Pandemics in Literature

As we face our current time under the veil of COVID-19, the English Department has put together a list of texts that are pandemic-related.


Dr. Kathleen Verduin’s Suggestions:

Dr. Kathleen Verduin

Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe

The Plague by Albert Camus

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

The Stand by Stephen King

Love in a Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez


Dr. Jesse Montaño’s Suggestions:

Dr. Jesse Montaño

A Dying Colonialism by Franz Fanon has an interesting chapter on the intersections between medicine and colonialism.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor: though it is about an alien invasion, the aliens transform humans.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is a “space exploration” allegory of the Americas. The Martians die of chickenpox and are mostly wiped out, much in the same way that colonialism followed disease in the Americas. In many ways, the very history of the New World is written in a weaponized pandemic.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline


Dr. Stephen Hemenway’s Suggestions:

Dr. Stephen Hemenway

The Diary of Samuel Pepys has vivid descriptions of the plague that disrupted London life in 1666.

The Poetical Works of John Keats: A Memoir includes the description of when he was quarantined for 10 days on a ship in the Bay of Naples; he lived only four months after this experience.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

Journals of the Plague Years (AIDS) by Norman Spinrad

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood


Dr. Marla Lunderberg’s Suggestion:

Dr. Marla Lunderberg

Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne. This provides a somewhat gory devotional, tracking the course of his experience of disease in late 1623, and connecting the physical symptoms of his illness to his meditations on his spiritual life. Selected chapter titles for your pleasure: “The Patient Takes to His Bed.” “They Use Cordials, to Keep the Venom and Malignity of the Disease from the Heart.” “Upon These Indications of Digested Matter, They Proceed to Purge.”) His illness, “relapsing fever,” was probably typhoid. It’s from this work that we have the famous “for whom the bells tolls” lines.


Dr. Curtis Gruenler’s Suggestions:

Dr. Curtis Gruenler

The Plague in Literature and Myth” by René Girard.

What the Great Pandemic Novels Teach Us” by Orhan Pamuk in the NYTimes.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was our Big Read book of 2018.


Dr. Pablo Peschiera’s Suggestion:

Dr. Pablo Peschiera

The 1918 Flu Pandemic Killed Millions. So Why Does Its Cultural Memory Feel So Faint?” by Rebecca Onion in Slate. It’s an article/interview about the influence of the 1918-19 flu pandemic on modernist writers – super interesting! (Also, “influence” and “influenza” are very interesting etymologically: both words are tightly linked through the Latin “influere” meaning “to flow into,” or “a flowing into” and in Latin often referred to an “in flow” from “the stars.” Both the words “influence” and “influenza” come from the core metaphorical communication that struggles to explain the transference of a thing from its source and then into another thing.)


We’ll be sharing more in-depth blog posts on the topic of pandemics in literature later this year. We hope you’ve picked up some ideas for some summer reads & we’ll see you in the fall!

#KeepingHope: Hosting the First VIRTUAL Michigan Medieval & Renaissance Undergraduate Consortium

by Marla Lunderberg

“Thank you for your presentation. Does anyone have any questions?”

A pregnant pause. The kind that sometimes tempts me to fill the silence with my own voice, my own questions. But after a moment, my computer screen shows a mic being unmuted. A student’s voice rings in my headphones. My student is posing a question to a peer from another college, a peer who has just presented a paper on this Saturday morning in late March.

Hope College had just completed its first week of virtual classroom experiences, and here we were, hosting and encouraging students’ participation in an online conference.

The Michigan Medieval & Renaissance Undergraduate Consortium hosts a call for papers every fall, leading to a regional conference for undergraduates every spring. Recent years have seen the conference held at Calvin University and Albion College; Hope College had agreed to host the Spring 2020 conference. By mid-February, papers had been accepted from students from Albion, Calvin, Olivet and Hope; rooms were reserved; plans for an early breakfast and a midday luncheon were ironed out—and then, in mid-March, plans for gatherings across the nation were curtailed by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

It would have been easy to cancel the conference, to apologize to students for the lost opportunity, to offer a verbal affirmation of their submissions, and to express the hope that they’d continue their work as scholars as soon as new opportunities opened up. It would have been understandable if everyone, students and faculty mentors alike, were to breathe a joint sigh of relief: one fewer obligation to meet during the coming days of uncertainty and new challenges. But instead, we sent an email to students to ask if they wished to try something new: participating in a virtual conference experience. It took a while before we heard back from the students—and I held my breath as I waited.

This was a leap of faith for us all. For my part, because we sent the invitation the week before spring break, I’d not yet hosted a video classroom of any sort. My experience was limited to a single CIT training session on how to send out an invite for a Google Meet. I had attended enough small ZOOM meetings, though, to have seen what can go wrong: fuzzy video feeds, wonky audio connections, too many people trying to talk at once or not at all.

Nevertheless, we were convinced it was worth it to take the leap. Conferences are more than just a list of speeches: they give people who share a common interest and expertise the opportunity to communicate together. New research is shared; questions are posed; arguments are interrogated. Undergraduate conferences are particularly important in providing students the opportunity to practice critical thinking habits that will serve them well in whatever field they pursue.

One by one, students returned from spring break and emailed us to see if it was too late to confirm their commitment and to ask last-minute questions. We promised to help them prepare for the newness of this event. We offered technical guidance and we encouraged them to consider the opportunity to put this on their future resumes: “Paper presentation at the first VIRTUAL Michigan Medieval & Renaissance Consortium, a learning community responding in a creative way to the early challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.” Of the eleven students signed up for the original event, all but one committed to the online conference.

Although we were learning on the job, we came up with a set of guidelines that I can recommend for anyone in a similar situation. We reminded students to practice their presentations in advance, with an eye to the time limit and to the pace of their speaking voice. We suggested they review their material so as to see it afresh and to be prepared to answer questions. We reminded students to dress for the event, just as they would dress up for a virtual interview. We asked them to think about the lighting and the background for their virtual presentations. We offered practice sessions for two evenings before the Saturday morning event, so that students could sign in to the Google Meet, talk with us about any questions they might have, and practice going into “present now” mode. These sessions offered great opportunities to talk more generally about professional conference goals and to encourage the students to be active in listening and responding to each other’s papers.

That active participation was my favorite part of the Saturday experience. Sessions on Christianity and Culture, on Medieval and Early Modern Marriage, and on Women’s Agency invited students to listen to each other, to learn from each other—and to practice interacting with their peers through the Q & A at the end of each session. Before the conference, I’d feared that students might be tempted to present their papers and then disappear from view, but these fears were unfounded. The energy that otherwise would have fired across a room now lit up our screens. Questions about Lear’s Fool and about the staging of The Taming of the Shrew invited students to think on their feet. Together, we could explore new paradigms and engage with the world of ideas—no matter the current challenges of distant socializing.

“In the Meantime”: An Alumni Feature by Sam Mason ’19

March 2019 in the Midwest was a continuation of the previous two months: windy, gray, and bitterly cold. No promise of spring in sight. It had been two months since my graduation in December and I was immersed in the uncertainty that accompanies the great undergraduate unknown: the job search.

Sam Mason, Hope class of ’19

As a recently engaged and currently unemployed graduate, I had already been on a kaleidoscope of interviews and filled out what seemed like countless applications. The interviews seemed to meld into one another, usually beginning with a quirky introductory joke accompanied by some folky wordplay that explained how my English major was relevant experience. I tried to find what suited my skill set. I interviewed for publishing companies, government organizations, news outlets, and non-profits, among many others, still searching for my best fit. As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I wondered if I had chosen correctly. Did I rush my major decision? How did this degree separate me from anyone else?

In the meantime, I read, wrote, and interviewed.

I had chosen my major in October of my sophomore year. I knew I wanted to be a part of the English department from the day I set foot on campus. I had always loved words and the structure of language and that’s why I chose English. I enjoyed reading a range of works, from authors like Shakespeare and Hemingway to columnists from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among many other outlets. However, I found myself wondering whether my degree truly delivered the functionality I had hoped.

My years at Hope had afforded me a couple of invaluable internship experiences where I began to shape my career path. My first internship was in Washington, DC as a part of the Washington Honors Semester. I was a congressional intern working on Capitol Hill for a representative from my hometown. This may be unusual for an English major; however, I had always been keen to learn about the inner workings of policy-making and legislation. I was fascinated with how my English major could be malleable toward these purposes.

Following my internship in DC, I was fortunate enough to continue my career with the State of Illinois, where I helped compile research reports and develop policy analysis through the skills I had acquired from the English department at Hope.

I reassured myself that I had made the correct decision, and during the spring and summer of 2019, I read a lot, adding to my list of intriguing words and phrases that I had started in college: ersatz, vaunted, jejune, anodyne, athwart, barmy, inimical, suffuse, ineluctable, and erudite, to name a few. Writing on occasion helped provide a structure to my unstructured career path. I felt a new confidence in myself, my degree, and my education, believing that the right position lay ahead.

In the meantime, I continued to read, write, and read some more.

It was in the fall, October 2019, when I finally found the path that had once seemed so elusive. I found something that allowed me to read, write, and summarize detailed documents and utilize my creativity for project and partnership development through language. I am a Global Partnerships Specialist at Lions Clubs International Foundation.

The title does not necessarily explain itself, but essentially, I help identify and forge partnerships and relationships through prospective research, cultivation, and networking events, and through the writing, drafting, and developing of project proposals, in collaboration with my fellow team members. These projects range from global health initiatives to disaster relief assistance. I count myself as lucky to do what I do. I work for a Foundation who prides themselves on their ability to serve in their communities. I use my writing and communication skills to effectively develop and connect others to impactful projects.

And then… just when I began to settle into the regular routine of work, commuting, coffee, and leisure, yet another unexpected twist along the path occurred. As an international organization, we were aware of the threat that COVID-19 posed early on. In fact, I had initially helped in a search for the procurement of masks and other medical supplies for our members in the Asia Pacific region in late February. However, I had no idea the impact it would have on my own work and how swiftly it would change the dynamic that I had settled into.

March 2020 was upon us. Our organization closed its office and work from home became mandatory. Many people experienced a lag in workflow, whereas our work has only intensified. We have had to provide quick, strong, and precise statements which convey our work in light of the current state of affairs to many of our partners. All the while, we are continually working to support and assist our members who are in the direst of straights and also keeping our eyes ahead, staying focused on what we can do to assist.

I will not lose hope, and will continue to read, write, and work.

Hope College Academy of American Poets Prize 2020

By Pablo Peschiera

About the Prize

The Academy of American Poets (AAP) Prize program begin 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.

