“Friendship, Knowledge, and the Liberal Arts”: A Faculty Feature from Curtis Gruenler

This post is an appetizer for Dr. Gruenler’s upcoming public talk in the Fried Hemenway Auditorium on Thursday, Jan. 24 from 3:30-4:30pm!

The best thing about teaching at Hope, and in its English department, has been friendships with colleagues and students. Recently I’ve been thinking that friendship is not just icing on the educational cake, but an essential part of how we come to know what is true. The connection between friendship and knowledge defines the liberal arts at their best, and comes to the fore in the study of literature.

All knowledge we have words for comes from culture—that is, from relationships (something I learned from literary theory). None of us would learn anything without our parents and others spending time showing us the world and teaching us things like language. The question then is: what kind of relationships best enable us to cultivate knowledge that is true?

Friendship is our richest traditional way of talking about shared truth-seeking. Our most freely chosen kind of relationship, friendship brings to full flower our uniquely human capacities for shared attention and desire. As C. S. Lewis puts it in The Four Loves, “Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”

The stronger the common interest, the stronger the potential for shared discovery—and for rivalry. Friendship, then, also means avoiding rivalry; both Plato and Aristotle cite the adage “friends have all things in common.” For Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, complete friendship, rather than mere friendship of pleasure or utility, requires making the shared object of desire the welfare of the other. Jesus himself, in John 15, invokes perhaps the Greek definition—or just the universal experience of friendship when he says to his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Christ’s next words in John 15 make an extraordinary claim that links friendship to knowledge: “I no longer call you servants, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learned from the Father.” Not only does friendship depend on shared knowledge, this sharing somehow extends as far as participation in the understanding between the Son and the Father.

Pursuing knowledge together fuels friendship because knowledge is an infinite object that transcends rivalry. Friendship pulls us out of ourselves through loving attention to an infinitely meaningful other, with whom we can share expanding knowledge of the world.

For all his wizardry, Gandalf’s most crucial knowledge comes from loving interest in all the creatures of Middle Earth, even those silly hobbits. Saruman, on the other hand, gets so caught up in rivalry for power with Sauron that he ends up deluded and alone—a contrast echoed by J. K. Rowling in the friendly insight of Dumbledore vs. the power-hungry mastery of Voldemort.

Like talking with a friend, reading literature takes you deep inside a perspective on the world, often taking you into another world entirely. In many of these worlds, we get excellent models of what friendship can look like. I don’t think it is possible to overestimate the value of reading literature for building the empathy and imagination needed to cross distances between people. We go back and forth between books we love and friends we love, each deepening our engagement with the other.

Of course, friendship’s common interests and knowledge also run the risk of exclusivity. As Lewis writes, “From the innocent and necessary act of excluding to the spirit of exclusiveness is an easy step; and thence to the degrading pleasure of exclusiveness.” Exclusiveness is always the quick and easy way to strengthen bonds with others—temporarily, and at the cost of narrowed perspective. Yet friendship can also be a means of overcoming the pull toward exclusion and scapegoating. Friendship becomes the most powerful engine of learning when two are open to the inclusion of a third, especially the other whom they would be most tempted to exclude.

Think of Frodo and Sam faced with the trial of including in their friendship that most troublesome third, Gollum, and growing in wisdom and mercy as a result. Or the remarkable threesome of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, tempted at various points to fall into the more stable order of two against one, but always recovering the precarious, inclusive balance that makes them unstoppable problem-solvers. Their power of understanding depends on the same self-sacrificial love that makes Harry’s mother Lily, as Hope senior Annika Gidley argues, the most important character in the story.

The liberal arts are founded on friendship. Lewis again: “Mathematics effectively began when a few Greek friends got together to talk about numbers and lines and angles.” Something similar must have happened with the origins of the literary arts: friends talking about the works of Homer and Hesiod, Pindar and Aeschylus. All the academic disciplines have stories like this. Each sets up paths for new learners to join a community of knowledge, and discoveries flow from adding new perspectives to an ongoing conversation.

In the humanities, the books we read become a third that we work to integrate into our relationships with each other. In my teaching, I bring into the classroom a relationship with books I have studied for a long time, or sometimes just met, and invite students into the friendship. Literary texts, more than the objects of other disciplines, are themselves like friends, able to join us to an ever-expanding community of knowledge that goes back to the dawn of literacy and extends across the globe.

