Hope College Academy of American Poets Prize 2018

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.

Judged by Lauren Haldeman

Lauren Haldeman

Lauren Haldeman is the author of the poetry collections Instead of Dying (winner of the 2017 Colorado Prize for Poetry), Calenday (Rescue Press, 2014) and The Eccentricity is Zero (Digraph Press, 2014). She works as a web developer, web designer and editor during the daytime. She received her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and has been a finalist for the Walt Whitman award and National Poetry Series. She is also a mom and makes paintings.

Lauren Haldeman writes: “I loved reading all of these! I am really impressed with this quality of the work — there is so much talent here! It was hard to choose, but these are the two I kept coming back to, over and over.”

Winner: Amber Carnahan’s “Rooted”

Amber Carnahan

Lauren Haldeman writes: “Immediately this poem had me off-balance, engaged, interested. Within the first two lines, we are already moving from the wild and natural place of “bones bury roots” to the domestic and enclosed space of “in the body of my bed”. This initial action promises more angles, pivots and fresh viewpoints to come. The form alone carries the poem into higher realms, with slashed punctuation acting as indicative lines breaks, visual structure and pauses within the spill of consciousness. There are fantastic emotive turns in this work, hinging on singular words, such as “admiring the life // sprouting through the cracks // I am cracked,” while images such as “a kaleidoscope of nameless gravestones” thrill visually. Meanwhile, the subtle use of alliteration throughout the work ballast the poem in sound. Most of all, I love that we travel so far from the initial scene — the bed — outward to an interstate, to a graveyard, to cracks in a windshield, only to arrive back, finally at the end, to a snooze button on an alarm. This last image is wonderful: it is poetic, it is silly and it is human.”

Rooted

bones bury roots // in the body of my bed // head a rock refusing // to be lifted or even turned to face the window // displaying life in action // like the fry cook on his way to work // tracing the path of red bricks // and admiring the life sprouting // through the cracks // I am cracked // but not a violent shatter // that hints at spontaneity // but like a chip in the glass // of your car windshield // that time never provided // a chance to heal // fractures spread // until I am encompassed // by a kaleidoscope of nameless gravestones // my identity faded // past recognition // past grief // glass fragments intermingle // with the roots in my bed // I think about rising // before shifting the tide // of stagnance // from the window’s disapproving view // and hitting snooze.

 

Honorable Mention: Safia Hattab’s “The Aftermath Sestina”

Safia Hattab

Lauren Haldeman writes: “A sestina is a difficult endeavor, and not often successful. Yet the struggle to write a sestina sometimes reveals treasures of innovation, and in this poem they appear with a wonderful subtlety: in surprises like the switch from “flown” to “flu” within two stanzas, or the change of “tear” from noun to verb. I also enjoyed the odd images and newly-seen objects, such as “sugared wool” and “petals bleeding pollen into soil” that arise out of the quiet storm of this work. This is a rich poem, a poem that twists into and inside of itself; this is a poem that takes on a life of its own, through the demands of a rigid form, through its insistence on returning over and over to an obsessive question of ingrown desires.”

The Aftermath Sestina

The first time she bled,
tiny roses erupting from pieces
of broken glass, she flew,
like mama told her, to her safe place,
where crystalline tears
on cherubed cheeks stayed buried

in five year-old minds, buried
behind dollhouses that bled
candy floss’d sunshine, sugared tears
leaking from pieces
of puffy treats placed
by the honeyed God flown.

The second time she flew
to where her pain was buried,
a lotus bloomed in place
of the home, petals bleeding
pollen into soil, pieces
of yellow dust like golden tears

in vibrant green. No one told her tears
could grow, and as she flew
years later, she found only pieces
of cotton-candied buildings buried
under golden grass, encased by ivy bled
from crystalled seeds; no longer the place

she could hide, or the place
where houses grew from inked tears,
black from all the times she bled
crooked trails of rust, flown
over the graves of buried
worlds left behind, pieces

broken but intact. When she returns, pieces
of nostalgia still visible, she will place
another dilapidated shack over buried
remains, plant it with the tears
of a more mature sadness, festering like flu
until allowed to bleed

in buried houses with fruitless pieces,
bleed through sacred places and rotted sweet,
tear into sugared wool flown over cuckoo’s nest.

