On Writing, Fishing, and Failing: Alumni Spotlight with Taylor Rebhan (’14)

What do you do now? And we’d love to hear a bit about how you got there as well.

My day job is writing advertising, marketing, and brand copy as a Senior Writer at REI Co-op. By moonlight, I write creative non-fiction with the hope of publishing a book of humorist essays.

I graduated from Hope with an English Major, Creative Writing Emphasis, and a Communications Minor. After graduation, I found a paid internship program for college graduates at a Detroit-based advertising agency. I applied to be a writer, but it was the social media team who hired me. My boss later told me, “I looked at your resume and saw something called the Mellon Scholars. I thought, ‘I don’t know what that is, but it sounds like we can trust her with the password to the Cadillac Twitter account.’” 

How did your Hope English education shape you?

How didn’t it! I think about it often. Three aspects continue to rise to the top.

Faculty: Drs. Pablo Peschiera and Natalie Dykstra changed my life. I was blessed not only to be their student but also to have apprenticeships, so to speak, as a Teaching Assistant and through research projects and jobs on campus. The ability to have such deep ties and access to their wisdom was incredibly formative.

Method: Whether it was practicing our critique technique in Ceramics with the late, great Billy Mayer or having a heated discussion about whether we can truly know ourselves in Stephen Maiullo’s classical lit class, how to have open, honest, and respectful dialogue is the bedrock of a Hope education. It’s a skill that has paid true dividends over the course of my life in all aspects, from career to personal life.

Values: The faith-centered education at Hope gives you the tools to seek, develop, and nurture your personal values. It is vital to move through the world with an anchor. Hope helps you form yours. It asks, what do you hold dear? What do you consider to be moral, just, ethical? What would you do if you were faced with a challenge to your deepest beliefs? We wrestle with these questions our entire lives. Hope is a unique place in that it fosters curiosity, courage, and compassion as you seek the answers. That sticks with you long after graduation day.

What advice would you give to current English majors or students considering an English major?

Don’t be afraid of AI. Learn it. Use it. Think of the ways we can make sure we don’t abuse it. It might be intimidating to major in something the world says will be obsolete. Don’t let it scare you away. We need you now more than ever.

AI will never replace the beautiful, 100% certified organic neural network in that noggin of yours.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

These days I always have one book on hand and one book in-ear. “On-hand” is a physical book I grab when I have a minute to sit down and get lost. Right now that’s George Saunders’ A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. I love to read books about writing. I love Russian lit. It’s a win-win.

“In-ear” is an audiobook I listen to when I’m walking the dogs, rucking, running errands, or cooking. I’m on an insatiable Andy Weir kick right now. I started with Project Hail Mary, and I can’t stop. 

What’s the worst advice you’ve been given?

At some point, the idea was put in my head that you must be good at something for it to be worth doing. And that’s rotten advice. I’m glad I discovered it’s not true.

First, no one starts off good at anything. Failure is a necessary predecessor to success. But even then, being good at something isn’t the point. It’s the doing at all.

Last summer, I started fishing as a hobby. There’s a lot of stabbing myself with hooks and getting line caught in trees and knots breaking at the worst possible moment. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m not crushing any state-record monster bass, just embracing looking foolish in the pursuit of happiness. 

It’s humbling and wonderful to enjoy something and not be good at it. Claw away at that song on the banjo. Take as long as you need to run that mile. Reel in that average-sized fish. You don’t have to be good at something for it to be good for you.

If you could start a nonprofit, who would it help?

My dream is to retire young and run a nonprofit that trains and places service dogs with American veterans at no cost to them or their families.

What’s something that has surprised you since graduation?

How many people don’t know how to write clearly, even graduates from copywriting programs at state university advertising schools. It is a precious and valuable skill. 

English and More: Double Majors in the Department

Wondering what a double major with English looks like? Unsure of which majors can be paired with English? Seniors Carole Chee, Will Vance, and Piper Daleiden give us a glimpse into their experiences as double majors and offer insight into how an English major can complement other areas of study.

Carole Chee (’24): English and Women’s & Gender Studies

My name is Carole Chee, my pronouns are she/her/hers, and I am a double major in English Literature and Women’s & Gender Studies (WGS). The incredible opportunity to study under both these departments arose, in large part, from areas of privilege that I am extremely grateful for and keenly aware of.