“A Gesture, A Face, A Life”: A Faculty Feature from Natalie Dykstra

I am terrible with good-byes.  When I used to spend the summer on my uncle’s Iowa farm, feeding calves, mowing the large swaths of grass, driving tractor for the hay balers, I would hide in the barn when it was time to return with my parents to a Chicago suburb.  I didn’t want to say goodbye – to my cousins, to the barn cats, to my favorite maple tree near the horse pasture.  I so dreaded leaving my third-grade classroom, I fake-fell off the playground equipment and “sprained” my right arm.  Anything not to have to say good-bye to my teacher.  Fourth grade could NEVER be as good as third grade – no way.

Similar feelings stir in me while I prepare to travel back to Boston in a few days, where I live with my dear husband, Mike.  I’m used to this end-of-the-year transition, having taught at Hope College only in the fall semester for the last five years.  And, make no mistake, I’m eager to be home again.

Yet this transition feels different than the others, because I won’t be back to teaching until Fall 2020.  I have received a year-long National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award, allowing me to work full-time on my next project.  I’m writing another biography, this time of the art collector and museum founder Isabella Stewart Gardner, a woman of the same generation and social circle as Clover Adams, the subject of my first book.  Clover and Isabella – they were very different women, but they were both passionate about looking at art and making beauty.

Author photograph of the third-floor chapel at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA.

On a cold Christmas Eve in 1901, Isabella held a midnight service in the third-floor chapel of her Venetian-style house museum, which she’d filled with her art collection. A large 13th-century French glass window (left) glows as its centerpiece.  The Boston Globe reported that “shortly before midnight the altar of the little chapel was lighted most brilliantly, and the services were begun at the midnight hour. … The chapel is quite small … and is similar in character to the chapels which were a feature of the Italian palaces of the 15th and 16th centuries.”  Isabella loved the holiday season, its drama and spectacle.  Five years later, she wrote that the service “in my little chapel here was beautiful and emotioning!”  One of her neighbors near the museum would later remember lifting the apartment windows at the midnight hour, with holiday music coming in along with the whoosh of cold air.

***

Author photograph of her office in Lubbers Hall.

My favorite space on campus is also the one where I spend the most time – my office in Lubbers Hall.  Henry Bosch, the campus carpenter for many years, designed and built its wooden shelves that line the walls, floor to ceiling.  His precise handiwork reminds me to pay attention to details.  I will miss opening the door to my office.  I will miss my dear Michigan friends and colleagues.  I will surely miss my wonderful students.  But I’ll also get to do what I love – write about people in the past, finding narrative lines that sketch the contours of a gesture, a face, a life.

I have a home to go home to.  I have more art to look at, primary sources to understand, and many, many stories to tell.  Goodbyes are so emotioning.  Better get going.

A blessed holiday season to all!

Who Was A. J. Muste?

Professor of English Kathleen Verduin shares her insights on a Hope icon, prior to the dedication of Muste’s sculpture on November 13 at 3pm at Van Wylen Library.  

Tell me you’ve heard of him: Abraham Johannes Muste (1885-1967), labor leader, world-renowned pacifist, and probably Hope’s most famous alumnus.

Born in the Netherlands, Muste immigrated to Grand Rapids with his family in 1891. He graduated from Hope College in 1905: valedictorian, captain of the basketball team, president of his fraternity (the Fraters, of course), and already an acclaimed orator. He studied at New Brunswick Seminary and was ordained as a pastor in the Reformed Church in America in 1909. From there, he served the Fort Washington Collegiate Church in New York City, but found himself increasing uncomfortable with the doctrines of Calvinism, and moved on to a Congregational Church near Boston.

The year 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany, was a dramatic watershed for the young man: despite social pressures around him, he adopted a position of radical pacifism.

Muste had already joined over sixty fellow pacifists to found the American wing of the international Fellowship of Reconciliation. Next, abandoning his pulpit, he turned toward labor organization as a theater where his commitment to issues of peace and justice could find expression.

In 1921, he became educational director of the Brookwood Labor College in New York and laid foundations for the Conference for Progressive Labor Action. Frustrated with the church, he was drawn for a time to Communism, even visiting the noted Marxist Leon Trotsky in 1936. “What could one say to the unemployed and the unorganized who were betrayed and shot down when they protested”? he asked himself. “What did one point out to them? Well, not the Church … you saw that it was the radicals, the Left-wingers, the people who had adopted some form of Marxian philosophy, who were doing something about the situation.”