Alumni Interview with Stephanie Mouw (Browne ’13)

Stephanie Mouw (Browne ’13)

What are you doing now?

I’m a writer/editor for Purdue University’s Marketing and Media department and work primarily on Admissions pieces, including anything from the university’s viewbook to visit day invitations. I also have the chance to work on ads, magazine stories, and a myriad of other projects for many Purdue colleges and offices.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

I double majored in English with a creative writing emphasis and communication. For my own personal interests and goals, there could not have been a more perfect blend of coursework and experiences. Both majors provided extensive opportunities for learning how to research, structure arguments, write well, and communicate with tact. These are skills I use every day in my work.

It was my English major that pushed me to think beyond the ordinary, to learn how to draw a reader in with fresh words and ideas. I read books that expanded my worldview. I learned how to productively offer feedback to others and, more importantly, handle critiques of my own work. I learned about patience for the process, grace when things aren’t happening the way you want them to, and discipline in showing up to practice each day.

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

Whether you are currently an English major or are thinking about it, ignore the cliché that an English major won’t get you anywhere, because it’s 100 percent false. I think every student should consider studying English because it teaches you to communicate effectively, respond thoughtfully, and see the world differently. You will have to work hard. You will not like every book assigned to you. But if you approach the work with an open mind and a willingness to be challenged, you’ll use the skills you acquired in your English classes every day — even if you don’t enter into an explicitly English-related career.

If you could teach any English class, what would be the title?

“Speechwriting 101.” It would cover all kinds of talks, from persuasive sales pitches to wedding toasts. We’d focus on the art of storytelling, hooking a listener from the first sentence, smooth transitions, and powerful conclusions.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

I took the “Advanced Fiction Workshop – Linked Stories” with Heather Sellers twice. One of my favorite books we read was Glen Rock Book of the Dead by Marion Winik, a collection of portraits of those who had somehow touched Winik’s life. It’s full of devastatingly beautiful observations, careful and intimate, no matter if she’s talking about her husband or her children’s dentist.

Recently, I read and loved The Windfall by Diksha Basu, a story about a middle-aged couple who come into a great amount of money and move from their humble housing complex to the ritzier part of New Delhi. It’s both hilarious and heartwarming, and Basu’s writing allowed me to encounter the foreign elements of Indian culture as well as the relatable themes of social status, making your loved ones proud, and the desire to belong.

 

Alumni Interview with Miriam Beyer ’98

What are you doing now?

Miriam Beyer ’98

I’m the Communications Director at The School at Columbia University, the K-8 school affiliated with and administered by Columbia. Half of our students are children of faculty and staff at the university, and half are from the neighboring public school districts, so we are a unique and wonderfully diverse community. I oversee all school communications, print and digital, and manage school events and site visits. I love my job.

Before starting at The School at Columbia, I had other positions within Columbia, including web editor at the Journalism School and communications manager at the School of the Arts. I’ve also worked in publishing, both trade and higher education, and entertainment law in New York.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

My Hope English education taught me to look for the big themes. When I face a complicated situation at work, I think: What is the larger issue at play here? What is the real worry prompting this reaction? What patterns are emerging, that I can recognize and try to understand, so my communications are effective? This inclination to look broadly, to look for underlying ideas and connections, is a direct result of my literature and English studies at Hope. It’s helped me a lot in my career. That, and the very practical writing, grammar, and editing skills I learned.

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

If you have the opportunity in your schedule to volunteer with a community reading program, serving children or adults (or both), do it. You, and the person you read with, will always look forward to it.

If you could teach any English class, what would be the title?

“Biographies, Beer, Beethoven (Not Necessarily in That Order).” Or, “Into the Sublime: The Joy of Copy Editing – Part I.” And then Part II. Part III …

Favorite book read recently or in college?

A few years after I moved to New York, I read Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, a biography of urban planner Robert Moses. The book needs no introduction from me; it is brilliantly researched and written. At more than 1,300 pages, I had to rip it in half so I could carry it on the subway without agony. I think about that book several times a week, still, as I travel throughout the city. Moses’ influence is everywhere, and it’s a testament to Caro’s writing that I continue to recall the book. One day I’d like to read his biographies of former president Lyndon B. Johnson too. My divine aunt, whom many know as Professor Verduin, gave me a meaty biography of Thoreau, by Laura Dassow Walls, for Christmas. My husband is from Boston and we regularly visit Massachusetts. I hope that, after reading it, I see and think about Thoreau there, the same ways I think about Moses in New York.

