UWEC student to publish collection of works, hold release show at Dotters Books

Mary Shaw is set to debut ‘Plum Season’ in December


Photo by Submitted

Plum season. It begins in Ukraine toward the middle to end of July and can last as long as September. Locals can walk to their nearby market and pick up the fresh fruit, sometimes made into jams and drinks. This season makes up the warmest part of the Ukrainian summer.

Plum season also happens to be the season Mary Shaw, a fourth-year English critical studies student at UW-Eau Claire, routinely visits Ukraine to see her family. Her mother was born in Ukraine, so they spend time revisiting cherished spaces, Shaw said.

“To be able to go back to the bazaar and buy fresh fruit and … just walk down the same streets that I remember — it’s just a very reminiscent, good feeling,” Shaw said. “Also, (I enjoy) getting to talk to my family who are aging and getting to hear their stories.”

Shaw’s experiences in Ukraine are what led her to produce a collection of works under the title “Plum Season.” She worked with her professor and advisor at UW-Eau Claire to put the project together after receiving a grant through the university. Shaw has a release show set for 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at Dotters Books.

“Plum Season” comprises poetry, prose, photography and conversations about Shaw, her mother and her family in Ukraine.

Shaw’s inspiration for “Plum Season” was her stories from her time in Ukraine. She last visited two years ago, but said she typically goes back once every three years.

“When you’re gone (from Ukraine) for that period of time, and there’s always things that are changing and you always come back to that space,” Shaw said. “You’re older, you’ve learned more, but also the space is getting older, your family’s getting older, so I was inspired to make a collection of work that pulls that in together.”

Her advisor for the project was Theresa Kemp, an English professor at UW-Eau Claire. Shaw has taken several of Kemp’s classes and Kemp is the faculty advisor for the College Feminists, which Shaw co-leads.

Shaw read a poem about her mother last year for “Spoken Words for Womyn’s History Month” event, which Kemp attended. After hearing Shaw speak, Kemp told her she should put her work into a book.

“She laughed,” Kemp said in an email. “But I said ‘Seriously, you should think about applying for a faculty-student grant so you can get paid to work on the project.’”

So, Shaw applied for a grant through the university to publish her work last spring, and got approved toward the end of this summer. From there, she began compiling and working on her prose to be put into the collection.

While the project is Shaw’s, it has been a collaborative effort between the two, as Kemp has been offering her assistance and suggestions throughout the process.

“As she brings bits of it to me to look at, I give her my feedback,” Kemp said. “I ask questions about what she is trying to get the project to do, and sometimes I make suggestions — which she knows are hers to take or leave.”

The release show was Kemp’s idea.

Because the project is funded by UW-Eau Claire’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Shaw will present her work at the Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity, better known as CERCA, this spring.

However, Kemp wanted Shaw to share the collection with people beyond the UW-Eau Claire community, so she suggested a public reading for this semester.

Shaw said she is grateful for the opportunity to publish her collection at such a young age.

“Even when it was getting stressful — it was definitely a lot of work,” she said, “I reminded myself that I’m so lucky to have this opportunity to be given the chance to write these stories and poems about things that are about my mom’s life.”

Shaw said those who attend the release should be ready to hear stories about Ukraine they probably haven’t heard before. If anything at all, Shaw said most people only know a little bit about Ukraine (particularly in regards to politics, Shaw said). She said she hopes to change that.

“I would hope from the show that they take away a personal feeling to the space that I have and to remember how it’s a practice on seeing how cherished spaces … change and evolve as we age,” she said. “I hope they take away good, wholesome memories that aren’t their own.”

Wentland can be reached at [email protected].