And yet A. J. didn’t have it in him to stay away from Christianity for very long. That same year he wandered into the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris and experienced a reconversion: “Without the slightest premonition of what was going to happen, I was saying to myself: ‘This is where you belong.’” On his return to the United States, Muste headed the Presbyterian Labor Temple in New York and then became Executive Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

In 1949 a very young Martin Luther King, Jr., then at student at Crozer Seminary, heard Muste lecture on non-violent resistance. It may even be fair to say that King would not have achieved his ambitions had he not had Muste as an example.

In his years of “retirement,” Muste was more vigorous than ever, participating in a string of activities: the anti-nuclear walk to Mead Airforce Base, where the seventy-five-year old climbed over the fence into the grounds; the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace, the Quebec-Guantanamo Peace Walk, the Nashville-Washington Walk, and the Sahara Project to oppose nuclear testing in Africa.

In 1966, in the heat of the Vietnam War, he led a group to Saigon, where he was immediately deported, but shortly thereafter flew to Hanoi to meet Ho Chi Minh. Less than a month later Muste died of an aneurysm. The great American linguist, philosopher, and social critic Noam Chomsky called Muste “one of the most significant twentieth-century figures, an unsung hero.”

During the summer of 2017, I had the great privilege of accompanying David Schock on a series of cross-country trips to interview and record the memories of people who knew A. J. or had written about him. It was an unforgettable experience, and the footage is priceless. We heard the stories—often expressed in tears—of working with Muste, observing his deft administration, and wondering at his dedication. What is the cost of a life like Muste’s, a life that so realizes the imitatio Christi?

Surely Muste paid a price: his family’s finances were chronically precarious, he was often away from home, and he endured the suspicion of many with whom he had grown up. One person we interviewed estimated that Muste had probably owned no more than four suits in his entire life, and his shoes often revealed patches in the soles.

Yet Muste was a happy man. I love this story from his co-worker Barbara Deming, who was with him when he was arrested in Vietnam: “None of us had any idea how rough they might be,” she recalled, “and A. J. looked so very frail.” She went on: “I looked across the room at A. J. to see how he was doing. He looked back with a sparkling smile and, with that sudden light in his eyes which so many of his friends will remember, he said, ‘It’s a good life!’”

Though Muste wasn’t an English major, he was a lover of poetry, so it seems fitting to end with some of the lines that most inspired him. These words, from Stephen Spender’s “The Truly Great,” were read at his memorial service: “I think continually of those who were truly great. / Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history / Through corridors of life, where the hours are suns, / Endless and singing.”

Visit Digital Holland for a timeline of Muste’s life, and be sure to check out Hope’s A. J. Muste Web page.

Registering for Spring Courses? Fear not!

Registration for Spring 2019 is here, and English has just what you need, whether you want to curl up with a good book, work on your stand-up routine, or finally pen that perfect sonnet.  Scroll down for a taste of our offerings… and please visit plus.hope.edu for a complete list. We’d love for you to join us!

English 371-01: “Ernest Hemingway: Fiction and Film” – MWF 11:00-11:50 with Dr. Hemenway

For more than seven decades, people have asked me if I am the illegitimate son of Ernest Hemingway. No, I am not; we spell our names differently. However, I have come to terms with this mysterious and macho man. In “Ernest Hemingway: Fiction and Film,” I will present several of his short stories and novels and Hollywood versions of them to help you grapple with his “lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame” (New York Times, 1926) and the “technicolor adaptations featuring foreign settings and doomed love, and always at least half an hour too long” (Slate, 2007). English majors will encounter “Lost Generation” themes and techniques, Creative Writing students will imitate his economical realism, Secondary Education students will emerge with lesson plans for teaching such classic high-school texts as A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea. Scientists, Women’s Studies and Psychology majors, Midwesterners, film buffs, travelers, and adventure-seekers will all find something of interest.