I also recently read Body of Water: A Sage, a Seeker, and the World’s Most Alluring Fish by fellow Hope alumnus Chris Dombrowski. It’s a beautiful meditation on place and passion, and it was great to reconnect with a classmate through his book. I highly recommend it.

One of the many reasons I love working at a school is that, at any moment, I can walk through the hallways and come across a student reading, or learning to read, or writing, or learning to write. It is eternally inspiring.

Registration? We’ve Got You Covered

Spring is coming and so is registration!  Below is a sampling of our upper-division courses for FALL 2018.   Please visit plus.hope.edu for a complete list –  we’d love for you to join us!

English 355: Intermediate Poetry, Tuesdays and Thursdays 12:00 – 1:20 p.m., Pablo Peschiera

Poetry, rap, music lyrics: when are they different? When are they the same? When do they work the same? When do they work differently? The study of structure and form in poetry can answer all these questions. We’ll talk about rhyme in rap, verses in song, and rhythm in poems. You’ll write in many different modes to build specific kinds of skills, and print a small collection of your work. We’ll have writers and song writers visit us in person and on video chat, and watch video about our fascinating subject. But mostly you’ll talk about each other’s work every day, and read poems, lyrics, and essays about poetry. Sharpen the pencils, my people!

English 358: Intermediate Creative Nonfiction, Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:30-2:50 p.m., Rhoda Burton

The memoirist is like a mountain-climber who, having made it all the way up through memorable terrain, pauses at the overlook. What does she see? Does her position from this new vantage point allow her a fresh understanding of the road she has traveled to get here?

If you think such a vantage point would indeed be fruitful, memoir is the class for you.

 The main idea of this workshop is to make the craft skills of memoir accessible through concrete practice. Therefore we’ll read and write a lot of memoir. Every week you can expect to workshop new material of your own, and to offer thoughtful feedback in response to materials submitted by your peers. Since 253 Multigenre Creative Writing is a prerequisite for this course, you’ve probably already learned some good solid feedback strategies that support, challenge, and encourage your peers. Those feedback strategies will be important in this class, too. At course’s end, you will turn in a final portfolio fronted by a reflective essay on how your writing has matured with the study of memoir.

 Our subject will be our own lives, since memoirists explore the experiences that have shaped their identities. We can’t change what we have lived, so plot, in a sense, is fixed. But we’ll discuss how everything else—tone, selection, dialogue, configuration, message, pacing­­—becomes a matter of craft that you can learn.

English 360: Modern English Grammar, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 1:00 – 1:50 p.m., Kathleen Verduin

Is it “lie” or “lay”? “Who” or “whom”? “I” or “me”? And when is a sentence not a sentence, and what is a dangling participle, and where (on earth) should you place commas? If you’ve ever been troubled by these questions, sign up for this course. We start simply, learning to identify the seven (some say eight) parts of speech, recognizing phrases and clauses, and yes—but fear not!—diagramming sentences. We go over the conventions of usage: affect vs. effect, amount vs. number, imply vs. infer, like vs. as, and a fearsome lineup of similarly daunting verbal mysteries. But (and yes, you can—indeed, you may—begin a sentence with this word!) we also look into the history of grammar, the invention of sentence diagrams, and the cultural questions surrounding the role of grammar in contemporary society: why does grammatical correctness matter (or does it?), who decides what’s “correct,” and why (for heaven’s sake) are grammarians so often represented as crabby old ladies? By the end of the semester, you will write with increased confidence, secure in the knowledge that your prose won’t be blotched with distracting and embarrassing errors. A great course for writers, future teachers, or anyone who just wants to look good in print. Lots of support, lots of exercises, lots of encouragement: if you take this course, you ain’t gonna be sorry.

