking for one):

Writing Your Negative RateMyProfessors Review

Your review will be assessed according to the following standards.

The writer has a clear purpose. (worth 10 points)

The RateMyProfessors website tells you straight up: “the fate of future students lies in your hands.” You have been to the battlefield and returned alive, and it’s your job to persuade the rest of the troops to march on or retreat. All of your comments should focus on this goal: In a negative review, you must ensure that no student would willingly enroll in this professor’s class. Stick to that purpose – forget it not. You only have 350 characters to use in your review, so include straight-forward comments right at the beginning, such as DONT TAKE THIS PROFESSOR! (The caps will convey authority.) Or If youre in this class, drop it now! Dont wait drop it! The sense of urgency can be persuasive.

The writer successfully conceals his or her identity. (worth 10 points)

What’s the point of writing a negative review that gives away your identity? What if you have to take that professor’s class again, especially considering that you didn’t do so well the first time? (No, your D won’t transfer to the state university, so guess what? You’re back in my class.) Keep your identity secret. Think carefully about the way you speak or write: Are there certain phrases you repeat? Her empathy is lacking. Don’t you remember that you wrote that in your paper on whaling, that the “empathy of the whale hunters is lacking”? You don’t remember? I do.

In this vein, don’t mention anything exceptional that happened with that professor. Prof is totally unfair accused me of plagiarism on my Virginia Wolf paper. Me!  It’s not my fault that I still think “borrowing text” from Sparknotes.com is plagiarism: Don’t  forget that I’m old. But don’t you see how this line gives you away? Because I didn’t catch anyone else using a website meant for high schoolers. This professor thinks like Virginia Wolf is God. Yes, I do. That part is quite true. Virginia Woolf is God.

The writer makes sure to mention something blistering about the professor unrelated to his or her teaching. (worth 10 points)

Does your professor dress like a cougar? Or a gypsy? Or like your grandpa?  This is why they don’t get your writing because you are attired in Hollister’s fall line, your feet stuffed in your Ugg boots, and your professor looks like he shops in Goodwill. Mention it. Professor dresses like a weirdo whats up with the blazers? Shoulder pads are sooooo 90s. (Actually, they’re from the 80s.) Hello — the 70s called and they want their Birkenstocks back. RateMyProfessors advises you, in its list of tips, to “keep it profesh,” but you can still throw in something like Teacher is a dork who talks about Jane Austen EVERY SINGLE CLASS — that chick died without a husband too! That’ll get her. Let her have it – don’t feel bad… she failed you! You!

The writer thoroughly reviews all previous RateMyProfessors postings and has successfully refuted the positive ones. (worth 15 points)

Do your research. Your goal is to paint a thoroughly horrible portrait of this professor, so make sure nobody has made a claim that could sway the unsuspecting freshman. For example, I don’t know wtf everyone is talking about. She’s the worst. I emailed her 4 times on Saturday night and by Monday morning she still hadn’t gotten back to me. Or how about this: Not sure why everyone says hes fair. NOT TRUE! He refused to even accept my paper! How was I supposed to know it has to be typed?  It might take time to review all previous posts, but it will be worth it.

The writer ensures, after convincing his or her friends to also post negatively about this professor, that they all post on different dates, preferably one week apart. (worth 5 points)

Your friends have never had my class, but they’re loyal. Make sure you are strategic in exploiting their enthusiasm. Nothing gives you away more than having 10 negative reviews posted on the same date as yours, which might also be one day after grades come out. Offer a timeline to your friends. Carrington, you post on Monday, and then Bryce, you wait until Thursday. Got it? Take charge of the situation and make a schedule.

Also, make sure they don’t repeat the same complaints – vary them slightly. If everyone uses the same wording, as in Professor has a bit of an attitude, that indicates that all ten reviews had the same author. Not everyone uses the phrase “a bit of an attitude” – see? (Refer to #2 on the rubric, about concealing your identity.)

The writer successfully pretends that he or she was very interested in the class.(worth 20 points)

This is essential. Nothing speaks more about bad teaching than a teacher who completely ruined and destroyed a student’s genuine enthusiasm for a course. I was so excited to take this class because I love reading Shakespeare. But this professor ruined me forever for English lit. I swear I now suffer PTSD when I open any book at all. Just don’t take this one too far, or you’ll give yourself away. Nobody will believe that you were excited about English 101 or Intro to Physics.

The writer successfully and regularly uses slang and emoticons to express ideas that can also be better and perhaps more simply expressed in actual words.(worth 5 points)

Show that you know and understand your audience. UGH!!!! Hes horrible!!!!!!

The writer reveals information selectively. (worth 5 points)

Mention several times that the professor was not helpful to you. So unhelpful she doesnt even care about her students and wants us all to fail. Do not mention that you only came to class every other week, and that when you did approach the professor for help the week of finals, she did not know who you were.

The writer clarifies that no student can realistically achieve an A in this class. (worth 10 points)

It’s true, right? You didn’t take a survey or anything, but nobody who sat in the back row with you got an A, so you know for a fact that the prof doesn’t give them out. The kid with the glasses, who sat in the front and wears Old Navy probably did, but he’s a geek anyway. He’s wearing Old Navy.

The writer suggests that the professor should retire. (worth 10 points)

That’ll really burn them up.

Susan Muaddi DarrajSusan Muaddi Darraj is a college English professor who genuinely loves her students (well, 99.5% of them). Her book, A Curious Land, won the AWP Grace Paley Award for Short Fiction (University of Massachusetts Press, October 2015). She is proud to have two separate RateMyProfessor ratings because students cannot seem to spell her last name.





‘Tis the Time of the Year for Dickens

WGBH reports that Charles Dickens made his American stage debut with a reading of his beloved holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” in Boston 149 years ago this week. And that wonderful story about redemption through generosity of spirit makes many think of Dickens at this time of year.

Diane Archibald, co-author of Dickens and Massachusetts:The Lasting Legacy of the Commonwealth Visitsthinks of Dickens far more often than in December. An expert on his life and his work, her new book with Joel Brattin explores Dickens’s visits to America and the influence Massachusetts had on his life and work. Interviewed for this WGBH story, Archibald shared that Dickens found the the U.S. dirty and violent. But he liked Boston, especially he liked Lowell.

“Dickens is famous for having said about America that it was not the republic of his imagination,” Archibald said. “He had thought it was going to be some great land and he was disappointed. But in fact Massachusetts was the republic of his imagination. It was all and more than he had hoped for.”

You can read all about Dickens’s time in Massachusetts in  Dickens and Massachusetts:The Lasting Legacy of the 9781625341358Commonwealth Visits, The collection begins with a broad biographical and historical overview taken from the full-length narrative of the award-winning exhibition Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation, which attracted thousands of visitors while on display in Lowell. Abundant images from the exhibition, many of them difficult to find elsewhere, enhance the story of Dickens’s relationship with the vibrant cultural and intellectual life of Massachusetts. The second section includes essays that consider the importance of Dickens’s many connections to the commonwealth.


Carla Panciera, author of “Bewildered,” Contemplates Buried Memories on Eve of Amherst Talk

This week, I travel to Amherst, MA, to read from my new book in the town where it was published. On my walk this overcast morning with Bella, my border collie, I plan what to read, how to introduce things. A fox darts across a long driveway. A droplight still burns inside a carved giant pumpkin. Overnight, the leaves have fallen so everything underfoot is orange and gold beneath a gray sky. The flea market enjoys its final weekend. Bella and I detour through it, the dog sniffing at every post, me on the lookout for some cast-off I had no idea I needed.

I decide to read a couple poems, a section from a story I feel particularly indebted to. My husband has asked me before if I get nervous to read (Anticipating an acceptance speech he had to give at his high school’s athletic hall oheadshot Panciera 2013f fame dinner, he once lost his voice. Once the speech was over, his voice returned full force.). But I don’t get nervous. Instead, I’m excited to make the trip, especially excited to meet the people who brought my book to life.

Maybe I was nervous the first time I read. I try to remember when that was. Meanwhile, Bella greets a lab puppy beside a collection of empty frames and chairs that need re-caning. I think for a moment that it might have been with a lovely group of poets I worked with for a few years when my girls were babies.

But then, I remember: I was nervous all right. The first time I read my work in public was at Boston University. No excitement there: just mind-numbing anxiety and a healthy dose of dread.

Our graduate student reading took place in some dark academic room. We had been given a time limit that I knew would be impossible for me to fill, unless I wanted (once again in front of this not-so-forgiving crowd) to read crap. Let’s summarize by saying: It had not been a good year. But my mother was excited to hear me, and she would’ve been proud if I’d stood up and read recipes for chicken pot pie. Also, this requirement was nowhere near as terrifying as some of the other things we’d had to do to fulfill Derek Walcott’s assignments. So, despite a throat nearly closed shut with terror, I read two poems, then sat down and clasped my trembling hands in my lap.

When the reading was over and we stood in a narrow hallway for the obligatory social hour with juice and store bought cookies, George Starbuck told me I’d won the award for the briefest presentation. This was the kind of feedback I was used to receiving from George. Non-committal and not particularly helpful. Derek Walcott praised a revision I’d made (Yes, I said praised.). This opened up my breathing passages a little.