English 240: “Comedy Writing” – Tu/Th 12:00-1:20 with Dr. Pannapacker

This is a hybrid course about the history and practice of comedy writing that focuses on writers and performers of the last sixty years in their cultural contexts (e.g., Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer). You will write reaction essays and give short presentations on the comedians we are studying, and write one longer essay on a relevant topic of your choosing.  Additionally, you will develop at least one comedic persona — drawing upon the techniques of famous performers — using social media to develop “bits” for use in larger comedic “sets” that you will present to the class for periodic feedback. This is not a course in performance, but you are likely to develop stronger delivery skills. By the end of the course, you should have an organized understanding of the history of U.S. comedy writing, a repertoire of writing and delivery techniques, and an emerging “fan base” for your work that can be developed for careers in writing for performance, print, and other media.

English 354: “Intermediate Creative Writing: Fiction” – Tu/Th 1:30-2:50 with Dr. Childress

According to Flannery O’Connor, “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way.” She also said, “I write to discover what I know.” And also: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”

So this is your chance: discover what you know by saying something that can’t be said any other way, and, of course, let your weird out! We’ll closely examine—as writers who are looking to steal their secrets—short stories from O’Conner and other literary giants in this genre, both classic and contemporary.  We’ll undertake exercises to develop your characters, push your plot lines, and make your dialogue do good and gritty work. We’ll engage in class critique. Come prepared to read and to write—lots and lots of each! You’ll write three short stories, try your hand at microfiction, introduce your classmates to a literary journal with fantastic short fiction, and turn in a final portfolio of roughly 30 radically revised pages.

So come discover what you know, and let the truth set you strange…

English 282: “American Ethnic Literature” (focus on Asian American Literature) – Tu/Th 12:00-1:20PM with Dr. Cho

Asian American Identity? The birth of the fortune cookie? A people group which profoundly shaped immigration and naturalization laws?  The “hula-hula” dance, palm trees, and pineapples? The earliest known date of Asian migration to the US (1565, if you can believe it)? Japanese American internment? The origins of Korean adoption? The origins of surfing? Why TV shows Gilligan’s Island, Fantasy Island, and Lost were set in the Pacific? A Japanese American Black Panther? The origins of the term “Asian American?” Asian American Civil Rights leaders?  Interested?  See you soon…

English 375: “Young Adult Ethnic American Literature” – Tu/Th 12:00-1:20 with Dr. Montaño

In this course, we will analyze Ethnic American literature for young adults. The goal will be to explore a wide range of perspectives, from a young girl growing up in Chicago who refuses to be perfect; a young boy growing up wondering which parts are Chinese and which American; two stories about Hispaniola (one Dominican and the other Haitian); and two surrealismo novels of young adults caught between worlds as well as familia.

This course will emphasize critical issues surrounding the renaissance of multicultural literature. Due to the novel nature of this approach, time and weight will be given to questions of intercultural production, intertextuality, historicism, and diversity in America. By exploring literature for young adults in this manner, we hope to raise fundamental questions over the very essence of our world and how we see it.

Extensive reading and discussion required, as well as written responses through various critical perspectives, multimedia presentations, and a larger final project. Meets Hope College GLD credit.

English 455-01: “Advanced Poetry” – Tu/Th 9:30-10:50 with Dr. Peschiera

Poetry is at the absolute, razor-sharp, leading edge of art. It’s also where everyone goes to express and recall profound emotion. It is popular and populist, and also elite and exclusionary. How can it be both? We’ll answer that question. You’ll write poems and talk about poems, writing for both popular and elite purposes, thinking about how your poetry can fill both spaces. We’ll discuss structure, rhythm, and sound, all while further developing your poet’s voice. You’ll print a small collection of your work. We’ll have writers and song writers visit us in person and on video chat, and watch videos about our poetry and poetics. But mostly you’ll talk about each other’s work every day, and read poems and essays about poetry. Sharpen the pencils, refill the pens!

“Some Autumn Reflections”: A Faculty Feature from William Pannapacker

We teach because we are not immortal; knowledge must be passed down. We get older, but the students remain the same age. Every fall renews that understanding.

I started at Hope College in 2000; newborns from that year are appearing in my classes now. My three daughters have grown up in Holland, and my oldest is attending Hope. I’ve stayed in Lubbers Hall long enough to watch many colleagues complete their careers and retire, and I have seen a remarkable number of other colleagues die at a relatively young age.

Students may notice the painting at the western end of the Lubbers third-floor hallway; it was made by Susan Atefat-Peckham, who died, with her young son Cyrus, in a car crash while doing research in the Middle East.  Or they may consider the two framed photographs and artwork near the department office: they commemorate Jennifer Young-Tait, our beloved assistant professor of African-American literature who died in childbirth, and David Klooster, our revered English department chair, who died of brain cancer within months of Jennifer’s death.

