Angela Dominguez and Diverse Children’s Literature: A Faculty Feature by Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño

This past week, English Department faculty members Susanna Childress, Jesus Montaño, and I, along with student Sarah Herrera, met children’s book author and illustrator Angela Dominguez for lunch at a downtown Holland restaurant. Perhaps you know Angela from her bilingual Pura Belpré Honor Books María Had a Little Llama and Marta! Big & Small, or her fabulous middle-grade chapter book Stella Díaz Has Something to Say. We all were thrilled that Angela was willing to meet with us for a brief visit between her many readings at local schools and the Herrick District Library.

During our lively conversation, the literature professor in me had to ask Angela about her intended audience: “Whom do you think about when you create your books?” Angela shared with us her desire to engage young Latinx kids who may not often find themselves mirrored in books typically housed in classrooms or libraries.

Her words made me think of the power of diverse books for young Latinx readers. I have always been interested in how certain readers become experts (or “cultural insiders,” as some kid-lit scholars put it) when they read or listen to stories from their culture. In other words, they know more than the other kids during story time. Their cultural knowledge and language abilities (in this case, reading Spanish) give them the upper hand.

In this way, diverse books that “translanguage”—scholar talk for using a mix of words in multiple languages—invert the common host/guest power dynamic, where (here in the United States) Spanish speakers are often the guest and English speakers are the host. Inverting this dynamic plays a significant role in affirming children’s identities, given the ways linguistic and cultural identities are interwoven.

Along with thinking about Latinx readers, Angela shared that she also thinks about majority kids when she creates her books. She hopes that they will see kids in her stories who are different from them, with different skin tones and languages, not as other, but as potential friends. There are pleasures, as we know when we travel, in being the guest.

In a goodbye chat with Angela following our lunch, Sarah mentioned that she first came across Angela’s books in her mom’s preschool classroom. From this experience, Sarah had seen first-hand the significance of these books to Latinx children, the ways that kids find affirmation in books with characters that look and speak like them. Further, she found in Angela an inspiration for herself as a writer. Sarah told me: “Meeting with Angela Dominguez gave me a new sense of inspiration. Listening to her talk about her work was extremely humbling. In my time at Hope, I had never had the opportunity to meet with an author who uses her writing to validate identity, especially for young children.”

If you are interested in diverse children’s and young adult literature (including Angela’s!) and live in the Holland area, check out Diversity Rocks the Book!, a city-wide program addressing the lack of access to diverse books this month. And if you are a Hope student, I invite you to continue this conversation in my fall 2019 course ENGL 375: Children’s and Young Adult Literature!

A Christmas Treasury from the English Faculty

December can be dark and dreary in Michigan and other northern places, a season of cold and clouds and final exams. The holidays we celebrate during this time bring warmth and light we often badly need. But if we’re weary or chilled, in body or soul, how do we get in the spirit?

When I was a child, if I wanted a dollop of condensed Christmas cheer, I’d often crack open a large hardback volume, bound in red fabric, that my mother gave to me. I forget its exact name, but something like A Christmas Treasury. This book collected scraps from longer texts and stand-alone pieces. They were old and new; funny and sad; earnest and cynical; poetry, lyric, and prose. They shared only one element: Christmas.

Sometimes I paged through this volume in search of the familiar, and found Christmas gift-giving chapters from children’s books my parents had read to me, like Anne of Green Gables and The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

Other times, I hunted out hidden gems, like the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “Christmas Bells,” from which the lyrics of the holiday tune “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” are excerpted. Written on Christmas in 1863, while Longfellow’s own son was fighting in the Civil War, the poet wrestles with deep grief and ringing trust in the familiar angels’ phrase: “peace on Earth, good will to men.”

Not everything that warms my heart at this season is found in that old red tome, though. Nothing, for instance, could be warmer or more wonderful than the chapter “Dulce Domum” from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, when the Mole, who has been living an exciting life abroad, finds himself by his own snug burrow again just in time to welcome caroling field mice. Good food, hot drinks, and song: how is it that even reading about these lifts the spirits so?

“Surely I’m not alone,” I thought, “in turning to literature again and again as this time of year comes around?” So I reached out to colleagues in the English department, and of course, many had favorites to share. Here is our own Treasury for you:

♦        “Around Christmas,” says Dr. Peter Schakel, “I often think of two essays by C. S. Lewis: ‘Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus’ and ‘What Christmas Means to Me.’ Both are in the Lewis collection God in the Dock, as well as other places. They’re his indirect, irreverent, and funny response to the commercialization of Christmas.”