English 371: American Writers in Paris, Wednesdays, 6:00-8:50 p.m., Natalie Dykstra

“Writing in Paris is one of the oldest American customs.” – Van Wyck Brooks

Paris has long held a fascination for American writers.  As the world’s cultural capital, the city has been the setting for self-discovery, cross-cultural contact, and artistic innovation for American writers ranging from Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century to Langston Hughes and Gertrude Stein in the 20th century.  This course is an exploration and discovery of American writers who found the city, in one way or another, a powerful source of inspiration.  We will read letters and documents, poetry and fiction of colonial Americans, 19th-century travelers, and 20th-century adventurers, all with an eye toward understanding how the Paris/America cultural exchange shaped American self-understanding and literary expression.  We will keep reading journals, as so many of our writers did while in Paris, and coursework will include two exams, a final research project, and Pecha Kucha class presentations.  For more information, please contact Prof. Dykstra at ndykstra@hope.edu and check out Paris Stories | Grand Challenges here!

English 373.01:  Jane Austen and Popular Culture, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 9:30 – 10:20 a.m., Christiana Salah

This course approaches Jane Austen as both a great literary writer and a cultural phenomenon.  Together, we will read several of Austen’s novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Emma.  We’ll analyze Austen’s writing in relation to the social conditions of early nineteenth-century Britain and examine her formative role in the development of the English novel. Beyond this, our investigations will tackle Austen’s continued presence in our lives through film, web serials, comics, commercial products, and fictional re-imaginings in an astonishing variety of genres.

English 373.02: Shakespeare’s Plays: Putting a Spotlight on Society’s Treatment of the “Other,” Mondays, 5:30-8:20 p.m., Marla Lunderberg

Many of Shakespeare’s plays explore what it means to be treated as an outsider. Studying these plays can guide us in questioning the justice of societies where women are treated as possessions, Jewish merchants are ridiculed, and military commanders are questioned because of the color of their skin. In this course, we will work our way together through several plays, reading and watching and studying and arguing about the meaning we find in them. We will examine both the historical and literary contexts of the plays, studying the plays as literature and as performance pieces, and assessing various critical approaches’ insights into the plays.

“To Reclaim Reading”: A Faculty Feature from Dana VanderLugt (’01)

Dana VanderLugt (’01) and her book-loving students

As an English teacher who races from my 8th grade classroom over to Hope to teach a late afternoon  composition class, I spend a lot of my time with young people in life’s messy middles: in the midst of adolescence, in the midst of the semester, in the midst of the academic year. When we’re swimming far from shore, it can be easy to lose sight of the mainland, to feel disoriented about what matters or where we’re heading.

Last semester, a quiet student, on her way out the door of our English 113 classroom for the final time, pulled me aside and asked: “Can you send me a list of books, maybe like some of the ones we read, that I could read next? This class reminded me that I like to read.”

In this mid-ish point in the semester, when our minds are on deadlines and to-do lists, when we’ve left behind the coziness of winter but are still waiting on the spring daffodils, an antidote may be remembering the joy that is reading, the beauty of words. We may deserve a gentle nudge to reclaim reading — not just as an academic pursuit, but as a comfort, a safe place, and a window to the world. Reading for the wonder of it.

While one of the strongest predictors of being a frequent, lifelong reader is a child who holds a strong belief that reading for fun is important, statistics show that reading enjoyment declines sharply after age eight, and that kids read for fun less and less as they get older, “with 45% of 17-year-old saying they read by choice only once or twice a year.” Author and teacher Penny Kittle describes a “calamitous drop-off in students’ reading after age 13 and a downward trend in voluntary reading by youth at middle and high school levels over the past two decades.”

Mary Cassatt’s 1894 painting “The Pensive Reader”

In this March is Reading month, those of us engaged in the study and teaching of English can be reminded that we are more than task-masters; we are ambassadors of literature, called to spread the love of reading. In the middle of our syllabi and schedules, we can hold fast to the deep conviction that books matter and that words have the ability to change and challenge us. And that in the midst of overwhelming to-do lists, what we might actually need most is to plunge into a good book.

Maybe one of my former middle school students can speak to this better than I can. In his end-of-the-year reflection, he wrote:  “Throughout 8th grade, I’ve learned many different things about my reading, but one main thing is actually caring about the story and theme. When I used to read, I did it just for the grade. Now, when I read books like the Harry Potter series, I actually pay notice to the characters’ emotions, the plot, and the relationship between people. Doing this gives me a larger respect for characters and stories. My newfound respect of stories actually makes reading a nice thing to do in my spare time, so I actually do plan to buy some new books. It may sound pretty nerdy, but I plan to read over summer vacation.”

