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Vermont Quarterly

Escape from Shawshank

The Shawshank Experience book cover


Escape from Shawshank 

Enthusiasts of the film The Shawshank Redemption may be familiar with the verb “shawshanked,” as in “to be shawshanked.” If the word had a dictionary definition it might read: “Fatigue caused by impulsive viewing of a popular 1994 American movie on late-night cable TV.” 

“Shawshank” appears on most “best movie” lists and is the highest rated film on the Internet Movie Database, which uses a formula to compute popularity based on broad public feedback. So what explains our love affair with this film? English professor Anthony Magistrale and Maura Grady ‘96 delve into this question in their new book The Shawshank Experience, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Magistrale has been teaching horror film and gothic fiction at UVM since 1983, so authors like Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King are chief staples in his classes. The screenplay of the movie is based on a novella by King, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, which puts the movie right in his wheelhouse. 

“Of course King is known for horror but it’s hard to assign him a genre,” says Magistrale. “He’s also done a lot of stuff with prison stories.”

Magistrale has written several books about King’s fiction and developed a friendship with the author. In 1999, he invited King to come over from Bangor, Maine, to talk with his students. King not only delivered a lecture to Magistrale’s class about Poe’s influence on his own fiction, he also gave a reading in Ira Allen Chapel and spoke to a capacity crowd in Patrick Gym. 

Most of Shawshank was filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory (OSP) in Mansfield, Ohio, the forbidding limestone prison that provides so many gothic overtones to the movie. The old reformatory is now the official home of the Ohio Corrections Museum, which attracted 110,000 visitors last year. The Shawshank mystique pumps millions of tourism-related revenues to north-central Ohio each year. The Shawshank Trail guides fans through a series of attractions related to key scenes or artifacts from the movie. 

Alumna Grady took Magistrale’s senior seminar on Gothic fiction and now teaches in the heart of Shawshank country at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio. She’s made the “fandom” phenomenon—a combination of sociology, history, and cultural studies—a focus of her scholarship. 

“When the twentieth anniversary of the film came around in 2014, Maura flew me to Mansfield to deliver the keynote address at the university,” Magistrale says. “I went there thinking I would get to see the great OSR, and by the time I flew back to Burlington, I also had the outline for the book. Maura was on board from the get go.” 


The Definitive Word on Cheese

Catherine Donnelly ’78, professor in UVM’s Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, was recently honored with a James Beard Foundation award for her encyclopedic work, The Oxford Companion to Cheese. The book, published in 2016 by Oxford University Press, won in the reference and scholarship category. 

Four years in the making, the volume contains 855 entries from 325 contributors in thirty-five countries. Donnelly devised all the categories the entries cover—ranging from cheese regulations and cheese-making techniques to cheese history and cuisines—established the twelve-member editorial board, worked with contributors and edited their work. 

Donnelly’s book was informed, in part, by her leadership at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, which she co-directed. At the UVM-based institute, her expertise in food safety intersected with the work of cheesemakers, cheesemongers, and other cheese experts.

In the spring of 2013, Donnelly was asked to edit The Oxford Companion to Cheese.  With a sabbatical scheduled, she had another project in mind, but that quickly changed. “I just shifted gears,” Donnelly says. “This is such an important book.” She framed the scope of the volume, assembled an editorial board, and committed to making a book that represents the international breadth of cheese—in content and contributors.

“Cheese is so global,” Donnelly says. “What we know about cheese here in the United States is really a short history compared to the rest of the world.”




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