Alumni Spotlight

Dear Alumni/ae,

Reconnect with the UMass Boston English Department!

The English Department is starting a new initiative to create a community that brings together our alumni/ae, faculty, and students.  Called "Friends of English," this initiative will launch in several exciting ways:

• Please read the new "Friends of English" Newsletter, available here: Friends of English newsletter [link].  The Newsletter features an explanation of the initiative, alumni profiles, and faculty updates.
• Please join us for a free "Celebration of English Research and Creativity" at UMass Boston, on May 17th, 2:00-7:00, in the Campus Center Alumni Lounge.  See the Newsletter for details.
• Please send us news and updates to be included in our next "Friends of English" Newsletter.  Send information to this email address,

We hope the Newsletter encourages you to reconnect to UMass Boston, the English Department, and friends and faculty.  Please keep in touch via the Newsletter and come visit us for our Celebration!

Best wishes,
The English Department

Alumni profile: author and professor Ken Tangvik

Two very important things happened to Ken Tangvik when he began taking classes at UMass Boston in the early 80s.  The first was meeting two English professors—Linda Dittmar and Pam Annas—who were able to spark and sustain his intellect.  Double-majoring in psychology and biology, and interested in politics, Tangvik says that Dittmar and Annas took a conscientious approach to literary analysis, often addressing relevant sociocultural topics in class discussions that felt meaningful to him.  Perhaps even more importantly, these professors inspired Tangvik to devote himself full-time to the art of reading and writing.

“Their passion towards literature was infectious and I quickly realized that literature was my true academic love,” he recalls. “I just ate up all these great novels.”

Tangvik decided to continue at UMB and eventually earned a Master’s in English, largely, he says, “because I wanted to keep reading, talking about and writing about novels.”  Today, with more than 25 years of experience as a professor of English at Roxbury Community College (RCC), Tangvik continues to find inspiration when talking with his own students about  “great stories that can create magic.“

Some of those great stories can be found in Tangvik’s recently published collection, Don’t Mess with Tanya: Stories Emerging from Boston’s Barrios (2011, Aberdeen Bay).  Through sharp dialogue and compelling characters, Tangvik offers his readers brief but compelling glimpses into the lives of urban high school students, a Brazilian house cleaner, a Caribbean hair stylist, and many others—all of whom attempt to navigate a demographically changing Boston.  His stories show, unapologetically, relationships that are both strained by moments of racial and social discord, as well as strengthened by moments of solidarity and compassion.

In publishing his first book, Tangvik did seek the help of a “brutally honest” editor, but not before turning first to the men and women in his classes.  “I had the privilege of vetting [the stories] with hundreds of my students at RCC-mostly Black and Latino honest feedback,” which Tangvik used to ensure that his stories were students,” he explains. “I would use pseudo-names for the authors of the stories because I wanted to get honest feedback,” which Tangvik used to ensure that his stories were engaging and accurate.

The honesty and authenticity of his writings have contributed to the fact that  Don’t Mess With Tanya has appealed to students and teachers beyond Boston—an outcome in which Tangvik takes pride. “I've heard from a bunch of folks across the country who are using the stories in their classrooms,” he says, “and that makes me feel really good.”

A second important change in Tangvik’s life as student at UMB came when he began forming close friendships with a number of Dominican classmates, some of whom would introduce him to a world outside of Boston.  “I was immersed in their culture, which fascinated me,” he says, explaining how this fascination prompted him to visit the Caribbean and Central and South America. Tangvik would hitchhike and make connections with people in the communities he visited. “I got to see how most of the countries didn't have much of a middle class,” he says. “I felt that my mind was expanding. It was like being in heaven.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Tangvik decided 25 years ago to settle down in the Hyde Square neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, where he found comforting familiarity in the area’s thrivingLatino culture. At the time, however, another culture was thriving in Hyde Square, which was being touted as the cocaine capital of New England, Tangvik could not ignore the social costs of a growing criminal element.  He explains, “The drugs the violence, and drive by shootings...I thought, ‘We’ve got to do something about this!’” Tangvik took action and, along with a dedicated group of neighbors, created the Hyde Square Task Force, an award- winning youth development agency that currently provides educational provides educational and cultural programs programs to nearly 1000 teenagers from Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. Tangvik is still highly active with the group, currently serving as its Director of Engagement and Organizing.

Even though nearly 30 years have passed since Tangvik’s first literature classes, the ideals that motivated him then remain essential.  Discussing the legacy of Don’t Mess with Tanya, Tangvik says, “I would like people to remember this book as an honest attempt to capture the rapidly changing culture of Boston. I would like readers’ consciousness raised to see that, in spite of our many differences, there is a common basic humanity we share—to see that our differences make our city and our lives interesting and exciting and that we are capable of understanding each other.”

~Profile by Darrell Penta (B.A. 2004)