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!”

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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!

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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!  

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.

Event: JRVWS Authors, Karen Russell and Nate Marshall

I am thrilled to say that Karen Russell and Nate Marshall will be arriving on campus this Thursday, March 1 to participate in the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series. They will host a Q&A at 3:30pm in the Fried-Hemenway auditorium and read from their work at 7:00pm in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts. It’s an especially exciting thought for me as I prepare to welcome an author whom I have loved for years, as well as another whose work I just recently encountered with immediate respect. For those of you who haven’t heard of either of them, let me tell you a bit about my experiences with their works.

When I was seventeen, I read Karen Russell’s short story “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.” It was a story that nipped at my mind for months to follow. Needless to say, I was excited when I found out that she’d be visiting Hope College. She was one of those pivotal writers that first spurred me on when I started exploring the world of contemporary literature. Her words bent my expectations of narration and plot and she introduced me to a new form of literature: magical realism.

Karen Russell

As I read her book Vampires in the Lemon Grove this summer, I found myself once again in the grip of Russell’s words. Her stories were infectious, permeating my thoughts long after I finished the collection. I often caught myself attempting to explain her bizarre plotlines to my friends, and I soon realized that her flare for magical realism had begun to creep into my own poetry. I do not offer my recommendation for Karen Russell’s work lightly; in fact, I must warn that her work stole my attention and snatched my thoughts in a way that stretched beyond mere entertainment. Russell sneakily inserts cultural reflections into her stories. Her latest novel Swamplandia! encouraged me to meditate on juxtapositions between family and individuality, selfishness and ambition, and faith and naivety. Be warned that Karen Russell will leave you with a busy imagination and a sensitive conscience.

Our other visiting writer Nate Marshall taps into the classic theme of home in his latest book of poetry. It seems most authors have spent a season exploring their childhood through writing. This makes sense, as our upbringings often shape how we view the world, but Nate Marshall’s book of poetry Wild Hundreds strides beyond an ordinary reflection on home. University of Pittsburgh Press is right to describe his work as “a love song to Chicago.”

Nate Marshall

Marshall brightens his poems with strikingly original material as he writes about Harold’s Chicken Shack in a series of three poems. The pieces work together in a beautiful exploration of strength, spirituality, and identity. In another poem, entitled “Palindrome,” he vivifies the age-old subject of romance as he tells a love story in reverse. Marshall’s words invited me into his nostalgia with an even balance of sweetness and grit. The material provided me with something to digest rather than simply taste, and he awakened within me an appreciation for streets I hadn’t walked, foods I hadn’t tasted, and churches I hadn’t attended. Marshall dropped me into blends of love and hate and left me in a perfect balance of peace and conviction. In his own words, Nate Marshall brought me on a journey through “a pool of grief puddling, / a stare into the barrel, / a push into open air,” yet as Marshall concludes, “ours is a love song.” He manages to string all the complexities of his upbringing together into a serenade for the streets where he grew up, and I am so thankful that he allowed me as a reader to listen to it.

I hope you all join me on March 1 at Nate Marshall’s and Karen Russell’s Q&A at 3:30pm in the Fried-Hemenway auditorium and their reading at 7:00pm at Jack Miller.

For more information feel free to visit the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series website.

A Multidisciplinary Student Group Presents at #SAMLA89: An Undergraduate Research Forum Experience

–Dr. Kendra R. Parker

The Undergraduate Research Panel, “Gender and Race: Beyond Art, Entertainment, and Fashion” at the 89th Annual South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA 89) Convention was the first undergraduate panel I singlehandedly organized and moderated. Twice before, at the College Language Association Convention in 2015 and 2016, I co-organized a cross-campus undergraduate panel with students from Hope College and Howard University. I wrote about the students’ CLA experience here.

Not only did I organize this SAMLA panel based on my CLA experiences, but I also organized this panel because I was a respondent for an Undergraduate Research Forum at SAMLA 88 in 2016. SAMLA 88 was the first time, to my knowledge, that the Undergraduate Research Forum was held, and I was pleased to know there would be one-on-one time to respond to each undergraduate panelist’s presentation individually, an addition I had not personally experienced at CLA. As the respondent, I addressed each presenter and their work directly, offering praise, suggestions, and questions.

I wanted my students to have a similar experience, and thus “Gender and Race: Beyond Art, Entertainment, and Fashion” emerged.

Left to Right: Nina D. Kay, Curissa Sutherland-Smith, Dr. Kendra R. Parker, and Nia Stringfellow are all smiles before the 10 AM session began.

The three participants, Nia Stringfellow (‘18), Nina D. Kay (‘19), and Curissa Sutherland-Smith (‘18), represent a multidisciplinary trio—Exercise Science and Dance; Women’s and Gender Studies, Art History, and Creative Writing; Psychology and American Ethnic Studies.

They spent part of their 2017 summer preparing for the conference, and they also spent 4 hours on a Saturday morning in October participating in a conference simulation. To make the practice session as “real” as possible, I invited students enrolled in my fall 2017 courses to attend and to offer feedback on each of the presentations. Two weeks later, we travelled to Atlanta, GA on Delta Airlines on Thursday, November 2, 2017, and they presented on Friday morning at 10 AM.