I am not sure that we ever will recover from those losses. And now we are grieving Jonathan Hagood, whose energy for the thankless work of administration seemed boundless. He departed unexpectedly, at age 43, just a few weeks ago.

There are few in Lubbers Hall whose lives have not been by impacted by grievous personal suffering: some of those burdens are public; more are carried in solitude.

In times of sorrow and loss, I have sometimes looked to the Book of Job. He has lost everything—possessions, health, and family—and he cries out to God for an explanation of why that has happened to him, when he is such a good man. God replies, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.”

It is not, of course, for us to question the mysterious workings of Providence. Everything, as some say, happens for a reason.

But such cold resignation finds a reassuring complement in the Gospel of John, where we read that “Jesus wept.” The Lord was, in that moment, responding like any suffering human to the death of his friend, Lazarus. Job might have asked, “What can an omnipotent God know of our pain, what it means to lose someone you love, to lie on a heap of ashes, despised and hopeless?” The pain of Jesus suggests that God is not an aloof, indifferent creative force, but a consciousness who understands our suffering and seeks to heal it.

I have spent much of my scholarly career contemplating the life and works of Walt Whitman.  The Civil War changed him from an arrogant nationalist, who urged his country to fratricidal war, to the “Wound Dresser.”  Whitman faced the blood and screams of the hospitals, and over several years, he learned to extend his empathy to the soldiers of the South as much as to those of the North: “Was one side so brave, the other was equally brave,” he wrote.

As the war came to end after the culminating sacrifice of President Lincoln—with 800,000 already dead—Whitman struggled to salvage a larger meaning from such loss, and to make a final peace from which the nation could move forward:

Word over all, beautiful as the sky!
Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost;
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world:
… For my enemy is dead—a man divine as myself is dead;
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin—I draw near;
I bend down, and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

In this poem, “Reconciliation,” Whitman steps outside the conflicts of the American present, defined by transient political and economic interests, into a larger realm of self-transcendence and cosmic forgiveness.

Great losses can provoke a profound and needed shedding of the manacles forged in the first half of our lives, as Richard Rohr suggests in Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. To lose everything—or at least many things—is to finally address the broken self you have become. Do you even feel confident before your own judgment? Are you now the person you hoped to become? What stops you from realizing that self in the time you have left?

This year is the anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy, brother of an assassinated president, John, both brothers of Joseph, lost in World War II. By the time of his own run for the presidency in 1968, Robert was a man transfigured by pain, whose empathetic imagination had expanded far beyond his elite upbringing, and personal ambition, to include the poor and discriminated against, and the dispossessed of all kinds.

In his most memorable speech, following the murder of Martin Luther King, Kennedy paraphrased Aeschylus: “And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Robert Kennedy was assassinated within two months.

None of us can say what the future holds, but we—as a campus, and as individuals—can take some consolation in the unshakable truth that from pain comes wisdom, and that from loss comes renewed dedication to shared values and beliefs.

In that sense, the larger function of teaching cannot be fulfilled by any single person; it is the task of a community struggling, always, to reform itself, to reconcile its differences, to feel empathy across divisions, to embrace humility, and to collectively seek a higher purpose than the knowledge of our disciplines.

We teach by who we become more than by what we know.

25 & Counting: The Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series 2018 Preview

It’s been 25 years since Hope English professor Jack Ridl founded his Visiting Writers Series — JRVWS for short — and it’s time to celebrate! We have remarkable events scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on September 27th and November 13th. Will we see you there?

Hope College has a true legacy in creating a rich community of writers. Throughout the school year, students, faculty, and locals alike will have opportunities to engage these writers in conversation, hear them read from their work, and learn from their artistry.

How does one “humbly celebrate”? Not a paradox if you’re Jack Ridl…

To begin the season, here’s a sneak peak of this fall’s unprecedented gathering of artists, brought to you by the team behind the curtain: English professor and JRVWS director Susanna Childress, and JRVWS interns Shanley Smith (’19) and Annika Gidley (’19). In the words of Dr. Childress: “We hope you’ll join us as we humbly celebrate the rich legacy of years past and look forward to years to come.”

