Recently, University of Arizona alumni Amanda and Matthew Kaufmann increased their estate gift to the university, planning a sizable legacy to both the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English and the College of Engineering.
Amanda grew up immersed in visual art and writing and received a B.A. in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with an emphasis in short fiction and playwriting, and she also holds an M.A. in English/TESOL.
This past year has brought several big changes for Amanda. She left her 30-year-long career in technical and educational publishing, grappled with health challenges including Graves’ Disease, and headed to Hawaii.
Now, Amanda says she’s fully embracing her creative impulses at mid-life and encouraging others to be true to themselves. She’s jumped into a variety of projects, including writing, photography, filmmaking, and teaching. She recently published a book of what she calls “punk haiku” titled Rage, Recovery, and Calm: A Year in Poetry and is looking at ways to build community around it.
Developments caught up with Amanda to discuss not only her allegiance and generosity to the Creative Writing Program but also how her love of writing has helped her navigate both the painful and exciting changes in her life.
Q. Why did you decide to increase your estate gift to the Creative Writing Program?
Matthew and I met at the UA and those were some of the best years of our lives. And we have a community of friends from those days. We don’t have children and our assets will eventually have to go somewhere, and so we’ve split them up between charities, friends and family, and the UA. So it was a natural decision.
And I spent a lot of my career in educational publishing. I’ve also worked in the classroom as a writing instructor. Matthew and I both believe in education and figured we could help other people, especially as the costs of education continue to increase.
I also feel that there is a place and a need for good writing and literate folks in the world. These disciplines do not receive funds. It was really important to me to funnel something in that direction.
Q. Last time we spoke, you were working in educational publishing. Now you’ve left that behind. What prompted this shift?
Last year before the pandemic, Amanda offered a two-day workshop on screenwriting at the University of Arizona with Victor Miller, the original screenwriter for Friday the 13th. Amanda wrote and produced a short film inspired by Miller’s life called “Mother’s Milk” available on her YouTube channel : Amanda JS Kaufmann.
None of it was planned. And a lot of things came together to push me down this new path. In the educational publishing world, you start to get phased out when you’re in mid-life unless you go up the corporate ladder, which I was never interested in doing. Everybody’s learned how to set up a camera and a light kit at their house, so the whole idea of having me travel around and set up for video production was fading. I was burned out. Then there was the pandemic.
I’ve also come to understand who I am and how I tick. I now know that I am a highly sensitive person. And I’m brave enough now to put my art out there. And so I’m just going to pursue that and see what happens. I’m lucky and blessed to be able to do that from Hawaii. I’m just not worrying about what people think of me anymore.
Q. Beyond providing you with the skills for a career, it seems like writing and storytelling helped you navigate your recent changes and enriches your life. Is that accurate?
Oh, my gosh, totally. I started blogging, and I still do it pretty much every day, and I’m not doing it for anybody but myself. The blog in particular is about understanding who I am. For me, the writing is super important. If I didn’t do that, I think I would be really confused and locked in a closet or something.
It’s funny, because I was never comfortable putting my writing out and the vulnerability that comes with that. And it’s taken me to this point in time to be able to do it.
And I don’t think it’s healthy that we, as a society, have gotten away from the arts. I think we could point to a lot of negative things going on in the world today that are attributable to the imbalance in what we emphasize in life. It’s important to pursue creative things, even if you’re involved in your rat race.
I really feel like my duty now is to be true to myself and express all of the stuff that’s been building up over the years, and then encourage other people to do the same. And to get that balance back.
Q. What are you working on right now that you are excited about?
I want to keep writing and publishing and teaching. I’m working on a script and actually getting paid to do it. Regarding my photography, I’ve joined an art society that does exhibitions. To me, the writing and visual go together – even my scriptwriting for me is translating the visual into directions on the page so that it can be revisualized.
I’m also doing my best to help other filmmaker friends, volunteering my time. I think community has gotten away from us a bit, and I support reinstating it.