“The Art of Attention and a Hope Education”: A Faculty Feature from Alex Mouw (’14)

Alex Mouw (’14)

During the spring of 2014, I’d walk into the south entrance of Lubbers Hall and pass the oil painting of President and Mrs. Lubbers playing a diligent game of chess. I’d round the corner onto the stairs and proceed to the second floor where a cross listed English and philosophy course on Existentialism met each Tuesday and Thursday.

It was this class that introduced me to the 20th century mystic Simone Weil, and one line of hers has remained in my memory ever since: “prayer consists of attention.” Weil wrote this as a defense of “school studies” broadly conceived. According to her, all subjects become inherently prayerful when given sincere attention, whether geometric problems, Yusef Komunyakaa’s poetry, or the history of the French Revolution. As a liberal arts student, I took this line as a mantra to remind myself that everything I was learning had inherent value.

Yet attention isn’t about wrinkling your brow in dogged frustration at an impossible homework assignment; instead, it’s about de-cluttering the mind, turning off the email notifications, making sure you are alone with a good novel, then letting that text soak its way into your consciousness. If this sounds fuzzy, I’ll remind you that Weil was a mystic.

What’s so special about a Hope education, and the English major in particular, is that it fosters two kinds of attention. The first we associate with that all-important skill: critical thinking. English majors are good workers in a variety of environments because they know how to pay attention, closely read whatever problem is at hand and find a solution. From English 113 to Literary Theory, English majors are trained in the art of paying attention. As previous alumni blog posts can attest (check out what Sara and Kian have to say), this training yields a more fruitful personal and professional life.

The second form is unique to a small institution like Hope: professors give their students the gift of close, sustained attention. Our student-professor ratio is 11:1, which is top-notch. But what does such a statistic mean in practice? When I was an English major, I could (and did) knock on any door on the third floor of Lubbers Hall with essay, application, or poem in hand, knowing that I’d receive wise and measured counsel. Never did I feel that I, the student, was pulling professors away from their “real work.” Instead, our work was a shared enterprise in earnest human inquiry. That gift has served me well professionally, but more importantly, it has made me a more attentive person. Now, as a faculty member, I try to carry on the tradition and offer all my students the same care that I was given.

As I planned an Introduction to Creative Writing course for this semester, I read a book by Donald Revell about how to write poetry. I figured I could pick up some new teaching ideas to guide students through a poetry unit. To my utter astonishment and joy, I got something much grander. In the opening paragraphs of The Art of Attention, Revell writes: “poetry is a form of attention.” What a marvelous gift of the liberal arts education (which doesn’t really end, even after graduation), to see Simone Weil and Donald Revell collaborate across nearly a century! I took his idea to heart as I planned the course. Since then, the students in my creative writing class have gained hours of experience attending to the world around them, harnessing that energy into strong writing, and then offering one another thoughtful feedback.

My experience with these two authors was facilitated by a Hope education, and it is emblematic of what the liberal arts can provide: Weil’s essay had been assigned to me, but years later I sought out Revell’s book for my own purposes and made an utterly unexpected connection. That connection, in turn, helped fuel my attention to others─in this case, English 253 students. This circular pattern of learning and sharing never needs to end, and it can get a jump start in the Hope English department.

I’m writing this at the end of the semester, and all the faculty members are positively giddy over the accomplishments of our students. So, a hearty congratulations to all those award winners who were honored at the department awards ceremony on April 17; to those participating in Honors Convocation on April 26; to those attending the Senior Dinner on May 3; and to those graduating on May 6. To all our students: we are proud of the diligent attention you gave to your studies this year, and we are eager to see where your learning carries you during and beyond your Hope career. You are always welcome in Lubbers Hall!

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.

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.

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.

“From One Side of the River to the Other”: a Faculty Feature from Pablo Peschiera (’93)

Associate Professor Pablo Peschiera (’93) teaches many different courses, but his heart lies split between two: poetry writing courses and literary translation courses. Pablo writes his own poems in English, and he translates from Spanish to English. His ongoing translation project is on the work of Manuel Ramos Otero (1948 –1990), the Puerto Rican poet, writer, playwright, director, and professor. Otero’s work is passionate and full of experimentation. The below piece—about how Pablo thinks of translation, memory, and language—is the jumping-off point for an upcoming colloquium titled “How I Learned to Trust Myself” at 3:30 pm, January 25th, in the Fried-Hemenway Auditorium of the Martha Miller Center at Hope College. It is free and open to the public.

From One Side of the River to the Other

Associate Professor Pablo Peschiera (’93)

I write poems in English and translate poems and stories from Spanish to English. When we translate, we try to get something from one language into another language. This is like carrying ideas and images across a bridge, from, in my case, the Spanish side of a river to the English side. The word “translate” comes from the Latin words meaning “across” (trans) and “carry” (latus). The bridge in this metaphor is the translator’s imagination.

I’m going to extend this river and bridge metaphor a bit more, because I find it useful in explaining what a translator does. When I translate, my carrying-across-the-bridge only works one way, from the Spanish side to the English side. It’s like I’m an importer/exporter with a license that only works one way: I can carry across from the Spanish side to the English side, but not in the other direction, from English to Spanish.

I could give it a try, though, carrying a poem or story from English to Spanish, but I know I wouldn’t do a very good job. In Spanish, anything I translate from English just wouldn’t sound right. A native Spanish speaker would get it, but they’d probably laugh at it—and they’d be right to! It would sound silly, often incorrect and off kilter.

I grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan to which we moved from Peru when I was five years old. English is my native language, which means I spoke it with my friends and in school. At home I spoke Spanish, but not with the same intensity and energy I spoke English. English was the cool language. All the music was in English, the TV was in English, my friends and their families all spoke English—everything was in English. None of my teachers spoke Spanish. Even our high school Spanish teacher only spoke English (but she could read and write Spanish very well—go figure). Translators say “translate into the language of your dreams.” For me, that’s usually English.

English is the language I trust. In English, I believe what I say and what I write, and the words come fluidly, like smooth water rippling over stones. When I cross the bridge from the Spanish side of the river to the English side, I need to trust myself. The bridge is dangerous—which means the imagination is dangerous. No steel girders, stone boulders, or even brick or wood in the imagination. Because the imagination is in the human mind, it’s weak and wears out quickly, as if it’s made of rope. And not even the good stuff, like nylon or poly—not even hemp! It’s cotton sisal, or twine. It rots in the sun and weather and comes unraveled. It needs mending every day. So I need to cross the imagination using the language I know best, the language I trust, which is English.

Don’­t get me wrong—I know Spanish well. My accent is usually very good, especially if I’ve been practicing. If I parachuted into a Spanish-speaking country today, I’d have zero problems understanding and making myself understood. If I’m hungry, I say ¿conoces un restaurante bueno por aquí? If I want to buy a lottery ticket, I say ¿dónde puedo comprar un boleto de lotería? I couldn’t argue a case in court, and I couldn’t have a debate about Manichaeism, but most English speakers couldn’t do either in English anyway. So I’d be fine.

What makes me not a native speaker is that I don’t trust Spanish. When I write Spanish the rope bridge feels like it’s unraveling. I might foolishly confuse boda (wedding) for bota (boot), or sagrado (sacred) for sangriente (bloody). Spanish uses gendered articles and nouns: La cancha (the court) is feminine and el maletero (the trunk) is masculine, because words that end in “a” are feminine, and words that end in “o” are masculine. I get those wrong sometimes because there are tons (tons!) of exceptions. When I read Spanish I have no problem with these things—I read fluidly almost as quickly and pleasantly as I do in English.

What it comes down to is art. If I carry a poem across the bridge (a poem is a work of art), I can’t look up words to use while I’m on rope bridge of my Spanish imagination, with its dry rot and frayed knots. I have to concentrate on the destination of the English side. I need to trust the bridge. It’s only made of rope, but at least it’s well mended and strong. It must hold me up. Why? Because the bridge of language hovers over the river, and the river is chaos.

 

Alumni Interview with Natalia Connelly (Granzotto ’13)

Natalia Connelly (Granzotto ’13)

What are you doing now?

Currently I work at (gasp!) Calvin College. I write news and stories for the college’s publications, website, and social media. While I had no experience in marketing and communications when I graduated from Hope, I’ve found that a penchant for writing translates across many fields and provides an advantage in the marketplace.

Before this role I worked at an interior services firm in Grand Rapids overseeing marketing and branding. I wrote blogs and provided copy for web, advertising, and marketing tools, oversaw public relations, and adopted graphic design skills to manage our creative output. If there’s one thing that English majors are, it’s adaptable!

I’m also currently a student at Western Theological Seminary in the distance-learning program. While I’m still discerning where this will lead, my hope is to find myself somewhere at the intersection of faith and writing.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

My Hope English education taught me how to think critically, carefully, and imaginatively—and since graduating, I’ve realized how much of a prize and a privilege that really is. My relationships, politics, faith, work, writing, travel, and movie-watching have all been enriched by an education that taught me how to engage the world thoughtfully, to pay attention, to ask questions and find connections. Those things we unpack in class—race, gender, power, narrative—which are the undercurrents of so much of English literature, are also the cultural cornerstones that need unpacking in precisely the same way. Possessing an understanding of the histories and experiences of these themes makes us better citizens and agents of renewal in the world.

There’s no doubt that my English education also made me a clearer communicator. With this being the main objective of my job, I’m indebted to the patient and diligent corrections of professors and peers for making me a better writer.

Lastly, I’ve been amazed by the community I’ve found with English majors everywhere. Those who seek to write and read and explore the human condition seem to find one another and find good and important conversation close at hand. Whether it’s applying literary criticism to Stranger Things or swapping ideas for our writing work, English majors bring a critical eye and sharp wit to their relationships and the world.

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

I’ll be honest, when I first graduated I thought I had made a mistake. While I was networking and job hunting, I wondered why I had just spent four years reading and writing and not learning, say, engineering or accounting, because all those people had shiny new jobs and measurable experience to bring to the table. All I had was a synopsis of “The Taming of the Shrew” from a feminist perspective.

OK, turns out I was wrong. I had my Shakespearean opinions and a whole lot more: extensive writing experience, a degree from a great institution, connections with alumni everywhere, and that ability to think critically that I could translate through my cover letters and resume and, later, on the job. My strong desire to continue reading and writing was met with opportunities both at work and beyond, in freelancing, book clubs, and now my seminary education. And you know what? Writing a paper on “The Taming of the Shrew” helped me get there. Deconstructing literature sharpened my intellect and philosophies, which prepared me for the nuance and risk of being in the world as well as any degree can. I’m a more thoughtful and well-rounded coworker and church member and neighbor because of Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, Simone de Beauvoir, and the brilliant professors who helped me understand and make meaning of them. I also have a great job that requires the distinct outputs of the English degree: sharpness of mind, writing expertise, and a sympathy for the human experience. Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My advice to current and prospective English majors is to let your mind and expectations widen with your bookshelf. Keep reading and writing, and trust that the world needs your thoughtfulness, sharpness, and intellect.

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

This is so hard! I loved taking Introduction to Literary Theory, so I’ll opt for that.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

This year my favorite read was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, followed closely by Swing Time by Zadie Smith.