About this Year’s Judge

Wayne Miller was born in Cincinnati and earned his BA from Oberlin College and his MFA from the University of Houston. His books of poetry include the chapbook What Night Says to the Empty Boat (Notes for a Film in Verse) (2004) and the full-length collections Only the Senses Sleep (2006), The Book of Props (2009), The City, Our City (2011), and Post- (2016). Miller has translated the Albanian poet Moikom Zeqo’s I Don’t Believe in Ghosts (2007) and Zodiac (2015). His honors and awards include a Bess Hokin Prize, a George Bogin Award, a Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, a Lucille Medwick Award, and a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry. Miller currently teaches at the University of Colorado-Denver. He edits the journal Copper Nickel and, with Kevin Prufer, co-curates the Unsung Masters Series.


Winner

Mitch Van Acker’s “To a Mummified Fish”  

Wayne Miller writes:

I find this poem compelling because of its subtlety and economy. It’s an object poem about a mummified fish, but it begins in motion, the fish being carried by a river (of time) into the sudden stillness of the present moment. I admire the odd inversion of the fish being “rescued / from [its] guts,” as well as the apt, sensory description of the fish’s “drum-tight skin.” I find it really interesting, in the best sense, that the sun, which by its nature is always of the present, is a “friend” of the living speaker (though presumably not of the mummified fish). And I’m genuinely surprised by the poem’s closing lines—a direct apology for the oddly human act of “poach[ing]” the fish “from oblivion,” which is ultimately about humanity’s strange and unnatural impulse toward art. For all its quiet restraint, this is a really smart and ambitious poem that takes on core questions about what it means to be human.

To a Mummified Fish

                        —Museo Egizio, Turin

Down surging watercourse, 
swept from your silent blue home,
you became a prop
for our old dilemma 
wrangled, wrapped, and rescued 
from your guts.

Your drum-tight skin
leafs beneath cloth and honey-lacquer
to snare the spirit of holy dregs,
fleshpots, sweet incense at interval 
in the morning air
capped from the widening jaws
of the moon-door.

On behalf of my friend, the sun
(author of many gods)
and the priestess 
who poached you 
from oblivion, 
Little fish, I’m sorry.


Honorable Mention

Julia Kirby “A Strand of Related Things”

Wayne Miller writes:

I admire this poem for quite different reasons than I admire “To a Mummified Fish,” and deciding between them wasn’t easy. In “A Strand of Related Things” the poet offers an interiorized address to a “you”—a crush, in my reading—in which the reader is given access to a series of intimate self-assessments. I find the particularity of voice, thinking, and image really compelling, from the speaker’s multiple attempts to describe dust motes, to the speaker’s assertion that the “you” pushes up his sleeves so obsessively that it’s hard to recognize him with them down, to the realization that a car is the only place where the speaker can be alone without feeling lonely. Finally, in the poem’s closing moment, we find the speaker in that private space of a car with the “you”; this closes the gap between them without resolving the “you’s” unattainability, creating a compellingly poetic sort of semi-closure.

A Strand of Related Things

I pretend the bits of dust
suspended in air
and late afternoon light
are bits of sugar
or crystals or snow,
something less frightening
to inhale than particles
of lint, dog hair, dirt,
and dead skin.
You said, once, that you
have a thing for blondes,
that night I pulled
my brown hair
from the shower drain
and buried it in the trash
with bits of used floss
and crusty tissues.
The dust gets in my eyes,
I end up staring
at the stain on my rug –
spilled soy sauce –
and my calathea plant
with its sunburnt leaves,
straining between life & death.
Suddenly I smell pot stickers,
damp earth,
and the sleeves of your sweater
pushed up to your elbows,
always scrunched
so that you don’t quite
look like you
with your forearms covered.
I smell gasoline, too,
because my car
is the only place
where being alone
doesn’t feel lonely
with harvested fields,
shivering trees,
and clouds of swallows.
I don’t think
you’ve ever touched me
which is a blessing
because your being
makes me be a little less,
your voice
makes me question my being,
and I’m afraid your skin on mine
might make me dissolve
into window dust.
I hate driving over bridges
because I figure
they have to crumble
at some point.
I hate opening
the car windows
because I might slip out
and roll into traffic.
You were right,
when I was driving
through the blizzard
and you said
you couldn’t help me
stop the snow from falling.

Searching for Marriage: From Primary Sources to Digital Tools

Marriage. One of the world’s most traditional institutions, present in every culture, the same across centuries and millennia — at least until recently. Right?

Um, not quite. In fact, as Hope students taking the new Cultural Heritage course “Marriage in the Modern Age” this semester could tell you, none of that is true. Everything from the reasons why people chose a partner (and who does the choosing); to who was or wasn’t permitted to marry; to whether marriage was a legal, religious, or purely personal agreement; to what rights, if any, a woman retained after marriage; to the gains that people sought to marry for — they’re all drastically different in different times and cultures. There’s even been one known culture without marriage at all (but to learn about that, you’ll have to check out Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage: A History).

History books can give us a big picture, and literature can give us personal stories; together, the two have told our class a lot about different views and forms of marriage in Western Europe and North America over the last 250 or so years. But while tales like Pride and Prejudice, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and A Doll’s House do hold truths about real lived experience in their respective times and places, they’re also fictionalized for our entertainment. That’s where the class’s Group Digital Projects fit in.

