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What do a temple in Thailand, a boxing ring in Alaska, and a Deerfield Academy classroom have in common? [Answer: a Coffin]
audrey cho 11 opinioneditorial editor volume 85
September 30, 2009

A monk, a boxer, and a Gossip Girl watcher — say hello to Deerfield’s new Wilson Visiting Fellow. Jaed Coffin, of half-Thai descent, shared with the Scroll tales of his colorful and unconventional past on a stroll to his house.

The Wallace Wilson Fellowship is a sponsored fellowship that brings a professional to simply teach what they do. As a writer, Mr. Coffin is funded by Deerfield to teach English for a year while continuing his personal pursuits.

Photo by Stephanie Olivas ’10

Mr. Coffin maintains his prior position as Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing at University of Southern Maine.

“I like working with graduate students, but I prefer teaching teenagers,” Mr. Coffin said. He came upon this realization in Alaska while teaching for a year at a non-traditional high school for “kids who didn’t fit the regular mold.” These were students recently expelled or teens with drug-abuse problems.

However, what Mr. Coffin really picked up in Alaska was boxing. When he began to “burn out” on the soccer field, he decided he needed “something more individually driven and something that inserted me into a different culture.”

In the evenings, Mr. Coffin boxed against local fisherman or indigenous Alaskans in local bars around Juno and Sitka. In fact, his second book, which he hopes to finish by the end of his year here, is about the people he met and with whom he boxed. Surprisingly, the men grew closer after the fights.

“People assume boxing breeds violence. But actually, the result is more often fraternity,” said Mr. Coffin. In fact, he has kept in touch with his former boxing coach, an electrician who fishes commercially for salmon during the year; in the summer, Mr. Coffin has returned to visit and fish together with him. “The boxing world is truly its own world,” Mr. Coffin mused.

The astonishing cultural explorations of our Wilson Fellow don’t end here. His first book, a memoir called A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants, is about his brief life in Thailand. The story revolves around a 21 year-old Jaed Coffin returning to his mother’s rural village to become a monk, reaching into his cultural origins, and discovering a new aspect of the world.

So why would someone with such extraordinary experiences come to Deerfield, Massachusetts? “To enjoy being a family,” explained Mr. Coffin. He liked the idea of getting away from the busy Portland scene and being more local and relaxed, giving him time to write and focus on his family life. “I wanted a place where Jai-yen (his one-year old daughter) will be happy…where I could spend more time with her.”

When Mr. Coffin and I reached our destination, a blue-gray home on the right side of Main Street, we were met by exuberant Jai-Yen and his gentle, slender wife, Jessie Chalmers.

Although the Scroll sat with the Coffin family for only a few minutes, those few minutes offered a window into the young family’s daily harmony.

When asked if there was anything he wanted to say to Deerfield, Mr. Coffin stated three things:

One: you can always bring treats to his office, anytime.

Two: he will coach Boys’ Thirds Basketball. (Perhaps a subtle recruiting advertisement?)

Three: to “please come say hi.” Visiting him and his family at their home is always welcome.