English Department alumnus Matthew Baker (2009) is still on a roll. His new story collection, Why Visit America, was named one of Esquire‘s “20 Must-Read Books of Summer 2020” and received a starred review from Booklist, which wrote: “Bold, captivating, and deeply relevant, Baker’s imaginative stories offer approachable, optimistic perspectives on morally ambiguous topics facing Americans, including what it means to be one nation.” Netflix, Apple, and other studios are reportedly vying for film rights.
Baker was featured in the Tom Andrews Memorial Reading of the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series in 2015 and again in 2018. For more about him, see his website and recent interviews in LitPub and Port.
He shares his thoughts on the Hope College experience and some tips for current English students below:
What are you doing now?
Writing—writing stories, writing novels, writing screenplays—writing basically constantly.
How did your Hope English education shape you?
I’m most grateful for two things: having had the opportunity to volunteer as an editor for Opus, and having had the opportunity to take Modern English Grammar, which at the time was taught by Rhoda Burton. Every writer should take a grammar course and learn how to diagram sentences. I very passionately believe that. You can’t break the rules if you don’t know what the rules are to begin with.
I also did an independent study on graphic novels with Beth Trembley, which had an enormous effect on me as a writer. Curtis Gruenler’s course on the history of the English language was essential. Jack Ridl taught me sage wisdom about poetry. Heather Sellers taught me sage wisdom about fiction. Kathleen Verduin let me sleep in a spare room in her basement one summer when I didn’t have anywhere to live.
Also, Julie Kipp during class once made an offhand remark that films were literature too and that as students of literature all of us had an obligation to study film history (I think she was upset that nobody in the class had ever seen Apocalypse Now) and I actually took that to heart and I did—that summer I rented over a hundred classic films from Van Wylen Library, and I can say that despite being an unofficial assignment, that was probably the most important assignment I was ever given.
What advice would you give to current English majors or students considering an English major?
Read every issue of The Paris Review (which by the way you can read for free at Van Wylen Library) and learn to code.
If you could teach any English class, what would be the title?
Favorite book read recently or in college?
Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus.
Anything else to add?
There are secret tunnels beneath Lubbers Hall, which are worth exploring if you can find a way in.
You can find more about Matthew Baker here: