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English Professor Publishes Place-Based Memoir
 Erin Pushman web
Erin Pushman

Place-based writing, a sub-genre of creative non-fiction, is a popular form of the written word today.

The Winter edition of The Gettysburg Review, one of the most renowned literary journals in the country, contains a very good example of the genre in the form of a sensory-filled place-based memoir by Erin Pushman, Associate Professor of English at Limestone College.

Entitled "Up North," the memoir employs a heavy dosage of landscape and sensory perception, and is an expression of love of and longing for Pushman's native Michigan. "I actually wrote much of 'Up North' while watching the web cam on the Mackinac Bridge Authority's website," Pushman explained.

Nicknamed "The Mighty Mac," the bridge is one of many Michigan landmarks Pushman references in her exceptionally vivid childhood recollections in the memoir. "In Michigan, going Up North means going to northern Michigan," Pushman writes. "I grew up in a family that traveled Up North every summer. Whenever we went Up North, we made at least one trip across the Mackinac Bridge. Until 1998, when two longer bridges went up on other continents (one in Japan and one in Denmark), the Mackinac Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. So each time my family drove across, we were all suspended for as long as it was possible to be suspended between two peninsulas of land."

Pushman's adoration for her home state serves as a magnificent backdrop for the loving childhood memories she shares of her family's numerous camping trips to the Great Lakes. "When we were young children, Mom led Adam (Pushman's brother) and me on treks into the woods, where she bent toward the ground, picked up swaths of fallen bark, and said, 'The Ojibwa use this to make birch-bark canoes.' Mom had minored in history in college, and in the woods and on the lakes, she taught us fragments from the lessons she had learned in her Michigan history classes. 'Imagine them,' Mom said, crouching to look at the underside of a fern. 'What do you think Ojibwa families would look like moving through a forest like this before there were any tents or cars or roads here? Can you see their feet stepping through the ferns?'"

As she closes the memoir, Pushman includes thoughts that she and Adam share as adults of returning to the familiar campgrounds. Only this time, returning as parents themselves; Adam with a daughter and a son, and Pushman, pregnant with her daughter at the time the memoir was written. The thoughts are expressed in short text messages between the two about a campground just north of The Mighty Mac.

"Of course, two impromptu text messages are not a real plan for a return trip. Between work schedules, other travel obligations, the various needs of spouses and children, and the miles of highway between our house [in Charlotte] and Adam's house in Michigan, then between there and the Mackinac Bridge, it is easy to imagine everything that might get in the way of an Up North camping trip. But I hope we make it. By July, there will be three children: my niece, my nephew, and the baby who is, right now, suspended in her own watery place, kicking small ripples into the surface of my skin."

"Up North" can be read in its entirety in The Gettysburg Review, available in libraries, bookstores, and online .