The idea behind the project was simple: pick a region and a decade, and see what marriage was like for real people in that place and time. Look only at primary sources: laws, trial reports, government documents, art, illustration, cartoons, journals, diaries, letters, advertisements, historical newspaper articles, magazine articles, op-eds, advice columns, and so on. Quantity is key — to notice patterns, draw conclusions, groups had to find enough material to know what was common and what was a fluke. Every community has its oddballs, after all!

Here are some of the topics the groups came up with:

  • Interracial marriages in America, 1965-1975
  • When polygamy became illegal in Utah (late 19th century)
  • The Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753, banning secret marriage in England
  • Unofficial same-sex marriages in the 1980s
  • The ideal marriage of 1950s sitcoms vs. the reality

Nifty, right? But where, you may be wondering, does the “digital” part come in? Well, after looking at all these great topics, the researchers needed a way to present their materials effectively, mixing different media and keeping the flavor of the historical sources while clearly getting their key findings across. Fortunately Tori Longfield, Hope’s Digital Arts Librarian, had just the tool for us: ArcGIS StoryMaps.

As Longfield taught the class, StoryMaps are cool because they can present images alongside text alongside interactive maps, charts, or timelines. It’s flexible, yet focused and contained: kinda like what you’d get if a PowerPoint and a website had a baby.

While they’re all very much worth a look, here I’ll highlight two of the students’ group digital projects.

Marriage During WW2 in Germany

by Gracien Lorincz and Emily Damstra

Fascinating finds in this project included a video of a Nazi wedding in which Hitler was the best man, and a touching profile of a concentration camp marriage.

Mixed Marriage: Catholic-Protestant Unions in Holland During the 1950s

by Jayla VanMaurick, William Harahan, Julia Hopkins, & Grace Goszkowicz

This group made use of the Joint Archives of Holland to look at what marriage was like between Catholics and Protestants in town during the Fifties. Disapproval in the newspapers! premarital contracts! what about the kids?!

In “Marriage in the Modern Age,” we’ve had a great time discussing the ins and outs of marriage — from a personal as well as societal angle. Has marriage become harder in the Western world as expectations for individual happiness continue to rise? How do some people like (Madeleine L’Engle, whose memoir we read) make marriage last a lifetime? Why do some choose not to marry at all, and how do they build alternative core relationships? The search for meaningful bonds between humans is relevant, after all, in every time and culture.

Reading at the End of the World

Dr. Lauren Eriks Cline, a Hope ’08 graduate, recently got her PhD in English from the University of Michigan and is now an Assistant Professor of English at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.

It’s March 20, 2020, and like millions of other people around the globe, I have spent the past week isolated in my house, watching red dots on a map expand as angry numbers on the margins tick upwards: 80,000 cases; 124,000 cases; 284,000 cases. While I wait for more news on the pandemic of the novel coronavirus, I am also recording and re-recording videos to orient my students at Hampden-Sydney College to the emergency distance-learning version of our English classes. When I told people last summer that my goal for my first year as an Assistant Professor was just to survive, I never imagined that word would feel so literal.

The semester I thought my students and I would have is now sitting in my laptop’s trash files. And as I prepare to begin take four of my walk-through of the new calendar of readings in my Shakespeare class, I find myself asking, not for the first time: “should I still be doing this work at a time like this?”

On the one hand, it’s clear that some of this work can and should definitely go. It’s been helpful for my sense of perspective that my partner is a healthcare worker at a community hospital. Thinking about that lifesaving labor sheds a newly stark light on the aspects of academic work that we could always have done without. Grading, for example, seems more clearly than ever to be an exercise in ranking that fails to accommodate barriers in our environment or differences in our needs. The urge to change grading standards now reveals that those standards were always built too narrowly. And every change I make to my teaching in this moment is a lesson for later: don’t forget what you dropped when we could only carry what we needed but we needed to carry everyone.

On the other hand, staring out at the world that today’s college students will inherit also casts a more hopeful light on my core commitments to literature. My “Monsters in Literature and Film” class is about to embark on our unit on zombies, sinking our teeth into post-apocalyptic stories from Colson Whitehead’s Zone One to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. To engage these texts is to ask newly topical questions: what conditions create contagion, protect status quos, or allow for change? Reading them encourages us to entertain more radical possibilities than reading the news alone.

Speculative fiction in particular pushes beyond what we think could exist all the way to the edge of what might be thinkable. My class’s big discussion question for the week was “why do people keep producing and consuming literature even when it feels like it might be the end of the world?” One answer might be this: that the end of the world as we know it is precisely the moment when we most need our capacity to imagine different worlds.

But as I contemplate the question of what it means to study literature now, it’s not just reading that I want to fight for. It’s reading together, and reading in ways that ask us to be responsible to each other. When I collect mid-semester feedback from my students, two of the questions I ask are (1) whether they feel supported to take risks in our class, and (2) what would help them feel more supported to take risks. Prioritizing risk might seem strange at a time when we’re rightly urging people to take physical precautions, but becoming daring in our thinking can become even more important as our material world gets more dangerous.  Every time I read my students’ reflections on risk, I am reminded that – more than any individual choice made in the class – students thank the class as a whole for making it possible to take intellectual chances. It’s the curiosity and care of the other people in the room that allows them to try out new ideas and to practice being uncertain – even wrong.