The ability to carry over AP and dual enrollment credit from high school, paired with the flexibility of a liberal arts education, created room in my four-year plan for me to focus on the courses that I was interested in. It was a mix of this freedom, my breadth of interests, and indecision that led to my double major, and I am forever thankful!

As a Third Culture Kid (TCK) who grew up in Malaysia, a country rich in cultural and religious diversity, I’ve been constantly surrounded by and in pursuit of new perspectives that can widen my worldview. The power of stories to uplift those perspectives—especially marginalized and otherwise silenced voices—has been a main focus in both my English and WGS courses. From analyzing the gendered aspects of characterization in literary works to discussing the necessity of intersectional and ground-up liberation in publishing industries, each semester has further shown me how inherently connected my majors truly are. I once read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman twice within the span of a few weeks—for an English course and then my WGS keystone.

Pursuing a double major is not for the faint of heart (and, as I noted earlier, can be quite inaccessible) but is incredibly worth it. I’ve honed invaluable skills in managing diverse curricula, forging interdisciplinary connections, and embracing multiple perspectives. These experiences have equipped me with the ability to juggle schedules effectively, prioritize empathy, and foster intersectional communities—a toolkit I eagerly anticipate applying in my post-Hope life.

Upon graduation, I plan to utilize my double major experience in the field of librarianship! I’m especially interested in creating access to resources and exploring how structures of power impact the way we categorize knowledge. The privilege to leverage my diversified education in creating empowerment is certainly not one I take lightly, and I know I’m well-equipped to do so because of my double major.

Will Vance (’24): English and Physics

Hello all! I’m Will Vance, a senior English literature and physics double major from Westfield, Indiana. Double majoring has been an interesting experience for me, in part because I wasn’t planning on majoring in English when I entered college. I had weighed what my interests were and picked what was likely to pay the best, but English ended up coming back around. I took several English classes for General Education requirements and decided to add English as a minor somewhere around the start of Junior year.

So, funnily enough, I’ve only formally been a double major for a little over a year. I think, ultimately, I couldn’t stay away from English because it gets closer to what I really love.

My favorite genre has always been fantasy; I’ve always been drawn to magic. And, as the saying goes, “sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.” The draw to physics, in my mind, is that many areas of it feel like magic. My chief area of interest is astrophysics—how can exploring the stars not spark a sense of wonder, a sense of magic? The limitation being, of course, that doing so involves crunching numbers rather than reading fantastical stories.

Once I was back in the world of English, I found myself extra aware of frequent failings in the physics realm. Primarily, I became quite aware of difficulties in communication. Expert-to-expert communication within physics is handled just fine since both parties are privy to jargon and the science involved. When it comes to making research posters, however, I’ve definitely become aware of how language is not universal. Ideas within the research group that have acquired a one-word shorthand are actually concepts which even your average physics student would not be aware of. Communicating the story of one’s research in a way that is both coherent and technically detailed is a far more challenging task than I think many in the sciences give it credit for.

Outside this personal experience of overlap, I think the funnier experience from being a science and English double major is that no one expects it. Just about every time I’ve told someone my majors, I get the same, surprised, “Huh. What are you going to do with that?” There are, of course, the practical answers—I could be a technical writer, or any number of positions that primarily uses one of those degrees. There is an obvious need to correct the idea that English is relegated just to the classroom and publishing houses, but I think the other underlying implication is that physics and English are radically different. And while in form and content, yes, they certainly are, to me the central appeals aren’t so different. Dive deep enough into either subject, and they’re asking the same question—why? There is a reason that the moon, sun, and stars feature so heavily in poetry as well as physics. Look at them the right way, and I think it is hard not to feel the wonder of being alive.

Piper Daleiden (’24): English and Psychology

Hi! My name is Piper Daleiden, and I’m a senior double major in English literature and psychology from Milan, Michigan. I also have the privilege to be the Student Managing Editor for the English Department’s blog. When I started college, I didn’t quite know what to study. While I loved my English classes in high school, I thought that I needed to choose a future career and then determine my major from there. As I took some classes during freshman year to fulfill the General Education requirements, I started to see that my favorite courses were the ones that involved reading and writing.