Thanks to this young man, I’m adding “Leave class as an admitted book nerd” to my list of objectives in every class, at every grade level. And I will cling to his words when I’m mired in the middle and doggy-paddling in the deep end.

March on and read for the joy of it, my friends!  

Alumni Feature from Sara Sanchez ’14

 

Sara Sanchez (’14)

Since graduating three and a half years ago, I have been called Ms. Sanchez, Sanchez, or Sanchi at Holland Christian high school, teaching Spanish Language Arts and Psychology for two of those. And in the middle of that two-year teaching stint, I was a full-time M.Ed student at Calvin College. My intended plan after earning my B.A. in Secondary English and Psychology education at Hope was to teach for five full years and then get my master’s, but something called an H-1B, which is not a type of pencil but a work visa, swept my carefully outlined five-year plan off the table.

“Tell me not, in mournful numbers, only 65,000 work visas are given each fiscal year” (slight variation on Longfellow’s opening line in his poem “A Psalm of Life”).

I was born in Honduras and came to Hope College as an international student. Sufjan Stevens (a musician and the English Department’s most illustrious alumnus, in my humble opinion) was my college recruiter, even though I have never met the guy.  But the important thing here is that I am not a U.S. citizen, which explains why I need a specific visa to continue to work in the United States. Let me give a quick primer on this immigration process: Each year there are 65,000 U.S. work visas granted. The problem is that almost every year more people apply than the number of visas awarded. For example, the first year I was not selected, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS ) received 233,000 applications.

Although I taught Spanish and Psychology, I always told my students that I was an English teacher at heart. The Spanish Immersion program allowed me to combine my language arts background and my mother tongue well, so I taught literary devices, narrative elements, and essay writing in Spanish. In the Psychology course, I tried to include appropriate poems whenever possible. I had to keep that English teacher alive and well. My English education degree equipped me with the skills to communicate with parents, create engaging lesson plans, and manage a classroom of twenty-five students. I felt confident in my ability to teach, but what I quickly realized is that this degree and the English department shape you in more expansive ways.

When my identity and role as Ms. Sanchez was stripped away, I began to feel unmoored and anchorless (thank you, Hope College, for this fitting symbol). Amidst the muddled circumstances, my English degree proved to be a balm. Terms like paradox and metaphor became life-lines. I sat at the feet of fiction and poetry, not looking to analyze them, but for the ambiguity and openness they granted. Desiring certainty and a clear path, I saw in poetry a lesson which I had to embrace and learn. In the words of the poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer:

You do not need to know what comes next.

There is always another storm, and you

cannot hang the tent out to dry before

it has gotten wet. You cannot shovel snow

that has yet to fall.

One of my favorite classes at Hope College was “Creative Writing for Teachers,” which I took as a grad student. I had always wanted to take it, but never had room in my schedule, and when I found out the course would transfer to my M.Ed, I did not hesitate–I was coming back to my alma mater. Led by the great Rob Kenagy, the class met in Lubbers 221, arguably the best classroom on campus, adorned with books and a green chalkboard. Through a multi-genre creative writing project, this course challenged me to wrestle with my identity as an immigrant and the relationship between language and belonging.

Undoubtedly, a Hope College education prepares you well for a multitude of jobs. In the English department, through rigor and practice, you learn the skills to excel. But where I think the department shines is in the caliber of professors. They have a way of emphasizing the importance of becoming through their own empathetic, caring, and scholarly teaching. I learned attentiveness from close readings in Prof. Burton’s class, was inspired by Doc Hemenway’s curious traveling spirit and humbled by Prof. Moreau’s hardworking devotion. English majors: be warned that you will become versatile, resilient, and compassionate human beings because of this education.

Now I am headed to Western Theological Seminary, where my English degree will surely be beneficial. And as I continue exploring the innate messiness of not entirely belonging to one place or the other, I will be eternally grateful to this place and its people for the expansiveness of mind and heart they gifted me.