The activist Mariame Kaba wrote recently that “we have to prefigure the world in which we want to live. That’s a minute-by-minute practice of aligning values with actions.” We’ve all just been forced to clear and reset our calendars. Our minutes are not exactly up for grabs – indeed, too many people may find that they are facing exhausting new demands on their time – but a wrench has been thrown in our day-to-day lives, which gives us a new chance to scrutinize our habits. So what do we bind and what do we release? How does what we’ve read shape the values we’ll use to make that choice? And what stories are we sharing or creating now that could make new configurations of our world thinkable?

Coming Out of COVID-19: The Early Bird Catches the Worm

By Ernest Cole

COVID-19 has disrupted a good part of our daily routines or what was considered normal living: life as we knew it. From waking up in the morning to going to bed at night, Americans are confronted with the challenges of a different mode of living. For us in the teaching profession, COVID-19 has had a considerable impact on methods of delivery of instructional materials. From our usual PowerPoint presentations and Google docs to Zoom and Google Hangouts, professors at Hope College, and indeed across the nation, have been tasked with transforming content from in-person to online structure and format. This transformation has significantly affected not only course content but also approaches and methods of teaching. Pedagogy is being transformed and the changes are clearly discernible.

Last week, as I listened to my colleagues in English grappling with the structural and pedagogical changes to instruction, something became clear to me: we are in the process of a digital revolution and teaching will never be the same again. I suspect we will come out of COVID-19 very differently and our instructional structures and modes of delivery, assessment, and evaluation will change. We will come out of COVID-19; that is beyond question. The question is not whether we will come out of this situation, but rather how we come out of it and how we are prepared to handle the pedagogical shifts and assessment changes that the digitization of our courses would present.

In such moments, my grandmother’s words came clearly to me – “the early bird catches the worm.” If the above premise is true, then institutions that begin to put in place the necessary academic, administrative, and technological structures to accommodate these digital changes relating to the choice, delivery, and assessment of instructional materials now will be better served in the future. If we are to stay ahead of the “digital revolution” and its implications for our students, programs, and institution, we must begin to put these structures in place now.

As I see it, the first of these structures relate to faculty capacity building. There is a need for expanded programs relating to online teaching and coaching, and support from technological units and centers on campus. Faculty must be trained in the dynamics of online teaching and receive instruction on online delivery and assessment of courses. I foresee a situation where faculty would develop courses that meet the requirements for in-person, online, and hybrid instruction, and perhaps offer students these choices for enrollment in courses.

From an assessment perspective, I suggest we begin conversations on processes and procedures for online assessment that will maintain standards, integrity, and rigor. We must begin to ponder and reflect on the implications of online teaching for various disciplines on campus and what it would mean to shift courses to this mode of instructional delivery. We must begin to engage in conversations on the impact of COVID-19 on how we conceptualize education and methods of implementation.

Next, I would like us as an institution to reflect on lessons that COVID-19 has taught us in terms of global education. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the pandemic has taught us that we are more connected than we imagined and that the “big questions” of life cannot be solved by either a single discipline or single country. To that end, I would like faculty across campus to begin rethinking global education. If my assumptions are true, then it seems to me that we need to identify and restructure courses that address these “big questions” and approach them from an interdisciplinary perspective.

I am talking of creating a “hub” or “consortium” of courses with global content (such as immigration, public health, international trade, public finance, nursing, social work, medicine, etc.) and finding a place for such courses in the revised general education curriculum at Hope. This would truly equip our students with the knowledge and skills to function effectively in a global society. I suggest we begin a rethinking of our collaborative efforts with regional and international partners (GLCA & GLAA); our conception of study abroad; other experiential courses; and the ways in which these are assessed. Can we, for instance, begin to think about a “virtual study abroad” program and what that would look like? Can we begin to think of how we collaborate virtually with our partners beyond flagging courses and doing the usual conjoined courses? Can we transform these conjoined courses to virtual study abroad courses that will count for study abroad requirements for our students?

I would like to end with a bold suggestion, and this has to do with the current conversations regarding 3-credit and 4-credit courses. Part of the problem, as I understand it, with our current 4-credit system, at least in the Humanities, was the absence of faculty-led activities and instruction for the 4th hour. Again, this difficulty was also due to lack of creative ways to engage students in the 4th hour. I think what COVID-19 preparations have done for us is to equip us with online content and digital platforms to engage students in faculty-led projects that will count for the 4th hour. It seems to me that this is a valuable way to reconsider our conversations on 3-4 credit courses and to utilize the range of activities that Associate Provost Gerald Griffin has come up with that qualify for 4th-hour instruction. I encourage him to continue working with departments on online pedagogical instruction, but also to incorporate the 3-4 credit hour possibility that remote teaching has afforded us into the conversation.

I again commend the tireless efforts of President Scogin, Provost Short-Thompson, the Deans’ Council, faculty, staff, and students in addressing the current challenges we are facing. I reiterate the point that the workplace has considerably changed and will never be the same again. How we think of place and space, and how these constructs impact instruction, has also changed. Our conception of education, nationally and globally, and methods of implementation have changed; and with such changes, we must begin to create academic and administrative structures that will meet and accommodate the pedagogical shifts. Building and expanding technological capacities and training faculty to rethinking courses and curriculum are good ways for the early bird to catch the worm.

A Message of Solidarity and Hope to the Hope College Community

Chair of the English Department, Dr. Ernest Cole, shares his reflections on living through the Ebola outbreak and how we can instill hope during the Coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Cole did not contract Ebola, but learned much from being close to the chaos.