♦        Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño shares: “When I was a child, I loved reading The Christmas Dolls by Carol Beach York. It is about Tatty, an orphan girl who fixes up the disregarded dolls that no one wants. It’s still a favorite!”

♦        “One Christmas poem I love,” Dr. Curtis Gruenler says, “is ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ by Christina Rossetti, especially as set to music by Gustav Holst and sung by Julie Andrews.” Hot tip: it’s available on Spotify…

♦        Dr. Rhoda Burton confesses: “all the works that are supposed to give us a good Christmassy feeling don’t, except maybe A Christmas Carol. The only one I get a proper Christmas feeling from is On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder—remember the Christmas church scene in which Laura receives the snuggly fur muff?”

♦        For Dr. Mike Owens, nothing can beat the opening lines of the Gospel of John, starting with: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Says Dr. Owens: “In very beautiful, striking, stunning language, it captures the Incarnation story, and gives the reader a profound theology.”

♦        Dr. Kathleen Verduin shares that “John Updike’s 1963 novel The Centaur is a tribute to his father, an impoverished, self-mocking, rather zany, but magnificently charitable man recast as the character George Caldwell. In one chapter, Caldwell and his adolescent son pick up a hitch-hiker, a garrulous drunk who batters them with stories of his resentments. After they drop him off, they discover that Caldwell’s new gloves, a Christmas gift, are gone. ‘It’s all right, Peter,’ Caldwell tells his son. ‘He needs them more than I do.’”

♦        A special text for Dr. Ernest Cole is Aminatta Forna’s novel Happiness. It’s “not exactly in the buoyant spirit of Christmas, but its message of redemption and transcendence connects to the Nativity. Forna uses the metaphor of forest fire to signal hope for amputees of the civil war and for post-war Sierra Leone to reclaim a meaningful existence. In spite of its devastation after a fire, a forest has the capacity to grow again.”

♦        Dr. Susanna Childress recommends the anthology Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, especially four poems: “Nativity” by Li-Young Lee, “Advent” by Enuma Okoro, “The Adoration of the Infant Jesus” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and “Incarnation” by Amit Majmudar. Regarding the last, she notes: “I admire the word-play and syntatic and aural fireworks here; this poem is a joy to read out loud but also makes me think, reflect, and wonder.”

♦        And Dr. Stephen Hemenway has this literary memory to share: “About 15 years ago, when my dad was 90, the two of us read aloud the entire Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens to the residents of his assisted living facility.  This was done in one multi-hour sitting with frequent coffee/cookie breaks and bathroom breaks for the listeners.”

Perhaps next December, we can convince Doc Hemenway to reprise this reading with the Hope community. For now, we wish you safe travels, good reading, and good cheer!

Do you have favorite seasonal poems or stories? Pass them on, please…

“Astronomy, Toddler Poetry, and Quality Management”: Alumni Interview with Katie Bode-Lang ’02

We’re delighted to have the chance today to catch up with illustrious alumna Katherine Bode-Lang. So, Katie, tell us a little about what you’re up to now, and how you got there.

I’m a working poet and mother: I write, and I’m the Director of Education and Quality Management in the Office for Research Protections (it’s a mouthful!) at Penn State University. We manage research compliance—making sure all research conducted with people or animals (or drones!) follows legal guidelines.

My book, The Reformation, won the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize in 2014, chosen by Stephen Dunn. After sending out my manuscript over a hundred times, I was honored to have the book land with APR and find an audience. And it was such a thrill to come back to Hope to read for the JRVWS that year with my dear friend and wonderful poet, Laura Donnelly (’01)!

I like to joke that poets need day jobs. After working in nonprofit administration, I earned my MFA in poetry at Penn State. I taught English full-time there for three years before making the leap to research administration.

My English major comes in useful in my current job: I try to communicate our work in terms non-scientists can understand. My boss teases that she hired a poet because she wanted someone who could say complicated things simply—and in a small amount of space!

I also love being a mom; our daughter, Clara, turned three last month. I recently heard the poet Naomi Shihab Nye read, and she said that if you’re around a toddler, you should just watch and take notes—it’s true. I write down something Clara said almost every day because her words are both honest and magical. Today when we took a walk to the park, she said, “Thank you, sun. It was nice playing with you today.” It’s toddler poetry.