I also found psychology to be fascinating and very relevant to working with others in daily life. My mindset shifted, and I recognized that I could pick majors that would make me most excited about learning. I ultimately decided to declare English and psychology as my majors, trusting that my academic interests would open opportunities to a variety of future careers when the time came.

When I declared my majors, I didn’t consider how they might interact. In fact, I expected them to remain very distinct from each other. I would learn about people and relationships, take exams, and do research in psychology, and I would read about fictional and historical events and write essays in my English courses. I’m happy to say that this separation has not been the case. My psychology courses are heavily rooted in reading and writing, and while psychology papers are certainly different than papers for English classes, I’ve been able to apply the analytical and organizational writing skills that I’ve gained from my English major. For example, when I was doing psychology research, the other students in my lab often asked me to proofread and revise parts of our paper and poster because they knew that my English major had prepared me with these skills.

English classes haven’t just supported me for my psychology major; psychology has also made its way into my work for my English major. When I tell people my majors, they often respond with a joke about how I’ll be able to psychoanalyze characters, and while this wasn’t my intention when declaring my majors, I’ve certainly seen this play out. During one semester, I was simultaneously taking Social Psychology and British Literature. In lecture, my psychology professor taught us about benevolent sexism. A few days later, as I was reading a piece for my English class, I realized that the characters in the piece were demonstrating benevolent sexism, and I incorporated my new psychology knowledge into a writing assignment for this English class. Small moments like these remind me that studying English has allowed me to develop a variety of skills, from analyzing writing to drawing deep connections, which will enhance my learning and work in other subject areas and wherever I go after graduation.

On Love, Life, and Not Asking the Important Questions: Visiting Writers S.A. Cosby and James Fujinami Moore

Written by Abi Rhee-Vanderwall, Hope College Creative Writing and Communications major

On Wednesday, March 20th, students and faculty at Hope College gathered for the newest installment of the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series. Margaret Voetberg commenced our night, welcoming the brilliant southern noir author S.A. Cosby and the profound, sensual poet James Fujinami Moore. 

Rebekah Cook had the honor to introduce James Fujinami Moore, stating in her introductory speech that “Moore’s poetry doesn’t shy away from the indecent.” As Moore took the stage, we’d soon see what Rebekah meant. 

Moore read seven pieces of poetry, most of which came from his debut collection Indecent Hours. His poems had a variety of subject matters, ranging from sex, to mourning, to his experiences as an Asian American. One thing stayed constant throughout Moore’s works: the sincerity and rawness behind every word.

In his poemNotes on The New Year,” Moore says, “The dead come back to us like rain.” The gentle nature of this line contrasts the sharp, almost dangerous nature of a poem circulating gun violence and Asian hate. Seeing this, there is a careful way he goes about crafting his words, one that deeply resonates with the readers while still staying true to the uniqueness of his world.

Moore continued to share pieces of himself with the audience, stating, “I believe that your writing can reveal more about you than you might want it to.” When reading his work, you can see how Moore might feel this way, especially in poems like “Third Date” and “If I Should Die Eaten by A Pomeranian.”

After Moore completed his reading, Ali Wintermute graced the stage to introduce S.A. Cosby. He appeared unassuming in a black baseball cap, and yet only S.A. Cosby could describe blood as “rose colored calligraphy.” As he took the floor to read from his novels All Sinners Bleed and Razorblade Tears, S.A. Cosby introduced us to a world in the south that only he could share.

He started off his time with us by reading from All Sinners Bleed, a story that follows former football star turned police chief Titus Crown as he battles with secrets in his town that threaten to break out. After a schoolteacher is killed in a shooting and the shooter is killed by Titus’ deputies, he discovers that things run far deeper than he once thought.

After reading the prologue and first chapter, it was evident that Cosby has an innate ability to craft deep, webbing stories that are able to capture the readers on every page. Despite the overall thematic scheme of violence, Cosby’s work is nothing short of beautiful. In a quote from chapter one, Cosby describes the residual mourning of one of his characters, saying that the memories of a lost loved one “wrung heartache from him like water from a washcloth.” It’s notions like this that remind the audience of the true passion and realness behind Cosby’s writing. He speaks truthfully from his soul and remains dedicated to crafting a story that not only suits the needs of his readers but quells a type of pain in them as well. 

