Professor Profile: Jamie Williamson

UVM professor, Jamie Williamson’s book-filled office is arranged quite awkwardly and it is possible that his desk can be placed somewhere other than smack in the middle of the room. It sits at an obscure angle and looks as if it was just thrown down by movers of large objects. There is actually another smaller desk-type piece of furniture that is pushed up against the right side of the larger desk, creating a sort of L-shaped surface if you were to view it from above. Beside it is a rolly office chair, which Professor Williamson speaks from with his soft, friendly voice. When asked to state his full name, he playfully responds in a tone that mocks the officiality of the question, “James Thomas Williamson”, as he laughs at this obvious false properness. This sense of humor is somewhat expected because of his somewhat goofy appearance. It wouldn’t be called a mullet, but his thin scraggly hair does show a slight resemblance to that stuff you pull out of pillows when they’re really old and you can tell that they have been someone’s sidekick for years. His is relatively long, for a man of 44 years, frizzing to an end slightly below the full length of his narrow face. On the top, there is less of it, hence the mention of a mullet. He wears glasses with thin frames, which cover a large surface area of his upper face. Indeed, one would be shocked to learn that this funny guy was brought up boarding school style. His father was a teacher at a number of different boarding schools, which caused his family to move around quite a bit. He was born in Stanford, Connecticut, and after living in Peakesville, New York for ten years of his life he went onto Jacksonville, Florida, and then onto Pomford, Connecticut. He explains that he himself attended a boarding school in which a lot of his time was spent occupying himself. Williamson says that it was during this time that he first seriously got into literature. Williamson is on the fence regarding boarding schools, “There are certain things I dislike. (They are) intellectually good, however, the strict regiments and military ways in which things are run can be extremely suffocating.” It is not too long when talking to Williamson until the story of his life as a musician begins to slowly surface, as a submarine does after weeks of submersion in the deep sea. He will tell of the story of how he moved to Burlington, Vermont in hopes of getting a band started. His love for music began in the sixth grade when he became a big fan of Jimi Hendrix and owned every Beatles album there is to own. He eventually learned to play the guitar and write lyrics. He refers to his type of music as, “A combination of psychedelic garage with a pinch of folk”. One could jump at the chance to categorize Williamson’s story similar to many others just like it, though one would be wrong. Indeed, despite the assumption that this man’s failed band stories are but the names of his bands make up for it. He played with a couple of bands throughout the nineties, but this one band was called Pig. The proper spelling of the band should not be mistaken for those pink animals that roll around in the mud all day: “P-Y-G,” he explains, or “Pierce Your Genitals.” When asked how he would describe himself, he seems slightly caught off guard by this question so I quickly rephrase it, asking how he thinks his friends or family might describe him. Williamson leans back in his chair, as if to stretch, and places both hands on the back of his head. There is a momentary pause as he ponders the rephrased question. He glances somewhere unseen in search for his answer, while tiniest of wrinkles beginning to form on his forehead. “People tell me that I’m so together– that’s good that somebody thinks that,” he chuckles, implying that he sees himself in a different light. “I guess that means that I’m focused: I have a job I like. I think I would consider myself an absurdist. I guess I have an off- the- wall sense of humor.” Another pause, “… I find it funny to talk about myself,” he says quite genuinely. He is currently teaching an American Indian Literature class, and is famous for teaching Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature classes. “I think it’s rewarding to get people turned on to something. Literature can give you different perspectives, expand boundaries, and look at things a different way.” He makes a reference to Tolkien’s Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings and how writing like that can “spur revelations” in someone. During this part of our conversation, the change in his voice is a direct reflection of how passionate this man is about his work and what he tries to do for his students: how he tries to get them to think and open their minds. Indeed, it is no shock to that fellow colleague and head of the English department at UVM, Tony Magistrale, describes Williamson as “a lover of literature and a bibliophile.” Magistrale adds, “Jamie is also a nice guy with a sense of humor that reflects his interest in science fiction, horror, and fantasy.” As for the future, Williamson plans to focus on his writing and spend time with his nine-year-old daughter, who he sees three or four days a week. He is divorced. However, he and his daughter are very close and love spending time with one another, whether they’re watching a movie, doing homework or reading together. Williamson says that his “enthusiasm for many things has passed onto her, like reading.” Then he smiles again, “We also have a shared sense of humor.”