September 27: Matthew Baker, Linda Nemec Foster, Anne-Marie Oomen, and Meridith Ridl

In less than two weeks, Hope College will welcome back alum Matthew Baker for the Tom Andrews Memorial Reading. Since leaving Hope, he’s made a big splash, including a recent Netflix deal — look out for more details in our forthcoming interview here at the department blog!

Shanley Smith, who is helping to coordinate Baker’s visit, shared a bit about what his work means to her:

“During my first semester at Hope College, my professor assigned the short story ‘Rites’ by Matthew Baker. I clicked instantly with his crisp style and bizarre subject material. I discovered in class the next day that Baker ranks as one of Hope College’s most successful creative writing graduates.

“Ripe with philosophy and equations, his latest work Hybrid Creatures catered to my left-brain mindset. His specificity with topics such as Aristotle or trigonometry creates a paradoxical accessibility to individuals across various disciplines. Through the mathematical and scientific, his stories tap into the humanity of subjects such as memory loss and family conflict.

“For nearly four years I’ve admired Baker’s work, so it is with heightened anticipation that I look forward to welcoming this year’s JRVWS alumni guest.”

On the same evening, we’ll also welcome the creators of a beautiful book featuring two types of artistic collaboration! It’s not just a reading — Dr. Childress lets us know to expect the unexpected from Linda Nemec Foster, Anne-Marie Oomen, and Meridith Ridl:

“What makes Lake Michigan Mermaid unusual is not just the ‘tale in poems’ of a young woman trying to find where she belongs or the threat of losing connection with her family and their home, a ramshackle cottage on the lake. It’s also the voice of a mermaid speaking telepathically into such an urgent and pivotal moment.

“This poem-tale is a collaboration of Michigan co-authors Linda Nemec Foster and Anne-Marie Oomen, illustrated by the striking, mystical hand of Meridith Ridl. Such a summation of talent and connectivity brings us the fascinating, fantastical, and endearing story-verse and visuals of Lykretia and Phyliadellacia, which JRVWS-goers will get to experience as a co-reading with projected illustrations. In our series’ 25 years, there’s never been an event quite like it!”

November 13: Emily St. John Mandel

Partnering with the Big Read, JRVWS will be bringing Emily St. John Mandel back to the very lakeshore that provides the setting for her New York Times-bestselling novel Station Eleven.

Annika Gidley, one of the students making it all possible, gives us the details:

Station Eleven, a novel by Emily St. John Mandel and this year’s selection for the NEA Big Read Lakeshore, examines the search for human connection in a world where ninety-nine percent of the population has perished in a pandemic. The novel offers all the action and suspense that readers of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction expect. But more than that, it allows the reader to ruminate on bigger, more uplifting ideas, such as the importance of art and the power of relationships that develop in unexpected places.

“In a world where social media and ever-increasing workloads make authentic connection seem harder to come by, St. John Mandel offers readers a chance to reflect on and interrogate their own world, their own relationships.

“When she visits Hope’s campus in November, St. John Mandel will provide insight that readers can take with them as they put down the novel and step out into their own lives.”

Intrigued? Join us, and experience these unique opportunities for yourself.

Matthew Baker, Linda Nemec Foster, Anne-Marie Oomen, and Meridith Ridl will appear for a Q&A in the Martha Miller Center at 3:30 p.m. on 9/27. Their presentations are at 7:00 p.m. in the Jack Miller Center, followed by a 25th anniversary dessert reception.

Emily St. John Mandel will give an address to students at 11:00 a.m. on 11/13, and her keynote speech will be at 7:00 p.m. the same day in Jack Miller.

Hello! We’ve Got Some Catching Up to Do

At the end of Spring semester, the last exam lets out. Students scatter to all parts of Michigan, the country, and the world. Meanwhile, the professors gather canned goods and bottled water, select their favorite classroom, turn off the lights, and slip under a desk to hibernate for the summer.

Wait… can that be right?

Welcome back, returning Hope students! Welcome, first-years! The English department is delighted to see you, and we’d love to hear what you did on your summer vacation — though we promise not to make you to write an essay with that title. Here’s a glimpse into what some of us did with ours!

Over the summer, Dr. Kendra Parker completed her manuscript, She Bites Back: Black Female Vampires in African American Women’s Novels, 1977-2011, and the book is expected to be released in December 2018.
← Here’s a partial sneak peek of the book’s cover image. We can’t wait for She Bites Back to come out!