After Cosby finished reading from his pieces, Moore joined him on stage to answer questions from a waiting audience. One member asked the authors about the challenge of addressing violence in their work. “All violence is a confession of pain. I believe that almost all violence—the violence I write about—is consequential,” answered Cosby. In another question regarding the topics of their work, the authors were asked what questions they address in their pieces. Moore answered, “I think it’s important to ask the questions you don’t necessarily need the answers to. It can guide you to the principles you’re actually looking for.” We closed the night with the opportunity to buy books and meet the writers. Overall, themes of every kind were addressed, and many members left this installment deeply moved. How honored we are to have closed this season out with these wonderful men, and how grateful we all should be to have writers like them to answer the important questions we don’t ask but desperately need. 

Changing Environments, Changing Identities: Tsering Yangzom Lama and Shane McCrae

Written by Madeline Chrome ‘26

On Tuesday, February 20th, a crowd of Hope College students and faculty gathered in the dimly lit Schaap Auditorium to hear authors Tsering Yangzom Lama and Shane McCrae share their work at the latest installment of the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series. As 7 o’clock drew nearer, the chattering of the audience fell to anticipatory whispers, laptops opened for notetaking, and faces angled up toward the stage. 

After a lovely and thorough introduction, Lama ascended the stairs and took her place behind a podium in the center of the stage. She opened her novel, We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies, and shared that she would read first from the beginning of the novel and then briefly from the middle. And read she did. The audience’s attention mirrored the placement of the auditorium’s spotlight: solely focused on the woman weaving a story in front of them. The scene Lama painted took place on the Nepal-Tibet border in the mid-1800s during the infamous war that cost the Tibetan people their country. Though no spoilers are allowed, I can share that the scene and novel as a whole addressed the unique history, culture, and identity of the Tibetan people. Lama’s soft and rhythmic voice held the audience captive as she drew us further and further into a world of changing environments and identities. 

After her reading, Lama responded to several questions about her novel and her process for writing it. During this part of the event, the audience learned about Lama’s own experiences with her Tibetan identity and heritage and how this influenced her writing this novel. I think I can speak for a great portion of the audience when I say that Lama left us all wanting to learn more about Tibet and its people, as well as our own cultural identities. 

Author and poet McCrae soon replaced Lama behind the podium. He first read from his memoir, Pulling the Chariot of the Sun, which he deemed—with good reason! —a resurrection story of his own. Written in lyrical prose, the snapshot McCrae shared from his memoir was that of his kidnappers’—otherwise known as his grandparents’—home. Questions of memory and identity circled around the auditorium as we listened to McCrae share his first piece.

Following this reading, McCrae gave a reading of several of his poems and shared with the audience each of their inspirations. Every poem varied in length and energy, but they were all connected by the heart of the poet who had written them. Often prompted by his reaction to current events on the news, McCrae’s poems were powerful reflections on America and the challenges each of its citizens face. McCrae’s writing style and perspective were unique, and his humor—sometimes lighthearted and other times dry—delighted the audience. I believe he gave everyone in the audience something to reflect on as they returned home.

This passionate night of poetry and prose alike moved the audience and inspired questions of identity, culture, and history that transcend all measures. Hope College thanks esteemed authors Tsering Yangzom Lama and Shane McCrae for giving us another powerful addition of the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series.

New Faculty Spotlight: Professor Liddell

Interview conducted by Piper Daleiden, Hope College English and Psychology Major, Student Managing Editor for the English Department

What class(es) are you teaching this year?
ENGL 113 — Expository Writing (Course theme: “Coming of Age”
ENGL 110+210 — Unauthorized Migration in Contemporary World Literature (Fall)
ENGL 110 — From There, From Here: Modern Arab Diaspora Literature (Spring)

What do you love about teaching?|
I love encouraging students to follow their academic curiosities and creative instincts. I also love when students make intriguing observations about literary texts that haven’t occurred to me before (it happens all the time!).

 A person standing on a railing with a body of water in the background

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Where is your favorite place to travel?
Over the years, I have spent a good amount of time in the Arab world (Palestine, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon), and I go back regularly to visit friends, conduct research, and practice my Arabic. But so far, my favorite country in the world to visit has been Mexico—friendly people, amazing food, sunshine, nightlife, and a beautiful blend of cultures.

If you could teach any class, what would it be?
I would love to teach Arabic language classes here at Hope!

What’s one book you think every student should read?

The Grapes of Wrath. (Think about it in the context of present-day issues of migration in North America and around the world.)

What are your favorite hobbies?
Making music with friends (guitar, ukulele, voice, a little piano), enjoying the outdoors, learning languages.

Yes, And!: How Hope English Builds Friendships That Last a Lifetime

Hannah Jones ’21 and Aine O’Connor ’20 first met as teaching assistants for Natalie Dykstra’s English 113 class in the fall of 2018. They quickly became close friends, and that friendship transcended far beyond their respective English 113 classrooms: they traveled to Paris, became roommates, and took as many English classes together as possible. Both would go on to get degrees in library and information science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and work as librarians, Hannah at the University of Minnesota Duluth and Aine at South Dakota State University. Here they share a few lessons their English major taught them—and how it’s helped them stay close post-Hope.

Maybe it’s because we technically met as co-workers, but we’ve always enjoyed working and writing together. Over the years, we’ve been blessed to have many opportunities to share projects and ideas with one another, all of which stem from our time at Hope in the English department. We wanted to take the opportunity with this blog to lay out a few life lessons Hope English taught us and to share our gratitude for how the department shaped our friendship then and continues to shape us now.

The authors in front of their Hope cottage, April 2020.

Lesson 1: Learn how to agree and disagree well. Good discussions about literature teach you very quickly that consensus on every issue is impossible, and at the same time, consensus on certain issues is critical. While we share many values and opinions—and continue to influence one another—there are also things we disagree about. Too often, we see friendships, whether in real life or in literature/media, end over a difference of opinion, and we feel lucky that we have a foundation of knowing how to disagree about a book to fall back on. That’s not to say that all differences in values can (or should) always be worked through, but that it’s important to decide on the issues that truly matter and learn how to disagree well on the issues that don’t. If one of the great benefits of reading is to see those different from us as fully human and as equally complex as we view ourselves, that fact must carry into how we discuss what we read (and beyond), and Hope’s English department offered us a safe environment in which we could practice the skill of disagreement.

Lesson 2: Learning isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a solely serious endeavor. From the first class we took together (Professor Salah’s wonderful Jane Austen and Popular Culture class) to the last (Professor Gruenler’s terrific Tolkien class), we were known to break down laughing, sometimes at inopportune moments. Whether we were encountering Austen’s unfinished short stories or Norse dwarf names—which included Tubby, Swig, and Great-Grandpa, among other gems—we couldn’t always treat even great literature with utter seriousness. Fortunately, with our professors, laughter and levity could lead to richer, more interesting conversations and creative analysis, especially when studying an author as humorous as Austen. As librarians, we embrace humor and laughter in our teaching sessions and our meetings with students, because we know there is tremendous value in approaching learning with joy alongside gravity, especially when that joy can foster better connections with colleagues and peers.

The Norse dwarf names immortalized on Hannah’s wall (gifted by Aine).

Lesson 3: There is more. We designated the ampersand (&) as the symbol for our friendship (one of us is ready to get it tattooed; one of us is a scaredy-cat). Why? Partially an inside joke from a transcription project we completed together, the ampersand also reflects the bedrock of our friendship: “Yes, and!” We said “yes” to working together as TAs, then to traveling and researching together in Paris, then to becoming roommates, and then to attending grad school together, where our graduate assistantships enabled us to continue working together as we began establishing our careers. We got so lucky almost six years ago when Professor Dykstra asked us to collaborate as TAs, but that luck could only have happened because the English department supported undergraduates stepping into leadership positions and celebrated creative approaches to teaching and learning. Our experiences at Hope, and the English department in particular, helped convince us that our voices and lived experiences mattered, that our contributions to scholarly conversations were valuable. Because of that support, we continue to say “Yes, and!” in our friendship as well as our scholarly pursuits. 

Both of us are forever grateful and would be thrilled to talk with any current or future Hope student about the value of the English department and/or about librarianship. 

Oh, and one last lesson—if the English department gives you the opportunity to go to Paris, DEFINITELY go to Paris. We miss you, Hope English!

The authors in the forests of Illinois, October 2022.

Where in the World Can Your English Degree Take You? Alumni Spotlight with Natalie Weg (’20)

Interview conducted by Piper Daleiden, Hope College English and Psychology Major, Student Managing Editor for the English Department

What do you do now? And we’d love to hear a bit about how you got there as well.

I recently started a new position working for the American Red Cross at their SAF (Service to the Armed Forces) chapter in Landstuhl, Germany. Our mission is to provide support and resources to the military community in this area through resiliency events, volunteer opportunities, and disaster prevention training. My journey has been a bit all over the place! Immediately after graduation, I worked for the Hope Admissions Office, attending college fairs, reaching out to prospective students, and helping organize on-campus events. I worked with the wonderful admissions team until the start of my Fulbright grant in January 2022. I absolutely loved living and working in Korea as an English Teaching Assistant, and I always recommend that people should visit Korea to see how amazing it is. After finishing my grant, I moved to Germany to live with my parents while I figured out my next steps. Finding a job overseas can be a long process, so stick with it! In order to maintain the ability to work and live in the country, I worked at Subway inside of a bowling center located on a US military installation (you can’t make that up!) until I received my current position. I am honored to be a part of the Red Cross and work alongside the military, especially having grown up as an Army Brat.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

My English courses were some of my favorite classes I took at Hope. I frequently reference topics I learned about in class or papers I wrote to explore subjects that interest me. You realize how applicable literary themes can be throughout your daily life, especially during Trivia! I cannot count how many times I’ve mentioned Shakespearean themes or the lives of the Beatniks in casual conversations.

Natalie Weg, ’20

My Hope English education refined many of my written and oral communication skills that I use on a day-to-day basis, especially since my previous and current positions rely heavily on these types of interactions. The professors are so good about checking in and maintaining relationships even after graduation, so you know you always have support from the Hope family.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

I just finished reading Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. I loved the attention to detail the author uses, tying in social commentary while tackling overarching themes of love and loss. Although I have very little interest in video games, I wasn’t lost in the tech lingo or concept of game creation, so don’t let that deter you if that’s also not your forte. And if you pay attention, the title is a sneaky little Macbeth quote that ties in well to the overall message.

What was your most memorable vacation?

I’ve had so many good vacations that it’s hard to pick one! I just got back from a trip to Madrid, Bilbao (Spain) and Porto (Portugal). I did the first few days as a solo trip exploring Madrid with some people I met in my hostel. I then met up with a friend I have kept in contact with since my study abroad at Hope, and she showed me around Bilbao. Finally, I met up with my group of friends I have here in Germany, and we explored Porto together for several days before going back home. The sunshine and slightly warmer weather were a huge welcome since Germany can be a bit cold and cloudy during this time of year.

What do you now wish you had learned or done in college?

I wish I had been more consistent with language learning. I would have taken as many intro language classes I could fit in! I also would have been more intentional with the languages I started to learn. If I had consistently practiced since the end of college, even just a few minutes a day, it would’ve made my life much easier, especially now that I live overseas. Keep that Duolingo streak!

Rooted in Family, Rooted in History: Big Read Author Conversation with Yaa Gyasi  

Written by Piper Daleiden, Hope College English and Psychology Major, Student Managing Editor for the English Department

Two chairs sat in the middle of the stage in the Jack Miller concert hall. In between them was a small table, upon which rested a simple lamp and a novel: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This setup, although dwarfed by the concert hall, was the focus of every member of the audience as Gyasi and Dr. Ernest Cole, the chair of the English department, took their seats for the Big Read author conversation.

Homegoing, published in 2016, was Gyasi’s debut novel and is the Big Read Lakeshore 2023 book. It follows the descendants of two half-sisters from Ghana who were torn apart. One sister was married to an Englishman, while the other was imprisoned and shipped into slavery in America. As the novel tracks many generations of these sisters’ descendants, readers are confronted by the serious implications of slavery and generational trauma.

To open the event, Dr. Cole asked Gyasi about the inspiration behind her novel. Gyasi answered that the book’s origins are tied to her personal history. Born in Ghana, Gyasi and her family moved to America when she was very young, and they lived in many different states while she was growing up. This frequent relocation left her with a sense of multiple identities, as well as a feeling of rootlessness. Having only been raised with her immediate family, she questioned what it would mean to be part of a bigger family. Her curiosity regarding displacement and a desire to construct a family with deep roots were some of the driving forces behind Homegoing.