How would you say that your Hope English education shaped you?

I’m a poet because of Hope. Back when I applied, I won one of the earliest Distinguished Artist Awards to support my study of creative writing. I studied with Jack Ridl my first semester of freshman year, and I didn’t look back. And classes with Kathleen Verduin, Jesse Montaño, Julie Kipp, and William Pannapacker surely influenced my view of the world and literature.

Hope was also my first interdisciplinary experience. I double-majored in women’s studies and T.A.ed for astronomy. That meant my interest in the sky could influence my poems, and my interest in writing led me to help rewrite the curriculum for an astronomy course. Being able to integrate my work was such an incredible opportunity.

I think you can still see those influences in my poetry: I write a lot about the female body, hoping my own experiences will give voice to the experiences of others. You’ll also find astronomy in my poetry. My senior year at Hope, “She’s Heard It Said if It Weren’t for the Sky We Would Go Mad” was published in the Beloit Poetry Journal. I still remember having that poem workshopped in one of Jack’s classes!

I love that some of my earliest poems made it into my first book. Another was “In the Back Field,” written while taking Dr. Pannapacker’s course on writing and the environment. A third was a response to an assignment to write about a photograph in English 355. Obviously, they were edited in the decade following.

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

I loved teaching poetry workshops and would happily teach them again. English 355, please.

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

Don’t limit yourself because you don’t know what’s out there. There are whole realms to operating a large university that I had no idea existed—and they are great places for English majors to work! I get to learn about interesting research, I make sure people are conducting their work ethically, and I influence the curriculum of our graduate students.

But if you’d asked me if I wanted to work in research administration, I wouldn’t have even known what that was! If you’re interested in jobs that use your skills, ask questions, network with alumni, and do your research. And working outside of an English department doesn’t mean you can’t be a writer.

Finding the balance of working, writing, parenting, and partnering isn’t easy no matter what discipline you’re working in. I’m always journaling and writing drafts of poems as they come to me. But this past year, I actually started taking vacation days so I would have dedicated writing time. I’m happy to “vacation” with my laptop at a coffee shop. And these vacation days have led to a manuscript for my second collection.

Also, join OPUS. It’s where I met my husband (Andrew Bode-Lang ’99). No joke!

Favorite book read recently or in college?

Hope introduced me to the poetry of Li-Young Lee, Jane Hirschfield, and Louise Glück. And I still remember Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia from a Latino studies class with Jesse Montaño.

Thanks for checking back in with Hope English, Katie! We can’t wait to read the next book, and hope we’ll hear a bit more toddler poetry.

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!

“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.

Alumni Interview with Stephanie Mouw (Browne ’13)

Stephanie Mouw (Browne ’13)

What are you doing now?

I’m a writer/editor for Purdue University’s Marketing and Media department and work primarily on Admissions pieces, including anything from the university’s viewbook to visit day invitations. I also have the chance to work on ads, magazine stories, and a myriad of other projects for many Purdue colleges and offices.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

I double majored in English with a creative writing emphasis and communication. For my own personal interests and goals, there could not have been a more perfect blend of coursework and experiences. Both majors provided extensive opportunities for learning how to research, structure arguments, write well, and communicate with tact. These are skills I use every day in my work.

It was my English major that pushed me to think beyond the ordinary, to learn how to draw a reader in with fresh words and ideas. I read books that expanded my worldview. I learned how to productively offer feedback to others and, more importantly, handle critiques of my own work. I learned about patience for the process, grace when things aren’t happening the way you want them to, and discipline in showing up to practice each day.

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

Whether you are currently an English major or are thinking about it, ignore the cliché that an English major won’t get you anywhere, because it’s 100 percent false. I think every student should consider studying English because it teaches you to communicate effectively, respond thoughtfully, and see the world differently. You will have to work hard. You will not like every book assigned to you. But if you approach the work with an open mind and a willingness to be challenged, you’ll use the skills you acquired in your English classes every day — even if you don’t enter into an explicitly English-related career.