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Dr. Jesus Montaño and Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño spent the summer finalizing their book manuscript, Tactics of Hope in Latinx Children’s and Young Adult Literature, under contract with University of New Mexico Press. Busy people around here!  We’re all very excited to read Tactics of Hope, too.

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Bill Moreau shared this wonderful photo of him standing with his Education Department June Term group.  Students took either an elementary school literacy class (taught by Laura Pardo) or a secondary school methods class (taught by Bill), and spent two weeks in classrooms in Liverpool area schools. They also got to take fun three-day weekend trips, like this visit to the top of King Arthur’s Seat (an extinct volcano) just outside Edinburgh, Scotland!

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We’re impressed and proud of awesome office manager Raquel Niles, who shared this note: “Attached is a pic of me with my cool medal. I ran my first 5k and it was the longest 3 miles ever.”

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Dr. Kathleen Verduin told us that after a trip to Las Vegas (no, not really) and the Grand Canyon, she settled down to research not one but three essays in progress: one on the American literary historian George Ticknor (1791-1871) and his interest in Dante, coming out in the Massachusetts Historical Review later this year; another on James Russell Lowell (1819-1891); and an essay on John Updike (1932-2009) and stuttering that will be published in a collection on literature and disability. But, she confessed, she still didn’t get to clearing out the basement…

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Dr. Elizabeth Trembley had a very full summer. She got to sing Hope’s Alma Mater hymn with the Chapel Choir several times in South Africa! In her words, she had an amazing time “experiencing music and history and the daily work still done in South Africa to further the cause of justice, especially for marginalized groups of people.” She also worked on her graphic memoir, and traveled to Vermont for a workshop on creating book-length comics with Eisner award winner Paul Karasik. She’ll be on leave of absence this year to work on her book, but plans to stay connected.

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Dr. Curtis Gruenler and Dr. Matthew Packer of Buena Vista University, U2 fans and joint editors of the Bulletin of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, were thrilled to visit the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater while in Denver for COV&R‘s annual meeting. Prof. Gruenler gave a paper on “Mimesis, Friendship, and Truth,” ideas he’d explored during his spring semester sabbatical. English major Annika Gidley ’19 came along too, and gave a very well-received paper on her summer research project with Prof. Gruenler, about René Girard’s mimetic theory and the Harry Potter series.

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Not only does Dr. Rhoda Janzen have a new textbook out from Flip learning, she teased us with some fascinating details about her next book project: “I spent my summer in CA with my head in the nineteenth century, researching this old house. It’s a bit like Bly — remote secrets, a hidden mistress, a Raisin Barron, a murder!”

* * *

Another traveling researcher was Dr. Marla Lunderberg, who wrote an article about best practices for including Asian Studies materials in Western Cultural Heritage courses. (She invites everyone to ask her about Zheng He!) Between teaching two summer courses, she gathered with all four kids and their significant others to celebrate her oldest son’s wedding! In June, she meandered through Europe, biking in the Netherlands, visiting the Bayeux Tapestry in northern France, connecting with a Hope English alumna in Paris, reconnecting with a dear Swiss friend in the Alps, and participating in a John Donne conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. Whew!

* * *

She wasn’t the only one in the Alps; Dr. Christiana Salah visited Switzerland in mid-July, but before doing some hiking like Heidi, she made a stop in Vienna, Austria and couldn’t believe who she happened to bump into while catching a train out of the city, boarding the same car, by the same door… our very own Doc Hemenway!

Doc directed and taught both sessions (May and June) of the 62nd annual Hope College Vienna Summer School, which he has led for 43 consecutive summers.   Seventy-four students participated this time! After it ended, he visited several of Hope College’s European graduates in Germany and Austria, participated in the San Fermin Running of the Bulls Fiesta in Pamplona, Spain, and attended the week-long 18th International Ernest Hemingway Conference in Paris, France.

So that was our summer. How was yours? Let us know in the comments or @HopeEnglishDept, or pay us a visit in Lubbers Hall!

“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!

Hope College Academy of American Poets Prize 2018

About the Prize

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

Judged by Lauren Haldeman

Lauren Haldeman

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

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

Winner: Amber Carnahan’s “Rooted”

Amber Carnahan

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

Rooted

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

 

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

Safia Hattab

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

The Aftermath Sestina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Cassatt’s 1894 painting “The Pensive Reader”

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

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

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

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