Dr. Cole then brought up the significance of the title, explaining that “homegoing” is often used in the context of funerals for enslaved people. Gyasi confirmed that this meaning was the source of her title and added that “homegoing” specifically refers to the idea that the spirits of enslaved people can return to Africa after their death, regardless of where they spent their lives. “No matter where you go, there’s a place for your spirit to return,” Gyasi articulated. She chose this title because her characters, although they follow different paths in life, share their roots and a place where their souls can return. They remain connected, despite being separated for many generations.

Gyasi also spoke on the theme of generational trauma in Homegoing. When beginning to write the novel, she was interested in the connection between slavery and colonialism. Even though the sisters are not enslaved in the same way, both paths have lingering costs for the family. Gyasi wanted to look at how the descendants might continue to make a life, despite facing the trauma of many past generations. To convey this, Gyasi wanted everything in the novel to build on itself at a fast pace. She focused on this as she revised, cutting sections of her work that did not push the tension forward. As a result, her characters carry “invisible inheritances that even they can’t articulate,” and readers watch as this generational trauma evolves with time.

To end the conversation, Gyasi offered practical advice to students studying creative writing. “You can never read enough,” she urged the audience, sharing that she found encouragement for her own writing from other books. For example, One Hundred Years of Solitude motivated her to write an intricate and expansive novel. Gyasi added: “Try as hard as you can to get to the end of the thing you’re working on.” Writing a complete piece can feel overwhelming, and Gyasi explained that many of her peers struggle to reach the end of their projects. However, the draft just needs to be finished, not perfect. Once you can see what the piece actually is, the real revision can begin.

As the event concluded, I was struck by the power of stories. Where else can you fully immerse yourself in another’s perspective and see the world as they do, even just for a brief amount of time? This is why engaging with stories such as Homegoing is truly a gift. Reading about others’ lived experiences can certainly be challenging and sometimes uncomfortable, but deep engagement with other perspectives can be a step towards empathy. To read is to open your eyes to the world around you, so as Gyasi said, “You can never read enough.”

Winners Announced for the Hope College Academy of American Poets Prize 2024

Congratulations to this year’s winners of the Hope College Academy of American Poets (AAP) Prize! First place was awarded to AnnaLeah Lacoss, and honorable mention to Elli DiLeonardi. Thank you to all who shared their creative work with us!

About the Prize

The Hope College Academy of American Poets (AAP) Prize award is funded by the University and College Poetry Prize program of the AAP. The academy began the program in 1955 at 10 schools, and now sponsors nearly 200 annual prizes for poetry at colleges and universities nationwide. Poets honored through the program have included Mark Doty, Louise Gluck, Joy Harjo, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Sylvia Plath, Gjertrud Schnackenberg, and Charles Wright. The winning poet receives $100 from the Academy of American Poets.

This year the judge was Amorak Huey. Huey is a poet and professor, a writer and sometime journalist, a decent dad and a mediocre slow-pitch softball player, an occasional essayist and co-founder of a small poetry press. He pronounces his first name uh-MOR-ack. He is author of four poetry collections, most recently Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy. He is also co-author, with W. Todd Kaneko, of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology.

He was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and grew up in a small town outside Birmingham, Alabama. He is now a professor of English at Bowling Green State University.  His poems appear in anthologies (such as The Best American Poetry 2012) and numerous print and online venues such as the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series. He received a Fellowship in Creative Writing from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2017. In March 2022, Amorak and Han VanderHart co-founded River River Books, which published its first poetry books in June 2023. Huey commented on the success and accomplishment of the work submitted for this year’s prize, writing “Thanks so much for the opportunity to spend time with these poems…. I enjoyed them all.”

1st Prize Winner: AnnaLeah LaCoss

“(keeping out the coyotes)”

The billboard said “create defensible space” and so I 
vowed to never rent (a storage unit) but the other night 
through a window I saw my friends lying on the road in
the rain convulsed with laughter the asphalt steaming the
pines nodding the turkeys (destined for death) concerned and 
clucking and the turkey pen (a quote unquote defensible 
space) keeping out the coyotes and the road keeping 
the cars in their assigned (defensible) lanes like 
parentheses keeping words unsullied and irrelevant and 
I sat inside watching through the window 
because I defend myself against the rain and roads and 
friendship and I laugh at people but never with them and this (poem) is 
a defensible space this (poem) is a window one side of which is dry one 
side of which touches the same air that touches a rainbow.