In May 2014, I was home (Sierra Leone) on sabbatical leave on what promised to be a 3-month period of productive research for a possible monograph. I intended to conduct interviews with amputees of the civil war in two resettlement camps in the outskirts of Freetown. 8 days later, my stay was cut short when the United States embassy in Freetown issued a mandatory request for Americans to return to the States. The deadly Ebola virus was on the rampage. That was the signal for me to get out of the country and with my “Green Card” in hand, I rushed to the next available airline. With luck, I got a seat on the next flight to Brussels aboard Brussels Airlines. From Brussels, I flew to the States. I did not contract the Ebola virus luckily, and was lucky to fly out when I did.


I recount this story with a deep understanding of the anxieties, fears, and tears that come with the outbreak of a pandemic; one that the current situation with Covid-19 is evoking across the USA. I also write this with a sense of humility and a willingness to share some of the lessons I learned from the Ebola outbreak in my native Sierra Leone. Ebola was devastating and hundreds, if not thousands, of my countrymen died in gruesome circumstances. However, despite this, I write to convey hope and promise to you all. As I witnessed the first cases of death of Ebola victims in Sierra Leone, I was stunned by the fact that my people never lost hope. Their resilience and unshakable faith in their Creator shined through the tragedy even as they watched a relative, friend, or community member succumb to the ravages of Ebola.


Coronavirus, like Ebola, has already taught me some valuable lessons. First, we are more connected than we imagined. More than ever we must be aware of the interconnectedness of our human societies. The phrase “the world is becoming a global village” is perhaps more than ever true. Second, in the same way, I learned that the problems of the world can no longer be solved by any one discipline or country but by interdisciplinary efforts, global cooperation and action. Third, the exercise of our moral and ethical values — as we practice compassion and love for one another, and follow medical advice relating to practical measures like individual hygiene and social distancing — should be paramount in all our actions. That is what will sustain us through this period of anxiety and trepidation.

On this note of values and collective action, I would like to acknowledge the tireless and tremendous efforts of Hope College’s administration in providing leadership, guidance, and support to the entire Hope community — including faculty, staff, and students. I would like to particularly recognize the work of President Matthew Scogin, Provost Cady Short-Thompson, Associate Provost Gerald Griffin, the Deans’ Council — Sandra Visser, David Van Wylen, & Scott Vanderstoep, Diedre Johnston, Kelly Jacobsma, Carol De Jong, and Shonn Colbrunn — and Human Resources for their guidance and direction.

While we are not yet out of the woods, the indications are that we are ready to take on the challenges that the virus poses to our college community. I suspect the conduct of college affairs will be different, but it is a difference that is crucial and necessary for our students, programs, and institution. My thanks to my Dean, Sandra Visser, for her resourcefulness in leading the Arts and Humanities, and to all of my colleagues, particularly in English, for their kindness, compassion, and willingness to adopt new methods of delivery of instructional materials in order to meet the needs of our students. I acknowledge the patience of our students to work with us and to adjust to new ways of learning. Our collective efforts have taught me the values of solidarity, community support, humility, love, and kindness. I am proud to be a member of the Hope community.

Finally, I wanted to reassure my colleagues that as many Sierra Leoneans survived Ebola, millions of American will survive Covid-19. And Sierra Leoneans did so without the health care system and structures to address a pandemic that the United States has. America has the resources and medical structures to defeat this virus. What it takes is, first and foremost, discernment from God, clear medical advice, community support, truth, and compassion for one another. I am thrilled to see the manifestation of these values at Hope in our collective endeavors to respond to the challenges that Covid-19 poses to our community.

Spera in Deo.

Sneak Peek of Fall 2020 English Courses!

Check out your upper-level English options for next semester! Remember, registration starts the week of March 30.


ENGL 248: Intro to Literary Studies – Dr. Emily Tucker

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We will explore a variety of texts from different genres, including poetry, short fiction, drama, and the novel. We will begin by focusing on methods of close reading in order to examine ways in which authors use literary devices and forms to communicate meaning. After that, we will turn our attention to the ways in which literary works both reflect and construct the societies around them. In order to facilitate this inquiry, we will examine a number of contemporary critical theories. Throughout the course, we will practice methods of critiquing and appreciating literary works. Both English majors and non-majors are welcome. Authors will include Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Claude McKay, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood, Robert Browning, Bharati Mukherjee, Gwendolyn Brooks, Emily Dickinson, Edwidge Danticat, Toni Morrison, Franz Kafka, and Bram Stoker. TR 9:30-10:50, Lubbers 224.


ENGL 270: British Literature to 1800 – Dr. Curtis Gruenler

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This course surveys the formation of the British literary tradition from its beginnings at the intersection of Christianity and pre-Christian culture in Anglo-Saxon England to the literature of the Enlightenment. We will focus on works that represent major literary and intellectual movements of the first millennium of English literature, written by great and influential authors you may have run across before (but are always worth going back to), such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Swift, as well as by lesser known but fascinating figures such as Marie de France, Julian of Norwich, Philip Sidney, John Donne, and Eliza Haywood. Goals: to acquaint you with basic forms and classic works of English literature, to develop your skills in reading and writing, and to help you learn to ask good questions that open up these texts. Format: some lecture, mostly discussion. Requirements: short papers/take-home exams. MWF 1-1:50 PM, Chapel B16.