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

“Speechwriting 101.” It would cover all kinds of talks, from persuasive sales pitches to wedding toasts. We’d focus on the art of storytelling, hooking a listener from the first sentence, smooth transitions, and powerful conclusions.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

I took the “Advanced Fiction Workshop – Linked Stories” with Heather Sellers twice. One of my favorite books we read was Glen Rock Book of the Dead by Marion Winik, a collection of portraits of those who had somehow touched Winik’s life. It’s full of devastatingly beautiful observations, careful and intimate, no matter if she’s talking about her husband or her children’s dentist.

Recently, I read and loved The Windfall by Diksha Basu, a story about a middle-aged couple who come into a great amount of money and move from their humble housing complex to the ritzier part of New Delhi. It’s both hilarious and heartwarming, and Basu’s writing allowed me to encounter the foreign elements of Indian culture as well as the relatable themes of social status, making your loved ones proud, and the desire to belong.

 

Alumni Interview with Miriam Beyer ’98

What are you doing now?

Miriam Beyer ’98

I’m the Communications Director at The School at Columbia University, the K-8 school affiliated with and administered by Columbia. Half of our students are children of faculty and staff at the university, and half are from the neighboring public school districts, so we are a unique and wonderfully diverse community. I oversee all school communications, print and digital, and manage school events and site visits. I love my job.

Before starting at The School at Columbia, I had other positions within Columbia, including web editor at the Journalism School and communications manager at the School of the Arts. I’ve also worked in publishing, both trade and higher education, and entertainment law in New York.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

My Hope English education taught me to look for the big themes. When I face a complicated situation at work, I think: What is the larger issue at play here? What is the real worry prompting this reaction? What patterns are emerging, that I can recognize and try to understand, so my communications are effective? This inclination to look broadly, to look for underlying ideas and connections, is a direct result of my literature and English studies at Hope. It’s helped me a lot in my career. That, and the very practical writing, grammar, and editing skills I learned.

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

If you have the opportunity in your schedule to volunteer with a community reading program, serving children or adults (or both), do it. You, and the person you read with, will always look forward to it.

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

“Biographies, Beer, Beethoven (Not Necessarily in That Order).” Or, “Into the Sublime: The Joy of Copy Editing – Part I.” And then Part II. Part III …

Favorite book read recently or in college?

A few years after I moved to New York, I read Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, a biography of urban planner Robert Moses. The book needs no introduction from me; it is brilliantly researched and written. At more than 1,300 pages, I had to rip it in half so I could carry it on the subway without agony. I think about that book several times a week, still, as I travel throughout the city. Moses’ influence is everywhere, and it’s a testament to Caro’s writing that I continue to recall the book. One day I’d like to read his biographies of former president Lyndon B. Johnson too. My divine aunt, whom many know as Professor Verduin, gave me a meaty biography of Thoreau, by Laura Dassow Walls, for Christmas. My husband is from Boston and we regularly visit Massachusetts. I hope that, after reading it, I see and think about Thoreau there, the same ways I think about Moses in New York.

I also recently read Body of Water: A Sage, a Seeker, and the World’s Most Alluring Fish by fellow Hope alumnus Chris Dombrowski. It’s a beautiful meditation on place and passion, and it was great to reconnect with a classmate through his book. I highly recommend it.

One of the many reasons I love working at a school is that, at any moment, I can walk through the hallways and come across a student reading, or learning to read, or writing, or learning to write. It is eternally inspiring.

Registration? We’ve Got You Covered

Spring is coming and so is registration!  Below is a sampling of our upper-division courses for FALL 2018.   Please visit plus.hope.edu for a complete list –  we’d love for you to join us!

English 355: Intermediate Poetry, Tuesdays and Thursdays 12:00 – 1:20 p.m., Pablo Peschiera

Poetry, rap, music lyrics: when are they different? When are they the same? When do they work the same? When do they work differently? The study of structure and form in poetry can answer all these questions. We’ll talk about rhyme in rap, verses in song, and rhythm in poems. You’ll write in many different modes to build specific kinds of skills, and print a small collection of your work. We’ll have writers and song writers visit us in person and on video chat, and watch video about our fascinating subject. But mostly you’ll talk about each other’s work every day, and read poems, lyrics, and essays about poetry. Sharpen the pencils, my people!

English 358: Intermediate Creative Nonfiction, Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:30-2:50 p.m., Rhoda Burton

The memoirist is like a mountain-climber who, having made it all the way up through memorable terrain, pauses at the overlook. What does she see? Does her position from this new vantage point allow her a fresh understanding of the road she has traveled to get here?