Amorak Huey wrote: “This poem is a tender meditation on friendship and boundaries: what do we keep out, what do we let in, how do we keep ourselves from harm while simultaneously existing in and engaging with the world? The landscape of this poem is at once familiar and surreal, drawing strange connections: turkey pen to highway lanes to parentheses — and it is precisely this strangeness that lifted this poem about the rest of the terrific poems in the packet of finalists. This poet knows the value of using language in surprising ways, of refusing to play it safe with syntax or sentence structure. What a pleasure it was to read.”

Honorable Mention: Ellie DiLeonardi

“Prayerful Elegy”

Dear God,
Can you put me
on with Gill,
please? Thank
Time is friction
and my legs are
parted, red-sea style.
Remember the mid-
night at summer
camp, you lit up
an apple, a pipe
bomb, and fooled Silas
behind the barn?
The girls whispered
about sex, real hushed
in the tent over, but
I swear I heard it.
The rumor—not
your barn sex,
I didn’t hear you
having barn sex,
though it makes you
credible as a mantis.
I’m seconds away
from faking
an orgasm.
You can laugh
your tinkling yellow-
laugh, smile that golden
bong smile,
but please,
I need you

to send me an orgasm.
You never faked
a thing in sixteen years.
Except, of course,
your happiness,
but that’s
Dear God,

Oh God,

Oh yeah,


Amorak Huey wrote: What a powerful elegy. This is a poem of mourning that does not reduce grief to a simple abstraction, a poem that is unabashed in its subject matter and unafraid to grieve openly. This poet moves between sex and death in its series of short, almost relentless lines that pull the reader’s eye down the page even as we’d like to linger in the more salacious moments — but then, that’s the point: we always wish we had more time for the good parts. Terrific poem. 

The Big Read Kickoff: Dr. Fred Johnson and Dr. Ernest Cole on Stories

By Natalie Glover, a Secondary English Education student and an intern for the Big Read

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore program is dedicated to spreading love and passion for reading in Ottawa, Allegan, and Muskegon counties. On Monday, Oct 30, the program had its kickoff event! Hope Professors Dr. Ernest Cole (English) and Dr. Fred Johnson (History) shared their ideas surrounding the importance of stories and how this topic relates to the Big Read Book, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The novel explores the complex topic of familial ties that span across countries, experiences, and generations. The kickoff event aimed to highlight the importance of engaging with difficult stories such as this one. 

Dr. Johnson’s lecture focused on the history of slavery and power in the United States. The talk emphasized that racism continues to persist, pointing to groups such as the KKK. Johnson stated, “Just because it’s homegrown, doesn’t mean it’s any less tyrannical.” By emphasizing the ever-present nature of racism, Dr. Johnson called attention to the importance of reading and listening to marginalized stories.

Dr. Johnson ended his talk by sharing his profound experience in Liberia, where he saw African people crying and saying that “one of the stolen ones has been returned to us.” He claimed that in that moment, three hundred years of separation closed, and he was able to fully understand the themes of Homegoing.

Dr. Cole’s lecture provided an additional perspective on these topics and emphasized both his connection to Africa and the importance of personal histories. Dr. Cole talked about the importance of his two historical and cultural identities: African and African American. He said, “I am my story. My story matters,” and went on to explain that to challenge his story is to “interrogate the legitimacy” of his existence.

Dr. Cole explored the concept of power and how our histories are inevitably missing certain stories because of those who were oppressed in the past. This is why stories like Homegoing are so vital – they give a voice to people who have historically been silenced. 

If you were at this event, it was impossible to ignore the weight of the speaker’s stories. The moments after the speaker’s sentences were often filled with the “mmms” and “ahhs” of understanding. Other times, the room was completely silent as people let the words seep into their hearts and souls. The event served as a reminder of the importance of literacy and led me to one vital conclusion: stories are vital to our existence. They allow us to look back, look forward, and fully absorb the present. The Big Read Program helps to spread this message and aims to show students and adults alike the importance of stories.