Event: JRVWS Authors, Karen Russell and Nate Marshall

I am thrilled to say that Karen Russell and Nate Marshall will be arriving on campus this Thursday, March 1 to participate in the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series. They will host a Q&A at 3:30pm in the Fried-Hemenway auditorium and read from their work at 7:00pm in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts. It’s an especially exciting thought for me as I prepare to welcome an author whom I have loved for years, as well as another whose work I just recently encountered with immediate respect. For those of you who haven’t heard of either of them, let me tell you a bit about my experiences with their works.

When I was seventeen, I read Karen Russell’s short story “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.” It was a story that nipped at my mind for months to follow. Needless to say, I was excited when I found out that she’d be visiting Hope College. She was one of those pivotal writers that first spurred me on when I started exploring the world of contemporary literature. Her words bent my expectations of narration and plot and she introduced me to a new form of literature: magical realism.

Karen Russell

As I read her book Vampires in the Lemon Grove this summer, I found myself once again in the grip of Russell’s words. Her stories were infectious, permeating my thoughts long after I finished the collection. I often caught myself attempting to explain her bizarre plotlines to my friends, and I soon realized that her flare for magical realism had begun to creep into my own poetry. I do not offer my recommendation for Karen Russell’s work lightly; in fact, I must warn that her work stole my attention and snatched my thoughts in a way that stretched beyond mere entertainment. Russell sneakily inserts cultural reflections into her stories. Her latest novel Swamplandia! encouraged me to meditate on juxtapositions between family and individuality, selfishness and ambition, and faith and naivety. Be warned that Karen Russell will leave you with a busy imagination and a sensitive conscience.

Our other visiting writer Nate Marshall taps into the classic theme of home in his latest book of poetry. It seems most authors have spent a season exploring their childhood through writing. This makes sense, as our upbringings often shape how we view the world, but Nate Marshall’s book of poetry Wild Hundreds strides beyond an ordinary reflection on home. University of Pittsburgh Press is right to describe his work as “a love song to Chicago.”

Nate Marshall

Marshall brightens his poems with strikingly original material as he writes about Harold’s Chicken Shack in a series of three poems. The pieces work together in a beautiful exploration of strength, spirituality, and identity. In another poem, entitled “Palindrome,” he vivifies the age-old subject of romance as he tells a love story in reverse. Marshall’s words invited me into his nostalgia with an even balance of sweetness and grit. The material provided me with something to digest rather than simply taste, and he awakened within me an appreciation for streets I hadn’t walked, foods I hadn’t tasted, and churches I hadn’t attended. Marshall dropped me into blends of love and hate and left me in a perfect balance of peace and conviction. In his own words, Nate Marshall brought me on a journey through “a pool of grief puddling, / a stare into the barrel, / a push into open air,” yet as Marshall concludes, “ours is a love song.” He manages to string all the complexities of his upbringing together into a serenade for the streets where he grew up, and I am so thankful that he allowed me as a reader to listen to it.

I hope you all join me on March 1 at Nate Marshall’s and Karen Russell’s Q&A at 3:30pm in the Fried-Hemenway auditorium and their reading at 7:00pm at Jack Miller.

For more information feel free to visit the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series website.

A Multidisciplinary Student Group Presents at #SAMLA89: An Undergraduate Research Forum Experience

–Dr. Kendra R. Parker

The Undergraduate Research Panel, “Gender and Race: Beyond Art, Entertainment, and Fashion” at the 89th Annual South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA 89) Convention was the first undergraduate panel I singlehandedly organized and moderated. Twice before, at the College Language Association Convention in 2015 and 2016, I co-organized a cross-campus undergraduate panel with students from Hope College and Howard University. I wrote about the students’ CLA experience here.

Not only did I organize this SAMLA panel based on my CLA experiences, but I also organized this panel because I was a respondent for an Undergraduate Research Forum at SAMLA 88 in 2016. SAMLA 88 was the first time, to my knowledge, that the Undergraduate Research Forum was held, and I was pleased to know there would be one-on-one time to respond to each undergraduate panelist’s presentation individually, an addition I had not personally experienced at CLA. As the respondent, I addressed each presenter and their work directly, offering praise, suggestions, and questions.

I wanted my students to have a similar experience, and thus “Gender and Race: Beyond Art, Entertainment, and Fashion” emerged.

