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!

* * *

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.

* * *

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!

* * *

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.”

* * *

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…

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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!

Alumni Feature from Kyle Bernaciak ’16

Officer Kyle Bernaciak, Chicago Police Department 006th District—Gresham

As I walked out of an English course, Irish Literature, in late March of my senior year at Hope, I scrolled through new emails on my phone. My heart nearly stopped on the second-floor landing of Lubbers Hall, as I received the news that I had been accepted into the Chicago Police Academy. I had been ordered to report the Monday following my graduation in May 2016. My relatively simple college student lifestyle was about to change. I was on the threshold of the so-called real world.

Fast forward six months, I’m patrolling a beat on Chicago’s Southside, particularly the Englewood neighborhood. It’s a community that doesn’t resemble me. Residents are almost entirely African-American, they have varied religious beliefs, and most individuals fall below the poverty line. This neighborhood leads the city in violent crimes, shootings, and homicides.

My partner and I just finished completing a police report for a young woman who was robbed at gunpoint while walking home from work. Now, we are maneuvering traffic on Marquette Avenue with our lights oscillating and the sirens blaring.  We’re responding to a call about a person with a gun, and the address of occurrence is within an enhanced violence zone.  It’s my first few weeks on the streets and, as you can imagine, I’ve got a cold sweat, and I can’t predict what is going to happen next. It turns out not to be a bonafide incident. We get back in our squad car, drive away, and get called over the radio to respond to a domestic battery incident a few blocks away. I think to myself how things have changed in only a few short months.

My transition from an English major with the intent to be a high school teacher to a Chicago police officer was a rather peculiar one. My father has been a Chicago firefighter since 1980. I guess you can say civil service is in my blood.  I didn’t want to settle after graduation.  I wanted to do something different. One of my favorite classes at Hope was “Race Matters,” taught by Dr. Stephen Hemenway. Analyzing race, diversity, and ethnicity was fascinating and eye-opening. We always had very valuable classroom discussions. The texts were intriguing.

Looking back, there is valuable advice that I want to pass on to Hope students deciding on their next steps after graduation.  Hope students, like me, need to grasp the valuable academic knowledge in their courses and immerse themselves in new cultures rich with diversity and elements of the unknown. They have to take the risks.  It will pay off.

Now, I’ve been a Chicago police officer for over a year and a half. I work in the Gresham neighborhood, also located on the Southside. I can confidently say that I utilize my Hope College English education multiple times throughout each tour of duty.  In the English Department, students are taught to be genuine communicators. Additionally, they have to analyze texts and present their ideas in a concise, yet persuading manner. On a daily basis, my duties as a police officer are enhanced by my English education background when I:

  • generate Case Incident Reports and Arrest Reports. These legal documents have a narrative component that requires the ability to articulate elements of the crime.  Poignant language and a clear narrative flow are essential to the overall effectiveness of the report.
  • communicate with citizens in various forms, whether in a call of service, a traffic stop, a narcotics investigation, or a community concern. Sometimes, I can be a friendly presence for kids to let them know I’m here to help.

 

Hope College allows students to individually flourish. They have endless opportunities to express their ideas and beliefs and to take stances on important issues. An English major from Hope will open so many doors of opportunity.  So embrace risks.  Explore various careers.  Make diverse connections.  Never doubt your intellectual ability. You’ve studied under professors like Hemenway, Moreau, Kenagy, Dykstra, Burton, Montaño, and Trembley— they’re the experts. Listen closely to their advice, because I guarantee it will pay off. If you happen to “fall” into a profession, stick to what you know best and rely on the skill set that you’ve perfected at Hope College.

Alumni Feature: Peter Derby, Class of 2005

Dear Reader,

One of my former professors asked me to write to you.  She suggested, in not so many words, you might like to know how having an English major at Hope College can influence your future.  Not knowing you personally, the next best thing I can do is write a letter to “past me”—the me that was once in your shoes, sitting in an English class at Hope wondering about my future.  I want to let my former self know what he’s up to now, 15 years later.