Nia Stringfellow’s presentation, “The Man Who Wore Red: A Contextual Analysis of Chicago-Based Artwork,” explored the life works of Allen Stringfellow (1923-2004), an African-American collage and water-color artist whose artwork captured the joyous gatherings of African-American people. Stringfellow focuses specifically on Allen’s use of the color red—noting it functioned prominently in his paintings that depicted baptisms, and that those paintings of black people emerged after he stopped passing as white, engaging in a sort of rebirth of his own.

Nina D. Kay’s presentation, “Contemporary Children’s Media: (Re) Shaping the Way Future Generations Understand Gender” – retitled “The Second Classroom of Children’s Media: A New Lesson Plan on Masculinity & The Achievement of Manhood” – carefully considered the animation of bodies in three American children’s cartoons: Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe. Kay’s close “reading” of specific episodes highlighted the ways gender roles, gender expectations, gender identity, and gender expression are depicted.

Left to Right: Curissa Sutherland-Smith, Nia Stringfellow, and Nina Kay are all smiles as they enjoy the terrifyingly steep escalator in the MARTA station.

Curissa Sutherland-Smith’s presentation, “From Church Hats to Head Wraps: Black Women’s Fashion as Activism,” informed attendees of how Black women in America pushed through boundaries and chains to formulate a new culture and political activism that remains present today through head wear, specifically in self and communal identity, embracement of forbears, and resisting stereotypes and self-imposed images.

These students’ projects provided thought-provoking analysis to a small, but engaged audience in Atlanta. Their participation in SAMLA 89 provided them an opportunity to partake in academic engagement on a national level with experts in the fields of women’s and gender studies, arts, humanities, and cultural studies.

Taking students to SAMLA 89 was more than just an exercise in mentorship, a chance to refine public presentation skills, and an opportunity to present research; it was an opportunity to expose students to a community of teacher-scholars and to the rigors—and rewards—of communal engagement with material.

SAMLA 90, November 2-4, 2018, will be held in Birmingham, Alabama. The conference theme is “Fighters from the Margins: Socio-Political Activists and Their Allies.”

I am grateful for the experience and opportunity to travel with students. Our trip to Atlanta to attend SAMLA 89 would not have been possible without the funding provided by the Department of English, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, the Mellon Scholars Program, and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Many thanks to Dr. Ernest Cole, Dr. Carrie Bredow, Dr. Anne Heath, and Mrs. Vanessa Greene for their generosity and support of student research.

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.

Event: JRVWS Authors, Randall Horton and Lauren Haldeman

Over Christmas break I found myself with time to nestle into a couch and burrow into books with a leisure that school semesters rarely allow. I took my time entering new worlds conjured up through poetry and memoir. Two of the books I was fortunate enough to read–Hook and Instead of Dying–were written by the next two guests for the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series, and they will both be on campus to read their work this Thursday, February 1, at 7:00 P.M. My emotions were caught in the heist of these crafty authors’ words. I knew from the dust jackets that their works would make a grab for my heartstrings, but I did not anticipate how tightly they would grip me.

Randall Horton

Hook by Randall Horton introduced me to a world that I’d never imagined before reading. I’ve always admired memoirists for their ability to sift through memory with honesty and courage. Randall’s work is exceptional in this regard. He shares his journey through addiction, incarceration and eventual rehabilitation. He writes with a natural poeticism and earnestness, which allowed me to empathize with what I would’ve thought an incomprehensible world; instead, Horton graciously invited me into a story ripe with the human condition.

In her own distinct fashion, Lauren Haldeman wooed me from the moment I laid eyes on the cover of Instead of Dying. It expresses a sort of whimsy with its sketch of two wolves holding a stream of colors reminiscent of Funfetti. Her vocabulary is rich with nostalgia and tenderness as she honors the most innocent memories such as birthdays and “the way the candles and cake arrive.”

Lauren Haldeman

Haldeman’s book drew up long-buried memories from licking the strawberry frosting on my fourth birthday cake to stargazing with my father. This nostalgia made the core of her poetry–the grieving process following her brother’s death–hit with an intensity paralleled by the soft grace of her imagery. I toted this book with me to coffee shops and airports only to find myself crying in these most public places. Haldeman’s words, though gentle, prodded me and stirred buried sentiments of family memories and the fragility and importance of relationships.

Horton and Haldeman both display an aptitude for the “white hot center” that Robert Olen Butler describes as the key virtue of any skilled author. Their fearlessness hums in their writing and shakes each page. I look forward to meeting them this Thursday, February 1, as they join us for the first event of the Spring 2018 Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series, where they will bring both voice and insight to their books.

Please join these fine writers at the 3:30 P.M. Q&A session in the Martha Miller Center’s Fried-Hemenway Auditorium and at the 7:00 P.M. reading in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts.

For more information on these events, visit the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series website.