Left to Right: Nina D. Kay, Curissa Sutherland-Smith, Dr. Kendra R. Parker, and Nia Stringfellow are all smiles before the 10 AM session began.

The three participants, Nia Stringfellow (‘18), Nina D. Kay (‘19), and Curissa Sutherland-Smith (‘18), represent a multidisciplinary trio—Exercise Science and Dance; Women’s and Gender Studies, Art History, and Creative Writing; Psychology and American Ethnic Studies.

They spent part of their 2017 summer preparing for the conference, and they also spent 4 hours on a Saturday morning in October participating in a conference simulation. To make the practice session as “real” as possible, I invited students enrolled in my fall 2017 courses to attend and to offer feedback on each of the presentations. Two weeks later, we travelled to Atlanta, GA on Delta Airlines on Thursday, November 2, 2017, and they presented on Friday morning at 10 AM.

Nia Stringfellow’s presentation, “The Man Who Wore Red: A Contextual Analysis of Chicago-Based Artwork,” explored the life works of Allen Stringfellow (1923-2004), an African-American collage and water-color artist whose artwork captured the joyous gatherings of African-American people. Stringfellow focuses specifically on Allen’s use of the color red—noting it functioned prominently in his paintings that depicted baptisms, and that those paintings of black people emerged after he stopped passing as white, engaging in a sort of rebirth of his own.

Nina D. Kay’s presentation, “Contemporary Children’s Media: (Re) Shaping the Way Future Generations Understand Gender” – retitled “The Second Classroom of Children’s Media: A New Lesson Plan on Masculinity & The Achievement of Manhood” – carefully considered the animation of bodies in three American children’s cartoons: Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe. Kay’s close “reading” of specific episodes highlighted the ways gender roles, gender expectations, gender identity, and gender expression are depicted.

Left to Right: Curissa Sutherland-Smith, Nia Stringfellow, and Nina Kay are all smiles as they enjoy the terrifyingly steep escalator in the MARTA station.

Curissa Sutherland-Smith’s presentation, “From Church Hats to Head Wraps: Black Women’s Fashion as Activism,” informed attendees of how Black women in America pushed through boundaries and chains to formulate a new culture and political activism that remains present today through head wear, specifically in self and communal identity, embracement of forbears, and resisting stereotypes and self-imposed images.

These students’ projects provided thought-provoking analysis to a small, but engaged audience in Atlanta. Their participation in SAMLA 89 provided them an opportunity to partake in academic engagement on a national level with experts in the fields of women’s and gender studies, arts, humanities, and cultural studies.

Taking students to SAMLA 89 was more than just an exercise in mentorship, a chance to refine public presentation skills, and an opportunity to present research; it was an opportunity to expose students to a community of teacher-scholars and to the rigors—and rewards—of communal engagement with material.

SAMLA 90, November 2-4, 2018, will be held in Birmingham, Alabama. The conference theme is “Fighters from the Margins: Socio-Political Activists and Their Allies.”

I am grateful for the experience and opportunity to travel with students. Our trip to Atlanta to attend SAMLA 89 would not have been possible without the funding provided by the Department of English, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the Mellon Scholars Program, and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Many thanks to Dr. Ernest Cole, Dr. Carrie Bredow, Dr. Anne Heath, and Mrs. Vanessa Greene for their generosity and support of student research.

Alumni Interview with Kian Hashemi-Rad ’14

What are you doing now?

Kian Hashemi-Rad ’14

Right now, I’m one semester away from finishing my M.A. in Leadership in Student Affairs at the University of St. Thomas. I currently work as a graduate assistant at St. Thomas in the Department of Campus Life. I also have a few side hustles: I clean at a yoga studio and I work for Warby Parker as a Sales Advisor slingin’ specs.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

In addition to English, I majored in French and minored in Studio Art. After I decided to pursue English, my ability to write and communicate took a sharp turn for the better. All three academic areas overlap, but each one broadened my knowledge in a unique way. The nuance required to create art deepened my writing not only as a form of effective communication but also as an outlet of artistic creativity. Learning to give and receive criticism in my writing helped me articulate feedback to peers in different studio classes.