However, I had no choice but to introduce him to my mother. He told her she had a very conscientious daughter. My mother said she already knew that. Then she added, “So you’re Derek. I’ve heard a lot about you.” Um. Okay, so I thought the reading would have been the most awkward part of the evening, but you never know when my mom is around.

Somehow, I escorted her safely away from the gathering and we left shortly afterward, me relieved to be leaving the literary scene in the rearview, my mother insisting I’d exaggerated my accounts of Derek Walcott. “He didn’t seem very scary at all,” she said.

I didn’t think about reading again in public. Instead, I was relieved to escort my mother onto the Green Line and think I’d never again venture into that mythical room 222 where I had certainly not done service to Plath, Sexton, Lowell, and its other illustrious occupants.

Is it just a coincidence that the memory has stayed buried for three decades, only to return on Halloween? But it’s good to be haunted by certain reminders. I’d like to say I’m not that person anymore. I can fill the time allotted to me. I don’t cringe with mortification at what I am forced to utter aloud. But there’s no such thing as a completely shed skin for this particular individual of the species. A scale or two of the old stuff always hangs around.

I write, in part, to keep those insecurities at bay.

As for my mother, she won’t be making the trip to Amherst. But her lessons always accompany me: when you have the opportunity to meet people who also love what you love — stories, poems, the power of language — embrace it. And if the most intimidating person you’ve ever met in your life, star of your anxiety dreams, happens to be in the audience, smoking like a fiend? Just wave the smoke away and introduce yourself.

Carla Panciera will read from her Grace Paley Prize winning collection of short stories, Bewildered, at the Jones Library, November 3, at 7 p.m. 


Cape Cod Keeps Changing: Social Diversity Is Latest Shift

Although cooler fall weather sees a decrease in Cape Cod’s crowds, summer visitors confronted space congested with the peoples of the world. Tourists great-beach-cape-cod-1from England, Germany, Canada, and Scandinavia rubbed shoulders with doctors and lawyers from cities across the nation, while locals complained about offshore recreators upon whom many depend for their economy.  The peoples of Cape Cod have changed significantly over the last 350 years and the diversity of its population has also shifted with time.

The arrival of European settlers on the Cape in the middle of the seventeenth century proved disastrous for the local population of Native Americans. But during the period between 1630 and 1690 Cape Cod was a place of diverse peoples and cultures. Sadly war, disease, and shifting control of natural resources from Native people to whites ended this diversity of peoples. Increasingly for the next hundred years Cape Cod became a place of whites of moderate means. That population slowly began to change at the end of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century. The labor needs of the whaling and fishing industry brought a new diversity to many Cape towns, particularly Falmouth and Provincetown, as sailors and whalers from Spain, Italy, the Azores, and the South Pacific came to call Cape towns their home and brought over other family members.

The Cape’s population and its diversity declined in the second half of the nineteenth century with the shrinking of its economy as fishing, farming, and related industries fell on hard times. At the turn of the twentieth century newcomers looked to the Cape as a place to recreate. These visitors to the Cape came mostly from the world of privilege and reflected the racial and ethnic background of that world: white, mostly protestant, of Western European stock. Ethnically they differed little from most Cape Codders, but socially and economically they were very different.

The automobile, state highways, and the increased prosperity of the post-war period brought a new wave of visitors and settlers to the Cape. These were mostly of the middle classes, and they reflected the general ethnic mix of the middle-class of mid-century America. It was during this period when Cape Cod became the iconic American beach vacation spot, as well as a home for retirees. It was a mostly white and ethnically and socially diverse population of vacationers mixing with permanent residents of retirees, fishermen, and those who worked within or supporting the tourist industry.

The Cape’s success as a vacation destination has increasingly put pressure on the social diversity of its population. Land values and subsequently housing prices have soared beyond the means of the middle class. Those working on the Cape are having a harder and harder time finding housing.  Middle and working class retirees can no longer find affordable retirement cottages. The Cape’s population is shifting again. This time it is shifting away not from ethnic diversity, but rather from social diversity. How the Cape deals with this is a major concern for towns across Cape Cod.

John T. Cumbler is professor of history at the University of Louisville and spends half of the year in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He is the author of numerous books, including Cape Cod: An Environmental History of a Fragile Ecosystem (UMass Press, 2014).

John Cumbler0157to fit pub

Still Healing After All These Years

As if Donald Trump questioning whether John McCain was a Vietnam War hero wasn’t enough of a cruel reminder of the divisions and divisiveness of that misbegotten war, there was more bad news in the latest issue of JAMA Psychiatry published last week. In an article entitled “Course of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder 40 Years After the Vietnam War: Findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study,” the authors pointed out that: “Approximately 271,000 Vietnam theater veterans have current full PTSD plus sub-threshold war-zone PTSD, one-third of whom have current major depressive disorder, 40 or more years after the war.” (Emphasis mine).

