A friend recently posted a screenshot of a text debate she had regarding the morality of Severus Snape, a character from the wildly popular Harry Potter series. (I feel weird explaining this, but who knows? Maybe not everyone is as obsessed with Harry Potter as I am.)
Of course, I jumped in: “Snape is one of the best characters in the series precisely because he is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad.’ He’s not a hero and he’s not a villain. He is all of us.”
Several years ago I took a class here at Hope called “wicked,” taught by Jesus Montaño. It specifically looked at “anti-heroes” in literature. We discussed a number of titles, from The Lord of the Rings to Lolita, from Harry Potter to Darkly Dreaming Dexter.
The class looked at character development, context and historical literary connections. Our discussions often turned a bit personal, since everything we experience filters through our own individual lenses. It taught me a lot about myself.
Wicked taught me that more often than not, our decisions are not either good or bad, but rather they are both good and bad. That life experiences usually contain both pleasure and pain.
My husband and I have been processing a possible job change for him. We’ve listed pros and cons to both job opportunities. We’ve discussed how we might adjust our schedules and responsibilities depending on what decision he makes.
But at the end of the day, neither of us feels any closer to knowing what the “right” answer is. My thoughts turned to the debate about Severus Snape and I realized that in this situation, there probably isn’t a right or wrong decision. Both choices will be both right and wrong, for various reasons.
How, then, do we deal with this ambiguity in life? How do we “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” as Isaiah 1:17 asks us to do?*
For me, it comes down to that third word in the verse, the tiny one, just two letters: do. It doesn’t tell me to be right, just to do right. Seek justice. Learn.
Sometimes we learn by achieving. Sometimes we learn by failing. Sometimes we find justice. Sometimes we endlessly seek. But perhaps it’s the seeking that makes it all worthwhile.
*I’m not a biblical scholar, nor do I particularly believe in taking one Bible verse out of context to prove a point. And yet here I am kinda sorta doing it nonetheless. So what. I contain multitudes.
Floating around somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea that a good teacher has to be young, hip, and in touch with teenage slang and references to Justin Bieber songs. You know, to relate and stuff.
And then I enrolled in British Literature. All it took was a semester with Professors Bill Reynolds and Peter Schakel to transform my idea of what an effective educator looks like. These guys came to class every day brimming over with excitement to talk about books I didn’t think people read anymore. Professor Reynolds donned a special St. George necktie the day we discussed his battle with the dragon (St. George’s battle with the dragon, not Professor Reynolds. Though if it ever came to it, my money would be on Reynolds). Professor Schakel waved his hands to the rhythm of Sir Gawain and the Green Night, reciting the fourteenth century poem excitedly as though he just wrote it before coming to class and couldn’t wait to share. Both teachers respectfully interrupted each other with animated interjections and exclamations about long dead authors that apparently couldn’t wait.
These professors love literature in a wonderful, nerdy, delightful, riotous, intriguing kind of way. And you know what, after a semester with these two gems, I actually came to love British Literature, too. Not because they spent all their time stressing over how to make it come alive for us, but by simply letting it come alive in them and then just being themselves. This, after all, is the key.
Not only did I leave their class passionate about stories like Paradise Lost, but I also learned what it means to be a good teacher. I learned how to love learning, how to model learning as play, how to care about something so deeply and sincerely that others can’t help but start to care a little, too.
If you would like to read more of Bryant Russ’ writings, visit his personal blog here.
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 Katherine Bode-Lang
Katherine Bode-Lang’s first book of poetry is The Reformation (2014) winner of the 2014 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize, chosen by Stephen Dunn. Ms. Bode-Lang graduated from Hope College in 2002 with a major in English and Women’s Studies. In 2002 she was the first winner of the AAP prize at Hope College.
Elizabeth Ensink’s “The Effect of a Sestina on Field Notes”
Ms. Bode-Lang Writes:
“The Effect of a Sestina on Field Notes” is a rare poem that takes its form as an expansive gift, not a new set of confines. With striking images drawing from nature, music, and the poet’s own life, this poem questions what we might learn from all our observing, asking, and writing. In the surprise interweaving of scientific field notes with the sestina form, it seems the writing of the poem itself might be the answer. In this beautifully crafted poem, there’s an attention not only to the form but also to the music of the language at every turn.
The Effect of a Sestina on Field Notes
40.4220˚N, 105.7411 ˚W
Objective: To explore answers on a human page. Conditions: In the cold soil, a plant clings
pale green; its thriving forms a text.
Survival as a question
sings in the wind in eighth notes
and finds an answer where roots connect.
To find truth, the dots must connect
between each thinly crinkled page.
The best ones have notes
sprawled in the margins like clinging
lichen spreading across stones. Questions
grow in rocky soil, with texture.
