Mark Baumer, award-winning poet, committed activist, devoted family member, and compassionate friend to so many, was killed in Fort Walton County, Florida after being hit by an SUV on Saturday, January 21. He was in the midst of a cross-country journey—the second he’d undertaken in his young life, this time to raise awareness about climate change, while simultaneously raising funds in support of FANG, a nonprofit organization and activist group in Providence, Rhode Island that he was a member of.
Baumer was 33.
Baumer had just chronicled his 100th day on the road through various media platforms—as he had since he commenced his walk in early October—before being tragically struck by an SUV that veered onto the shoulder of Highway 90 where he was legally walking. He was wearing a fluorescent vest. Police indicate that charges will be filed against the driver.
From an early age, passion fueled whatever Baumer was involved in. Baseball became an early outlet. From Little League, all the way up through Division III baseball with Wheaton College (Massachusetts), he excelled. His junior year at Wheaton, he was named First Team All-New England as a DH/1B, leading the Lyons in home runs, RBIs, while batting over .350.
After playing his final game for the Lyons in 2006, which happened to be the championship game at that year’s Division III College World Series, he walked out of Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisconsin, and never played another inning of organized baseball.
Instead, he brought the same drive, work ethic, and enthusiasm he had for baseball into writing, performance art, and later, direct activism. In 2009, after living in Los Angeles, California for two years, he returned to his native New England, after being accepted into Brown University’s Master’s of Fine Arts Program in Literary Arts. This was a life-changing event for Baumer that is now clear to see in retrospect. It was at Brown that he began honing his literary skills, while coalescing many diverse and disparate interests that included writing and poetry, video-making, performance art, and what some defined as zaniness, or just plain “weirdness” (like when he ate pizza every day for three months).
In 2010, during the summer heading into the second year of his graduate program at Brown, he decided to walk across America for the first time. He had actually hitchhiked cross-country upon graduating from Wheaton with a high school friend, in 2006.
Baumer was captivated by the road and the challenge of covering wide swaths of the country on his own two feet. His first cross-country walk, which spanned from the east coast of Georgia, to California’s Santa Monica Beach was accomplished in 81 days. He chronicled the trip in a self-published book that he released just prior to the most recent walk, “I am a Road.”
Friends, co-workers, former faculty, and members of the greater Providence community paint a portrait of a young man who cared deeply about people, the planet, and social justice issues.
Baumer was actually born a Hoosier, in Hammond, Indiana. His father had moved the young family west in an ill-fated foray into fundamentalist Christianity, and to attend Bible college. Later, the family returned to their Maine roots, settling in Durham. Baumer would eventually attend Greely High School in Cumberland. He was an honor roll student and excelled at baseball and hockey.
At Wheaton, while plying his talents on the diamond, some saw a glimpse of what might be in store for him post-baseball. An English class with Professor Charlotte Meehan lit a spark and piqued an interest in Baumer that would continue to be fanned by various adventures and eventually coalesce during his two years of graduate work in Brown’s Literary Arts Program in Literary Arts.
In 2012, Baumer began working at Brown’s Rockefeller Library, as a web content specialist. Later, he was part of a labor negotiation team as a shop steward with the library workers’ union, United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island. They lobbied for and were successful in negotiating a new contract with the university in 2015.
Also that same year, he embarked on a project to write 50 books in a year. This is what Baumer wrote
In 2012, I asked the internet for $50,000 so I could write fifty books. The internet didn’t give me any money. I ended up writing the fifty books anyway. I published them all on amazon. The first one was published on June 3, 2012 and the last one was published in December 10, 2012.
Baumer won the Quarterly West Novella Contest for his work, Holiday Meat and later in 2015, another poetry award, this from Black Warrior Review for his poem, “b careful.” They had this to say about Baumer’s selection and poem.
“Here we find a sequence of good and bad and bright ideas from the mind of a poet who grins ‘It feels illegal to write the way I write sometimes.’ This poem is the brash and unnervingly unpredictable person with whom you very much hope to spend a whole party. Reading it, I filled up with glee and anticipation for what would come next, or, to put it in the words of Eliza Doolittle, ‘I could have danced all night and still have begged for more.’”
In 2016, Baumer received a poetry fellowship from the Rhode Island State Council. The fellowship allowed him to ask for (and be granted) an unpaid leave in order to hit the road barefoot, to walk across America to raise awareness about climate change.
While on his journey across America, he continued paying his mortgage and bills related to being a homeowner in Providence. He’d chat with best friend and housemate, William, about mail, determining which items required his attention.
There are countless Mark-isms that could be culled from his prodigious online content, but this might sum up his life and pursuits as well as any.
“It’s amazing how often we all forget this is the only opportunity we are ever going to have to live this life.”
He seized that opportunity and maximized his all-too-short time on this earth.
He is survived by his parents, Jim and Mary Baumer of Brunswick, Maine; a maternal grandmother, Joan Tarazewich of Topsham, Maine; fraternal grandparents, Herman and Helen Baumer of Lisbon Falls, Maine; Aunts, Suzanne Marshall and her husband Mike of Bryant Pond, Maine, Dianne Tarazewicz of Sabattus, Maine, Julie-Ann Baumer of Lisbon Falls, Maine; Cousins who were as close as siblings, Joann Bisson and her husband J.T., of Portland, Maine, Aja Darak and her husband Nick, and grandniece Willa of Topsham, Maine, Andrew Higgins and his partner, Karyn Reidman, of Durham, Maine. He was predeceased by a maternal grandfather Joe Tarazewich; and Uncle, Peter Tarazewich.
There will be a celebration of Baumer’s life in Providence on Saturday, February 4 at 2:00 p.m., at Granoff Center, on the Brown University campus.
Those planning an expression of sympathy are asked to consider donations in his memory to the following:
The Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund will keep Mark’s spirit live. You’ll also help cultivate traits that were part of Mark’s philosophy of life—love, kindness, and taking a direct role in building a better world.
Checks can be made out to The Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund and mailed to:
PO Box 10602
Portland Me 04104
The FANG Collective, building, supporting, and escalating nonviolent resistance to the natural gas industry, while supporting other movements for justice.