Since my time at Hope, I have carried with me all the practical tools the English department gave me: effective communication, quality writing, and critical thinking needed to understand complex issues. I remember certain classes making me a more thoughtful and empathetic human (shout out to Dr. Cole’s Modern Global Literature). I learned a lot more than sentence structure or how to write a good paper; I learned how to better understand my own self through the stories of others.

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

To current English majors: have faith that you will find meaningful and valuable work after graduation. I cannot count how many people questioned my academic choices as an undergrad. Research exists (no, I’m not citing sources here but it does) articulating the strengths of not only a liberal arts education, but specifically the humanities. I promise you your English major will not leave you less qualified for a job.

To prospective English majors: trust your gut and give it a shot. At a liberal arts institution, you have the freedom to experience different academic departments that students in comprehensive or major research-intensive universities do not. Core requirements are designed to send you out with a well-rounded education, and I cannot tell you how valuable that is.

I often refer to the humanities as offering “vocational prep” as opposed to “pre-professional prep” (the way a pre-med program might, for example). You will learn valuable skills needed for a wide-variety of fields and professions; transferrable skills are essential in the work force and being able to articulate them clearly and concisely will go a long way.

If you could teach any English class, what would be the subject?

Some might vehemently disagree with me for this, but I firmly believe history will look back on J.K. Rowling’s writing the way we today look back at J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. There’s a Lewis quote that says “A good children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” (Again, I’m not citing but trust me). If I were to teach a course, I would use the Harry Potter books as the central texts while filling out a syllabus with other children’s authors as well.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

The first book that comes to mind is Silence by Shusaku Endo. Dr. Cole introduced this text in Modern Global Literature and it upended my world. Endo tells the story of a Portuguese missionary in the 17th century who travels to Japan to spread the Christian faith. The book (and Dr. Cole’s teaching) made me look inward, questioning my motivations both professionally and socially, which ultimately changed the course of my college education.

Event: JRVWS Authors, Randall Horton and Lauren Haldeman

Over Christmas break I found myself with time to nestle into a couch and burrow into books with a leisure that school semesters rarely allow. I took my time entering new worlds conjured up through poetry and memoir. Two of the books I was fortunate enough to read–Hook and Instead of Dying–were written by the next two guests for the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series, and they will both be on campus to read their work this Thursday, February 1, at 7:00 P.M. My emotions were caught in the heist of these crafty authors’ words. I knew from the dust jackets that their works would make a grab for my heartstrings, but I did not anticipate how tightly they would grip me.

Randall Horton

Hook by Randall Horton introduced me to a world that I’d never imagined before reading. I’ve always admired memoirists for their ability to sift through memory with honesty and courage. Randall’s work is exceptional in this regard. He shares his journey through addiction, incarceration and eventual rehabilitation. He writes with a natural poeticism and earnestness, which allowed me to empathize with what I would’ve thought an incomprehensible world; instead, Horton graciously invited me into a story ripe with the human condition.

In her own distinct fashion, Lauren Haldeman wooed me from the moment I laid eyes on the cover of Instead of Dying. It expresses a sort of whimsy with its sketch of two wolves holding a stream of colors reminiscent of Funfetti. Her vocabulary is rich with nostalgia and tenderness as she honors the most innocent memories such as birthdays and “the way the candles and cake arrive.”

Lauren Haldeman

Haldeman’s book drew up long-buried memories from licking the strawberry frosting on my fourth birthday cake to stargazing with my father. This nostalgia made the core of her poetry–the grieving process following her brother’s death–hit with an intensity paralleled by the soft grace of her imagery. I toted this book with me to coffee shops and airports only to find myself crying in these most public places. Haldeman’s words, though gentle, prodded me and stirred buried sentiments of family memories and the fragility and importance of relationships.

Horton and Haldeman both display an aptitude for the “white hot center” that Robert Olen Butler describes as the key virtue of any skilled author. Their fearlessness hums in their writing and shakes each page. I look forward to meeting them this Thursday, February 1, as they join us for the first event of the Spring 2018 Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series, where they will bring both voice and insight to their books.

Please join these fine writers at the 3:30 P.M. Q&A session in the Martha Miller Center’s Fried-Hemenway Auditorium and at the 7:00 P.M. reading in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts.

For more information on these events, visit the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series website.