Methods: When you sent a text
message last night, it didn’t connect
until five a.m. and your question
was past, but I wrote it on a page
of my notebook where it clings
in my mind’s furrows. Field notes:
The black rosy finch chirps notes,
singing soprano without a text
to follow. A pika clings
to its cache of seeds for survival, connects
burrows underground. A field guide page
describes their behavior, without questioning.
Maybe the phlox questions
its brevity: two months to flower. Notes
wither too. Decayed pages
in my trashcan, your handwritten text
with no roots that connect
below the surface and cling–
Not just grow and spread, but cling–
to rocks in all the alpine questions
screaming in the wind. Connect
mountaintops to earthworms and note
each detail with pencil-printed text
and then turn to a new page.
Discussion: Don’t cling to these notes.
Questions, forget-me-nots, bloom from a text,
and human truth connects above the tree-line page.
Tommy D’Addario’s “Anniversary”
Ms. Bode-Lang writes:
Beautiful in its simplicity, “Anniversary” is sewn together with repetition that echoes the movement of what the poem describes—gulls, wind, a running child. Whatever grand gestures we might assume from the title are broken down by the poem’s spare language and images that, united, convey the weight and beauty of this time. There’s a real tenderness to this poem, and I appreciate its quiet attention to a moment.
A man and a child go where the water meets the sand,
where the water meets also the air, and the gulls who slip
the seam between all three. And the gulls are cotton
snared among the dune grass, or they are kites cut loose
into the air, or they are buoys bobbing out to sea. And the child
points at the gulls and cannot take the point back,
and runs among the gulls, who slip the seam between
the child and the clouds, who cannot take the winds
back. The child names the clouds and cannot take
the names back, and lies face-up to watch them pass.
The man breathes it all in and tastes salt, and with the salt
he remembers, and he cannot take the remembering back,
just as he loves the child and cannot take the love
back, and slips the seam between the two.
When I arrived in Holland, MI and at Hope, I arrived without community. Having lived in Washington, D.C. since 2008 and having been surrounded by hues of brownness and blackness at The Mecca that is Howard University (HU), my arrival in Holland, at Hope was a slight shock. I adjusted. However, as I met a few Black students on campus, I slowly realized they were in dire need of hope. In fact, the hopelessness and despair were palpable with one student in particular. What could I do to affirm her blackness in the wake of the marginalization she experienced on campus?
The answer came to me as I attended the 2014 College Language Association (CLA) conference. Founded by Black teachers and scholars in 1937, CLA is an organization of black teacher-scholars who discuss, critique, and engage matters that pertain to them and the communities they serve. As I attended session after session, as I presented my work, as I saw my mentors and friends, as I was encouraged by folks I didn’t know, and as I was welcomed “home” by an extended hub of intellectuals, I knew just how I could offer my contribution to affirming my student’s blackness, beauty, and boldness.
Emerging out of that moment is what I affectionately call a “Howard-Hope” undergraduate panel at CLA. For two years, I have had the privilege of moderating that panel, and I look forward to continue doing so.
Though the CLA conference theme varies from year to year, the requirements for Hope students I invite to attend remain the same. Students must:
receive the endorsement of a CLA faculty advisor (me) before submission of an abstract and/or panel to CLA;
present on some aspect of African Diaspora literature or film that fits the conference theme;
participate actively in the conference by attending sessions, networking, and engaging scholars.
In April 2015, Mariana Thomas (‘16, History Composite) and Katharyn Jones (‘15, English) attended CLA and presented alongside recent Howard University graduate Ansharaye Hines (‘14) on the panel “Strange Versions of the Lives We Imagined: Transnational Identity, Race, and Crisis in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.”
The importance of the 2015 Howard-Hope undergraduate research panel was not lost on the president of the organization, Dana A. Williams. Based on the success of the 2015 panel, Dr. Williams, chairperson of the HU Department of English, CLA President (2014-2016), and my mentor, extended a personal invitation for Hope students to attend the 2016 conference.
Hope students Drew Monroe (‘19) and Sarah Harvin (‘16) were invited to attend the 2016 conference, “Dialogues between Africa and the African Diaspora in Languages, Literatures, and Film,” and they presented alongside Layla June West (Howard ‘16) and Alexis Boyd (Howard ‘16) on the panel “Speaking Truth: Using Rhetorical Strategies to Explore Historical and Contemporary Black Experiences.”
The 2016 panel generated fruitful conversations, and the audience members—ranging from untenured faculty members to full professors at tier 1 research universities—were impressed with the knowledge, poise, and confidence with which each student presented his or her work. Such a legacy is worth continuing.
