RIC Professor Finds Inspiration in What People Leave Behind When They Die

RIC Assistant Professor of English Robert Long Foreman

Items that people leave behind when they die drive both the fiction and nonfiction of Robert Long Foreman.

The new RIC assistant professor of English focuses on the history, genealogy and personal psychology embodied in these objects.

In a book he recently wrote called We’re All Dealers in Used Furniture, a narrative about his aunt and the objects she left behind when she died in 2009, Foreman sets out to find out who his aunt was.

“I know she drank heavily and lived an isolated life, but what I wanted to know is what led her to that,” he said.

She left stacks of diaries, written from the age of 16 until her death, along with numerous letters that were written to and from family members.

She also left numerous objects – some antiques, some of little value.

“I attempt to reconstruct her life, based on the belongings she left,” he said.

He said his own career in writing began by writing diaries. “I never intended to become a writer and teacher. I have two older brothers who were English majors, and I resisted, at first, the idea of teaching English.”

But at 20, Foreman began to keep a diary. After he earned a masters degree in literature at Ohio University at 24, he said, the writing flowed from him like a “dam burst.” His early writings took the form of personal essay and memoir.

At an artists’ colony, he began work on a collection of essays about inanimate objects, such as a walking stick owned by his great-great grandfather and a club that he found in an antique store.

“I wrote about the implications of going out and buying this club and what it meant to own this weapon,” he said.

While writing at the artists’ haven, his reclusive aunt died and Foreman found himself looking back over his essays. He realized that inheritance was what he had been writing about all along.

“I’ve had a consistent interest in objects and the baggage they bring with them. I’m interested in the history of the objects that we own, and the ways in which we are owned by them, and how we’re bound up in these histories in a way that we can’t control,” he said.

We’re All Dealers in Used Furniture is now in the hands of an agent in search of a publisher, while Foreman continues work on a collection of short stories titled Examined Lives and makes plans for a novel.

At RIC, during his position’s four-year tenure track, he joins a community of other accomplished professors and writers. Foreman, himself, is winner of numerous writing awards, including the 2012 Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction by the American Literary Review, and the 2011 Creative Nonfiction award by The Journal.

His courses at RIC include Introduction to Creative Writing, Advanced Fiction Workshop, Advanced Nonfiction Workshop and Graduate Workshop in Fiction and Nonfiction.

He said he teaches his students to try their hand at poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama, while his writings teach us all to take a closer look at what we own and raise the question: When you die and people go through your things, what will your things say about you?