| 03.20.2018

Well-read rule breaker – UI junior Justin McCabe finds home in English department


Justin McCabe didn”t choose the writer”s life – the writer”s life chose him.

McCabe, 19, is a junior at the University of Idaho majoring in English with an emphasis in literature. He said he wasn”t sure what he”d be studying after high school until the tail end of his senior year. While architecture and history both interested him, he realized his dislike of math trumped his love for designing buildings and chose to make history his minor.

McCabe, a native of Post Falls, Idaho, said he came to terms with his talent thanks to a large research paper in high school. Several classmates asked him to read over their papers and make edits. The consensus: McCabe was seen as the best writer in his class.

“I guess if so many people come up to you and decide they want you to look over their paper, which is a huge part of their grade, then it kind of hints that you”re a good writer,” McCabe said.

Upon choosing his major, McCabe said he took the research paper instance into consideration.

“I realized that writing is my true passion,” McCabe said. “I”ve been an insatiable reader for as long as I can remember … I figured that would be perfect.”

McCabe is a self-proclaimed shy person and said writing provides him an avenue to speak out and be heard.

While his greatest interests lie in historical fiction and poetry, McCabe said his style crosses boundaries and so far, his education has made him willing to try new genres and mediums.

“I like to write about things that are dark, or maybe misunderstood,” McCabe said. “I like to write prose that is kind of poetical.”

Having no interest in the realms of professional writing or teaching, McCabe said he chose the literature emphasis over the creative writing emphasis due to his belief that writing can”t necessarily be taught.

Austin Maas | Rawr
Junior Justin McCabe is an English major with a literature emphasis, aspiring to one day be a professional writer.

“I don”t think anyone can teach you how to write, because inherently they are going to teach you to write how they write,” McCabe said. “I”d rather just explore what is considered the great literature of the world, and maybe develop my own writing from that.”

When it comes to his experience with the UI English program, McCabe said he is impressed with his knowledgeable and helpful professors – particularly Thomas Drake.

McCabe said his time in Drake”s Literature of Western Civilization I and II courses were some of his best college experiences yet.

“He”s like a bundle of clever, but wrapped up in crazy, but it could be the other way around,” McCabe said of Drake.

In coming semesters, McCabe said he is looking forward to classes dealing with the study of language.

“I feel like the more I write all sorts of different styles, like academic essays and personal stuff, the more naturally it”s coming,” McCabe said. “You can say what you want to say, but (English professors) teach you how to say it more effectively or more persuasively or more entertaining. So really it”s just about expression.”

While McCabe said his ultimate goal after college is to become an author and sustain himself through writing, his love of the English language goes deeper than simply putting words on paper.

“I have a huge interest in the nitty-gritty – the grammar and actual syntax that comes with editing papers,” McCabe said. “So I think my realistic goal is to be editing and publishing within my field.”

McCabe said his own advice for aspiring writers would be to know the rules.

“Not only so that you can cater to the desires and parameters of certain professors, but that so when you”re writing for fun, you know how to be playful with them and break them,” McCabe said. “It”s so exciting to see someone play with the rules and do it well.”

In ten years, McCabe said he hopes to be writing books and poetry, as well as traveling.

“There”s not really any place that I”m not interested in seeing,” McCabe said. “So if writing could fund that venture, that would be incredible.”

McCabe plans to graduate from UI in the spring of 2017. Until then, he said he looks forward to improving his craft.

“I feel like every writer kind of tends to say, “Oh, I”m not that good,” but then to have other people think that you are, it”s kind of like, “Maybe I am OK,”” McCabe said. “I would like to say that I”m good, yeah. I would like to be better though.”

Lyndsie Kiebert  can be reached at  arg-arts@uidaho.edu  or on Twitter @Lyndsie_Kierbert

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