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Kristen Cyr
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Humble's latest book contains puzzles,
word jumbles with a Rhode Island theme

Dec. 22, 2014

Professor Roberta Mudge Humble holds her latest book, which is on display with her other books and games at the CCRI bookstore. Professor Roberta Mudge Humble holds her latest book, which is on display with her other books and games at the CCRI bookstore.

Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but it certainly has more than its fair share of character. Roberta Mudge Humble, professor of English at CCRI, has made being a cheerleader for the virtues of this state – and its character – somewhat of a second job.

With her latest book, "Rhode Island for the Native & the Naïve," Humble aims to reveal that character to readers through colorful entertainment. Full of crossword puzzles, word jumbles, cryptograms and other fun and functional ways to pass the time, it is the first project that combines book and game format.

Humble, who has taught at the college for 45 years, has developed seven books and four games about Rhode Island. The topics in her new book range from the history of the state's 18 armories ("The Historic Armories of Rhode Island," her first book) to a compilation of parodies of classic songs served up with a Rhode Island twist (last year's "Sing Rhode Island"). The factor that unites all of the efforts is a love and appreciation for her home state, because of – rather than despite – its quirks.

She penned "The RIght to Crow: A Look at Rhode Island's Firsts, Bests & Uniques" as a kind of informational ode. A technical writer and educator, Humble had experience writing her own textbooks for classes, which she said always seemed to resonate with the students. "Crow," which sold 20,000 copies out of the gate and still sells in good numbers in Benny's and other local bookstores each year, served a similar function for the public on Rhode Island's Independence Day in 2005, when Humble was asked to speak at the State House.

"I'm not a historian, but I thought I would talk about what Rhode Island has become since its independence," she said. "It went over so well that I had to stand up three different times at the end. The audience really liked the positive aspect of it. Sometimes, we get beaten down here. Governor Carcieri asked me to do something more with the speech because people really enjoyed that positivity." Her speech became the basis of "Crow."

Since then, she has branched into games: "I'm a teacher, and I think games are a wonderful way to get Rhode Island out there," she said, noting that some of the games also double as memory exercises and icebreakers at social gatherings.

While Humble has relied on a portion of the income from the books and games to supplement her primary work, she always has donated a large share of the proceeds to the Westerly Armory, which figured large in her upbringing. "I made a promise to the building that I'd restore it," she said of returning to the site where she'd spent time in her youth, years later finding it in disrepair. "So we've done that."

With "Native & Naïve," Humble will continue to help fund the Westerly Armory's preservation and programming efforts while trying out a new format. The pages are meant to be scribbled on, giving gamers and puzzlers a local option to edge out the average puzzle book. "The first half is for the naïve, and the second half is for those who know a little more. All the answers are in the back. It's fun," she said.

Humble does all her own marketing, publishing and relationship-building with vendors. However, despite the small size of her operation, she's made quite a name for herself: Benny's ordered a million copies of "Native & Naïve" (and, all told, likely that many of the rest of her publications, she said).

The book was released in November and is available at the CCRI bookstore, Benny's, Twice-Told Tales in Pawtuxet Village in Cranston, Books on the Square on the East Side of Providence, Only in Rhode Island and other local booksellers as well as online. 

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