This morning you woke up and hopped on the subway in Brooklyn, NY. (That’s where you live.) You’re practicing a pitch on the train to Manhattan for your meeting at CNN’s New York headquarters with one of their senior producers, the Director of Technology for CNN Digital. You’ve known this producer for a few years, and today is important because you want him to hire you for a project. You’re telling him about a documentary series that follows people who move to destination cities – like New York, Paris, London – without a plan, risking luck and failure. You hope CNN’s digital studio or the NY Times digital studio might be interested in collaborating or buying it. Sounds promising, right?

So how can I prepare you for this morning far off into the future? Well, you certainly had no idea you’d take a career path that led to today. What is relevant for you to know is this:  these pitch meetings will require that you deliver concise thesis statements, and the better you get at writing thesis statements, the better you get at pitching ideas.  A lot of what you do in 2017 relies on what you learned about how to structure your thinking.

There are a lot of things you don’t know and won’t be able to prepare for with your career. Yeah, you’re thinking if I don’t know what I don’t know, what is the point? You don’t know it yet, but understanding the fundamentals of narrative structure and analysis of that structure will become more important as technology transforms how people communicate and make sense of their world.

Here’s another example. Last week you met a client. It was good to see him, but he had bad news. A colleague of his, a mutual acquaintance and a director of content strategy for a well-known startup, had been fired.  When asked why, he shook his head regretfully and said: “he just didn’t know how to structure his thinking and clearly lay out what his team needed to do.”

Back in 2005, it was not useful to try and figure out what your job title would be, especially since your path to this point was by no means linear.  There’s no Senior Vice President of English Thought Process as, say, an engineering major becomes a Senior Engineer.

So here are three useful things you realize about what you learned at Hope as an English major.

  1. It is valuable to learn how to ask questions. How do you arrive at a question and what is the premise? Can you simplify complex problems to essential points? Are you listening (or reading), or are you reacting?
  2. Once you’ve developed a point of view, a thesis (a.k.a. a pitch), do you know the best way to format/structure your point and increase its potential impact? Is there a better or quicker way to do this? In developing your point of view, follow the ideas you’re fascinated in because everything is needed quickly, and professionals know a safe boring story before you even tell it. (Just a heads up.)
  3. Are you open to learning new ways of communicating and developing new perspectives?

These aren’t things you thought about as an undergrad, but after you left, they did stay with you, because you’d been practicing the discipline of structuring your own thoughts and taking them seriously. You didn’t call it this, but that’s what happened. As your advisor once told you as you sat in his office, you should be able to construct a thesis and strong argument about the chair you’re sitting in. If you haven’t yet identified the skills you’re developing and enjoy practicing as an undergrad, I know a few professors who can help you. Somewhere between the skills you learn at school and the skills of your future career, there is an overlap.

After you get off that train in Manhattan, arrive at CNN, and deliver your pitch, your contact there is going to nod and tell you your project is interesting.  He is going to ask you how you feel about learning how to film, capture light, and frame shots. This will be a bit like putting together a puzzle, where you aren’t given all the pieces, but, hey, you’re an English major.  You know what you’re doing.

 

Alumni Feature: “Reading Against The Grain”

Sally Smits Masten, ’01

What are you doing now?

Currently, I am a Writing Center mentor at Western Governors University, an online nonprofit university that primarily serves adults going back to school for their undergraduate or graduate degrees.  I adore this work.  I feel really lucky to be part of it.  I get to work with dedicated students all over the U.S. who are working so hard to make life better for themselves and their families.  I get to help them gain confidence in their writing, which is just joyful work.  And I get to work with a wonderful bunch of colleagues and at a university that works hard to keep students at the center of all we do.

Second, but not least, I live in North Carolina, near the shore, with my marvelous husband, my ridiculous dog, and my grumpy cat.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

My Hope English education shaped me in every way, really.  My professors were then (and are now) some of the best people I’ve met.  They taught me to pay attention to detail, to think hard and revise my opinion based on a second look, another point of view, someone else’s comments.  They opened my eyes to whole new fields that I otherwise would have avoided (e.g., Milton, Pope!).  They continuously reminded me why I loved words and books and poems; they sustained that enthusiasm.  They taught me how to read against the grain–a skill I use every day.  Simultaneously, they helped me trust my own ideas and voice, which, despite my loudmouthiness now, was not something I was able to do at 18.