ENGL 281: American Literature II – Dr. Stephen Hemenway

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Make American Literature II Great Again!! I am so glad to be teaching this class again after a ten-year hiatus! This scintillating and daunting course will acquaint you with the major movements and writers in the United States from the end of the Civil War (1865) to the beginning of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic (2020). The literary canon (i.e., dead but vital white males, such as Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, O’Neill, and Frost) will be augmented by wondrous women warriors (Dickinson, Welty, Bishop, Cather, Plath, and Rich), African-American pacesetters (Washington, Hurston, Hughes, Brooks, Morrison, and Walker), and fresh ethnic voices (Zitkala Sa, Black Elk, Alexie, Cisneros, Lee, and Lahiri). Approximately equal time will be devoted to poetry, short stories, and drama. Forging links between geographical sections of the country, between genders, between genres, between races, and between critical approaches will be among the impossible dreams of the teacher. Four credit hours. MWF 2-2:50 PM, Anderson Werkman B03.


ENGL 358: Memoir: Intermediate Creative Nonfiction Writing – Dr. Rhoda Burton

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Make art from experience.
Memoir is the literary craft of understanding where we’ve been.
Prerequisite: Multi-Genre Creative Writing 253. TR 12-1:20 PM, Lubbers 224.


ENGL 360: Modern English Grammar – Dr. 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. MWF 11-11:50 AM, Lubbers 222.


ENGL 371: The Beatnik Generation – Dr. Stephen Hemenway

Are you ready to “Howl”? This fifth-in-a-lifetime (mine, at least) course on “The Beat Generation” explores the “beaten down,” “beat up,” and “beatific” aspects of many nonconformist, rootless, drugged, and searching American writers of the 1950s and 1960s. Secular and sacred aspects of the Beatnik movement will receive critical attention and a fresh look at what makes the works durable or degrading more than half a century later.

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Harvey Pekar’s recently released The Beats, a graphic history with works by eleven artists, serves as an excellent introduction. Classic and controversial memoirs, novels, and plays nestle next to each other: On the Road and The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir by Joyce Johnson, and Dutchman by Amiri Baraka. Poems by Gregory Corso, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Joanne Kyger, Denise Levertov, Michael McClure, and Kenneth Rexroth sidle up to nonfiction and essays by William Burroughs, Carolyn Cassady, Ann Charters, Edie Parker Kerouac, and Norman Mailer.

The course briefly examines early influences on the Beat writers from British Romantics, American Romantics and American Modernists. Musical connections get well-deserved attention, and campy old films about Beatniks show cinema at its worst. Very recent films reveal the continued popularity of this era. Beat celebrators and Beat debunkers get equal coverage. The squeamish need not apply; some material is R-rated. Four credit hours.

Reading: moderate to heavy.
Writing: journal pieces, two analytical papers, research project.
Evaluation: numerous methods of class participation and a variety of writing assignments.

TR 1:30 – 3:50 PM, Chapel B16


ENGL 373: The Serious Comedy of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde – Dr. Emily Tucker

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“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde are among the wittiest and most quotable writers in the history of English literature. Their writing also addresses some serious concerns about 19th-century British culture, and their humor often enables them to challenge societal ideals about gender, romance, propriety, money, and the role of the arts. We will use major texts by these two figures in order to explore their complex blend of hilarity and earnestness at the very beginning and very end of the 19th century. Austen’s novels will invite us into the century’s earliest years, at the high point of Regency-era culture and literary Romanticism. Wilde’s works will introduce us to the final decade of the 19th century—a decade marked by tremendous social upheaval and a literary culture starting to shift toward Modernism. We will also pay attention to some more recent works based on the writings and life stories of these two figures in order to explore their legacies in the 21st century. Assignments will include short presentations and reflections, a film review, a research essay, and a final project that will include options for both critical and creative work. MWF 9:30 – 10:20 AM, Lubbers 121.


ENGL 375: Children’s and Young Adult Literature – Diverse Books in Diverse Hands – Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño

This course is perfect for anyone interested in reading kid lit, in teaching, in scholarship, and/or in literacy advocacy. Together we will consider the importance of diverse children’s and young adult literature—the way it offers mirrors for diverse kids who see themselves reflected and for others, windows onto a different experience. We will think critically about race, ethnicity, language, gender, and ability in children’s lit and what is at stake for readers, parents, and educators. In addition to reading kid lit for a variety of ages and in a variety of genres, we will meet with practitioners in the field including librarians, teachers, literacy advocates, scholars, and publishers, and we will share what we learn through a service learning project with kids in the community. Authors considered in this course include Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Angie Thomas, Dawn Quigley, Stan Yogi, Jason Reynolds, Guadalupe García McCall, and Isabel Quintero, among others. Meets Hope College GLD credit. MW 3-4:30 PM, Martha Miller 243.


ENGL 454: Advanced Fiction Writing – Professor Susanne Davis

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The heart of this course is about the writing each student writer produces.
In this advanced workshop, we’ll focus on reading, writing, and discussing contemporary fiction. What has been said? Do we feel moved by what has been said? What remains to be said? And how shall we say it?

Texts: John Truby, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller; David Benihof’s novel City of Thieves; and a linked short story collection and reading packet which includes short stories by Junot Diaz, Louise Erdrich, James Baldwin, Sherman Alexie, Kevin Barry, Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami, ZZ Packer, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, George Saunders and others.