If you think such a vantage point would indeed be fruitful, memoir is the class for you.

 The main idea of this workshop is to make the craft skills of memoir accessible through concrete practice. Therefore we’ll read and write a lot of memoir. Every week you can expect to workshop new material of your own, and to offer thoughtful feedback in response to materials submitted by your peers. Since 253 Multigenre Creative Writing is a prerequisite for this course, you’ve probably already learned some good solid feedback strategies that support, challenge, and encourage your peers. Those feedback strategies will be important in this class, too. At course’s end, you will turn in a final portfolio fronted by a reflective essay on how your writing has matured with the study of memoir.

 Our subject will be our own lives, since memoirists explore the experiences that have shaped their identities. We can’t change what we have lived, so plot, in a sense, is fixed. But we’ll discuss how everything else—tone, selection, dialogue, configuration, message, pacing­­—becomes a matter of craft that you can learn.

English 360: Modern English Grammar, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 1:00 – 1:50 p.m., Kathleen Verduin

Is it “lie” or “lay”? “Who” or “whom”? “I” or “me”? And when is a sentence not a sentence, and what is a dangling participle, and where (on earth) should you place commas? If you’ve ever been troubled by these questions, sign up for this course. We start simply, learning to identify the seven (some say eight) parts of speech, recognizing phrases and clauses, and yes—but fear not!—diagramming sentences. We go over the conventions of usage: affect vs. effect, amount vs. number, imply vs. infer, like vs. as, and a fearsome lineup of similarly daunting verbal mysteries. But (and yes, you can—indeed, you may—begin a sentence with this word!) we also look into the history of grammar, the invention of sentence diagrams, and the cultural questions surrounding the role of grammar in contemporary society: why does grammatical correctness matter (or does it?), who decides what’s “correct,” and why (for heaven’s sake) are grammarians so often represented as crabby old ladies? By the end of the semester, you will write with increased confidence, secure in the knowledge that your prose won’t be blotched with distracting and embarrassing errors. A great course for writers, future teachers, or anyone who just wants to look good in print. Lots of support, lots of exercises, lots of encouragement: if you take this course, you ain’t gonna be sorry.

English 371: American Writers in Paris, Wednesdays, 6:00-8:50 p.m., Natalie Dykstra

“Writing in Paris is one of the oldest American customs.” – Van Wyck Brooks

Paris has long held a fascination for American writers.  As the world’s cultural capital, the city has been the setting for self-discovery, cross-cultural contact, and artistic innovation for American writers ranging from Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century to Langston Hughes and Gertrude Stein in the 20th century.  This course is an exploration and discovery of American writers who found the city, in one way or another, a powerful source of inspiration.  We will read letters and documents, poetry and fiction of colonial Americans, 19th-century travelers, and 20th-century adventurers, all with an eye toward understanding how the Paris/America cultural exchange shaped American self-understanding and literary expression.  We will keep reading journals, as so many of our writers did while in Paris, and coursework will include two exams, a final research project, and Pecha Kucha class presentations.  For more information, please contact Prof. Dykstra at ndykstra@hope.edu and check out Paris Stories | Grand Challenges here!

English 373.01:  Jane Austen and Popular Culture, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 9:30 – 10:20 a.m., Christiana Salah

This course approaches Jane Austen as both a great literary writer and a cultural phenomenon.  Together, we will read several of Austen’s novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Emma.  We’ll analyze Austen’s writing in relation to the social conditions of early nineteenth-century Britain and examine her formative role in the development of the English novel. Beyond this, our investigations will tackle Austen’s continued presence in our lives through film, web serials, comics, commercial products, and fictional re-imaginings in an astonishing variety of genres.

English 373.02: Shakespeare’s Plays: Putting a Spotlight on Society’s Treatment of the “Other,” Mondays, 5:30-8:20 p.m., Marla Lunderberg

Many of Shakespeare’s plays explore what it means to be treated as an outsider. Studying these plays can guide us in questioning the justice of societies where women are treated as possessions, Jewish merchants are ridiculed, and military commanders are questioned because of the color of their skin. In this course, we will work our way together through several plays, reading and watching and studying and arguing about the meaning we find in them. We will examine both the historical and literary contexts of the plays, studying the plays as literature and as performance pieces, and assessing various critical approaches’ insights into the plays.

“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!