Perhaps most importantly, though, they taught me compassion.  They made me want to become a teacher, but beyond that, even now, they make me want to embody exactly the kind of respect, kindness, seriousness, and thoughtfulness with which they taught me.  My gratitude for those relationships is just boundless.

What advice would you give to English majors today?

Don’t listen to all the people who say, “What will you do with an English major?” Or, more sarcastically, “So, you plan to be a barista?”  English majors are valued and valuable for their insights, their ability to communicate those insights, their ability to carefully craft and interpret language.  I have many English major friends, of course, and we’ve ended up in many fields — publishing, business, law, education, healthcare, nonprofit work, etc. The important thing is to pursue what you love and know that there is a place for you and what you love in the world. It may be scary sometimes, but there is a place for you in the world.

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

Currently, since I live in North Carolina, since I studied 20th-century southern poetry for my dissertation, and since the debate over Confederate monuments has sprung up again recently, I would like to teach a course titled “Take It Down: Southern Poets Writing against Racism and Sexism.”  I’d have to do more research, but on the syllabus, I’d definitely include Anne Spencer, Jean Toomer, Eleanor Ross Taylor, Robert Penn Warren, and oh, so many more.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

Of all the questions…!  Paradise by Toni Morrison is maybe my all-time favorite novel.  Wilderness of Ladies, a poetry collection by Eleanor Ross Taylor, is a collection that just keeps revealing more brilliance each time I come back to it.  Any and all of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poems. And, for the joy of it, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, maybe the best (only?) children’s book about unionized cows ever.

 

EVENT: JRVWS Author, Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal

The second event of this year’s Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series is almost here! This Thursday, October 19, JRVWS will host multi-genre writer Paisley Rekdal. Rekdal is the author of two books of essays and five books of poetry and has had work featured in a number of noteworthy journals. Rekdal’s visit will include a question and answer session at 3:30pm in the Fried-Hemenway Auditorium of Martha Miller as well as a reading at 7:00pm in the John and Dede Howard Recital Hall of Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts.

In Paisley Rekdal’s most recent book of poetry, Imaginary Vessels, she explores feminism, violence, identity, and themes of containment, inviting readers to reflect on their own place in the world. When I first read Rekdal’s poetry, I was struck by her images, which are at once vibrant, graceful, and captivating: her “palace animals’ teeth” or the “fine chinks of spine/ unlocking perfectly/ from each other.” Rekdal’s poems range from traditional forms and rhyme schemes, to more genre-defying, narrative pieces. Nevertheless, each poem demonstrates an unmissable and intuitive understanding of shape and craft.

Rekdal’s work in other genres is no less compelling. In her latest non-fiction book, The Broken Country, Rekdal continues to explore violence, but also looks at cultural trauma and the specific experiences of Vietnamese immigrants.  Rekdal’s carefully chosen words were deeply moving and informative to me, though I had little previous exposure to her topics.  She gives a personal and human face to the trauma experienced as a result of war and immigration. Weaving personal reflections with the careful analysis of other stories and events, Rekdal’s prose provides a unique understanding of violence and immigrant identity.

Don’t miss your chance to connect with Rekdal this Thursday and hear her words come alive. In the mean time, you can also get your own copy of her books at the Hope College Bookstore or be thinking of questions to ask her at the Q&A.

This is also a good time to remind the Hope College community and the Holland community at large of the invaluable opportunity offered by JRVWS:  the chance to talk with and hear from publishing writers. Be sure to come out to this event and contact the director of the series, Susanna Childress, for more ways to get involved.

Dr. Susanna Childress enjoying JRVWS.

For more details about the event, check out the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series Website

— Grace Hulderman, JRVWS Student Intern