We will spend two-thirds of our class time workshopping student writing, and the other third discussing craft and published writers. We will divide our attention between the short story form (including how to create linked short stories) and the novel, using Truby’s screenwriting text to guide that development of longform story concepts. We’ll be writing and workshopping roughly 40 pages. Consider for portfolio development — one masters the art of storytelling through practice of techniques (in fiction: character, plot, dialogue, scene, and point of view, among others). In this advanced course we practice those techniques in greater depth, adding others and attending to what it is we have to say as we develop an aesthetic. MW 12-1:50 PM, Lubbers 224.


ENGL 480: Introduction to Literary Theory – Dr. Curtis Gruenler

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Literary theory equips you to think better about how to read and why, and maybe to enjoy it more too. Tour major schools of thought from Plato to the twenty-first century, such as formalism, structuralism, deconstruction, psychoanalytic criticism, gender and sexuality studies, postcolonial criticism, ecocriticism, and disability theory. Meet theorists such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, René Girard, Adrienne Rich, Judith Butler, Edward Said, Chinua Achebe, and Wendell Berry. Connect literature to other disciplines such as philosophy, theology, and the social sciences. You’ll have
a chance to write and talk critically about whatever texts you like—stories, poems, films, TV, games, etc. The course will be conducted as a seminar with several short papers and two longer ones. TR 9:30 – 10:50, Lubbers 220.

Women of Faith and the First Women’s Rights Movement: Lessons for Today

Grace Goszkowicz, a student in Dr. Salah’s Cultural Heritage course “Marriage in the Modern Age,” shares her reflections below on a recent WGS & History event commemorating 100 years of women’s suffrage.

This past Tuesday, I had the privilege of attending the talk given by guest speaker Dr. Kristin Kobes Du Mez, an established historian and professor at Calvin University. Du Mez’s enthusiasm was clear as she eloquently engaged listeners with a historical account of the evolution of the struggle for women’s rights in America. As her announced research interests suggest, much of Du Mez’s work focuses on the intersection of gender, politics, and religion in American history.

“Banner State Woman’s National Baptist Convention,” 1915 (Library of Congress)

In her talk, Du Mez persuasively addressed the subject of “Purity and Patriarchy: Christianity and the Struggle for Women’s Rights in America.” Du Mez prefaced her talk with a description of her sheltered, small-town upbringing, pointing out the perceived discrepancy between Christian teachings and feminist progress. Such tension, she said, was exemplified by prohibition of female leadership within the churches that she encountered growing up. For her, and many unfortunately, the edict was black and white: powerful, individualistic women did not conform to the feminine, chaste depiction of women in the Bible. With this train of thought then, the feminist movement that swept through the country following the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 must have lacked any sort of Christian support, right?

Wrong. Du Mez addressed this surprising realization, focusing on the Christian leadership of the first American women’s rights movement. Many Christian women took a stand on the issue, she explained, listing Sarah and Angelina Grimké, Mariah Stewart, Jarena Lee, and Sojourner Truth as critical trailblazers of the beliefs that later grew into the feminist movement.

Frances Willard, too, as Du Mez recounted, was a Christian woman and vital leader of the movement in the late 19th century until her death. A faithful member of the newly respectable Methodist church (which has allowed female ministers since the 1800s), Willard rejected the “cult of true womanhood” that was commonly accepted at the time, and, under her presidency of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, transformed the women’s rights movement from a discreditable one to one of religious necessity. As a home-grown Methodist girl myself, I felt pride well up within my girl-power heart for the work of this kindred Methodist reformer. When I think back, I can remember my Methodist mother expressing her distaste for the Catholic church’s ban of female leadership—just a personal connection I made when Du Mez highlighted Willard’s views.

Frances Willard on her bicycle, Gladys (photo from franceswillardhouse.org)

One of Willard’s suffragette contemporaries, Kate Bushnell, was a great focus of Du Mez’s presentation (and her previous book). Bushnell’s principal contribution to the women’s rights movement was calling attention to incorrect Biblical interpretation and translation. She advocated for and worked herself to accomplish a more accurate translation of the Bible, calling out all previous English translations in their doubly defined adjectives that, when concerning women, connote chastity, purity, and submission. This sparked my interest immediately—how was an original Hebrew word translated as strong when in reference to man but pure when describing a woman? Does that mean the Bible I read and hear read aloud (and hold as God’s truth!) more than a dozen times a week is incorrectly worded? In this way, Du Mez painted Bushnell as a pioneer of the reexamination of Biblical translation with respect to the portrayal of women—a Christian woman who worked to amend beliefs that deprecated females, previously seen as supported by religion. How fascinating!

The conclusion of Du Mez’s talk emphasized the effects of societal upheavals like World War I, the sexual revolution, and the bread-winner/homemaker era on the gender role and expectations of women. Long after the ratification of the amendment that constitutionally granted white women the right to vote, double standards were unfairly placed upon women: single or married, working or not. We have come a long way, Du Mez noted, but many tensions remain, and being a Christian and a feminist can still prove to be a complex double-label.

Throughout her impactful talk, Du Mez paid tribute to the powerful, Christian women who exercised their independence in order to fight for the rights of women. What a fantastic way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment! In closing, Du Mez reminded us that suffrage should not be taken for granted, but rather be continually sought after, fought for, and appreciated—ultimately striving for deserved dignity and rights for all. And to that, I say, amen!