“These findings underscore the need for mental health services for many decades for veterans with PTSD symptoms,” the authors conclude, an ominous prediction for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Think about it. Half a century since the first U. S. Marines landed in Da Nang (March 1965) and more than 40 years since the last American soldiers left the battlefields of Vietnam (March 1973), nearly 300,0000 Vietnam veterans are still suffering.


Study leader Charles Marmar of NYU’s medical school, told NPR that too many Vietnam vets “still get flashbacks, they’re irritable, depressed, they can’t sleep well.”

“Many are quite alienated from family and friends, and have trouble either in the workplace or in their family environments,” added Marmar.

I’d argue that it’s not too late to finally bring these veterans home – and to help them heal. What my co-author Craig Werner and I discovered from a decade of interviews with hundreds of Vietnam vets is that music is one way to do this. Our book, We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War (to be published this fall by University of Massachusetts Press) shows how music helped Vietnam soldiers/veterans to connect to each other and to the World back home and to cope with the complexities of the war they had been sent to fight.

While it wasn’t our intention to write a theoretical or academic book, our understanding of the stories the vets shared was influenced by ongoing research into the relationships among music, memory, and trauma. A cottage industry of recent studies, sparked by Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain on Music and Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia, document how, if the circumstances are right, music can help heal psychological wounds. In fact, a good number of recent veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan afflicted with PTSD are using music as a form of therapy.

Is it too late for Vietnam veterans? We think not, and We Gotta Get Out of This Place is proof. Many of the men and women we interviewed had never talked about their Vietnam war experience, even with their spouses and family members. But they could talk about a song – “Dock of the Bay,” These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” “Purple Haze,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “My Girl,” “Fortunate Son” and scores of others – and in that remembering, begin to heal from the war’s wounds.

JAMA Psychiatry link:


WGGO link:



Doug Bradley, a Vietnam veteran from Madison, Wisconsin, is co-author with Craig Werner of We Gotta Get Out of This PlacDoug Bradleye: The Soundtrack to the Vietnam War, forthcoming from University of Massachusetts Press, November 2015. He’s also the author of DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle.

New Books: February 2015

Newest releases for our design and literature lists at UMass Press

9781625341228Isaiah Rogers by James F. O’Gorman: When architect Isaiah Rogers died in 1869, the Cincinnati Daily Times noted that “in his profession he was, perhaps, better known than any other person in this country.” Yet until now there has been no study that fully examines his remarkable, influential, and instructive career. Rogers designed buildings from Maine to Georgia and from Boston to Chicago to New Orleans, supervising their construction while traveling widely to procure materials and workmen for the job. He finished his career as Architect of the Treasury Department during the Civil War. In this richly illustrated volume, James F. O’Gorman offers a deft portrait of an energetic practitioner at a key time in architectural history, the period before the founding of the American Institute of Architects in 1857.

“This is a substantial book by a major scholar, and it is original, splendidly written and interpreted, and filled with the kind of rich specific detail that will make it a valuable reference to which historians will turn again and again. It is a significant contribution to the scholarship of American culture.” – Michael L. Lewis, author of American Art & Architecture

For more books on architecture, click here.


9781625341129A Kiss from Thermopylae by James R. Guthrie: Born into a family of attorneys, Dickinson absorbed law at home. She employed legal terms and concepts regularly in her writings, and her metaphors grounded in law derive much of their expressive power from a comparatively sophisticated lay knowledge of the various legal and political issues that were roiling nineteenth-century America. This book reveals a new dimension of Dickinson’s writing and thinking, indicating that she was familiar with the legal community’s idiomatic language, actively engaged with contemporary political and ethical questions, and skilled at deploying a poetic register ranging from high romanticism to low humor.

A Kiss from Thermopylae established beyond doubt the importance of legal reasoning to Dickinson’s poetry, and it also contributes importantly to the value of the ‘law and literature’ subdiscipline.” – Gary Stonum, author of The Dickinson Sublime

For more books about the life and works of Emily Dickinson, click here.


9781625341143Transatlantic Romanticism by Andrew Hemingway and Alan Wallach: That the Romantic movement was an international phenomenon is a commonplace, yet to date, historical study of the movement has tended to focus primarily on its national manifestations. This volume offers a new perspective. In thirteen chapters devoted to artists and writers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, leading scholars of the period examine the international exchanges that were crucial for the rise of Romanticism in England and the United States.

“A cogent and stimulating series of reflections on Anglo-American art and literature associated with the broad cultural category of Romanticism.” – Brian Lukacher, author of Joseph Gandy: Architectural Visionary in Georgian England

For more books of literary criticism, click here.