Next year’s conference will be held April 5-8, 2017, at the University of Missouri, with the theme “Interdisciplinary Studies and Diversity in Languages and Literatures,” and my goal is for the CLA conference to be an annual experience for Hope students.
For both sets of Hope attendees, CLA was—and continues to be—an important, formative experience, especially for those who have a vested interest in decolonizing their minds.
Taking students to CLA is more than just an exercise in mentorship, a chance to refine public presentation skills, and an opportunity to learn from the “best-of-the-best”; it is a chance to expose students in general, but Black students specifically, to a community of diverse teacher-scholars from across the African Diaspora and in the fields of languages, literature, rhetoric, and cultural studies. CLA allowed Mariana, Katharyn, Drew, and Sarah to witness a Black intellectual tradition at work, but it also allowed Mariana, Drew, and Sarah, in particular, to see themselves reflected in every aspect of the organization.
One student commented, “I’ve never seen so many Black PhDs in one space. It really was eye-opening for me,” and another student remarked: “This has been one of the best experiences of my college career.” My students realized they were part of a larger intellectual community, and that realization went beyond attending the conference. My colleagues, mentors, and friends took my students under their wings. They “adopted” and nurtured my students. In fully embracing my students, CLA did what fewon Hope’s campus do for Black students.
At the end of each trip, as my students and I journeyed back to Holland, I noted a subtle yet marked difference in the countenances of my Black students. There seemed to be a new awareness, a new realization: there was indeed an academic space created for and by people who look just like them. In leaving CLA, my students returned girded with the newfound hope that CLA represents for them.
There are a number of reasons this is insane. Here are a few:
It requires running 26.2 miles. MILES.
The marathon got its name when a man ran (26.2 miles) from Marathon to Athens . . . and then died.
The farthest I’ve ever run is half that distance. Twelve years ago. I probably haven’t run 26.2 miles COMBINED since.
And yet I signed up. I admit, I like a challenge. Which might have been why, back in 2008, I signed up to do NaNoWriMo on October 30, just hours, really, before I would be required to write 50,000 words in one month.
It was hard! Exhilarating and hard. I often had to plan my day around my writing. I woke up early, stayed up late and sometimes neglected other responsibilities in lieu of writing.
But it was totally worth it.
At the end of the month, I had a completed novel. 50,000 words of my own. And life lessons I would cherish forever.
I learned how to manage my time better. I learned how to make a plan and stick to it. I learned how to wing it when need be.
And I learned that sometimes, you just take it one day at a time.
Of course, I could write a novel sitting on my couch and laying in bed. Running a marathon, I’ve heard, involves actual running.
Today marks the final day of classes for the Spring 2016 semester. For many of our seniors, it’s the final day of classes for their undergraduate experience!
We’ve had the honor of working with 45 amazing students who are graduating this year. Some graduated in December of 2015, many will walk in our May commencement ceremonies and a few will finish up their work as July graduates.
No matter their path, we’ve been grateful to walk part of it with them. Please help us congratulate these outstanding people:
Maribeth Van Hecke
My time at Hope was…to sum it up in a word…surprising. You might be surprised to see me pick that word (see what I did there?). I choose that word because I never thought I would end up at Hope.
My whole life I saw myself at a big state school, and being that I grew up in Holland, I figured I would put some distance between myself and the town that I spent the better part of 9 years in. Thanks to some last minute persuading from a high school theatre director in conjunction with one of my best friends choosing to go to Hope, however, I dove head first into the Orange and Blue.
Surprise! This school changed my life, and I can’t even begin to imagine where I would be if it wasn’t for the four years I spent on that campus. I changed those 4 years. I mean, everyone changes from 18 – 22, and I get that, but I changed for the better.
I changed into the man that I want to be for the rest of my life, and that’s pretty cool.
Now, there are a lot of great things and opportunities at Hope, that’s for sure, but I don’t necessarily attribute this formational maturation to the opportunity I had to go to Liverpool (though, that was awesome), or how I was able to be a part of the Theatre and Music departments while focusing my studies on the Transcendentalist movement and Stephen King novels (yes, I took an English class all about Stephen King). It wasn’t even the packed chapel services, with the great music and speaking that allowed me to focus on my faith in an intentional way – in a way that was totally my own for the first time in my life. Don’t get me wrong, these things helped, but what really made the difference was the people.
The people. That’s the surprise. Hope is filled with people who care. I say it in a simplistic way, because it is that simple – these people are at Hope because they care about 18-22 year olds and this crucial period in their life. Insert here, Professor Verduin.
I had Professor Verduin for 3 classes. Professor Verduin was one of those people. Although she wasn’t necessarily the professor that I would go to coffee with, and talk about things that were going on in my life (though I did have those professors), and she wasn’t a professor that I dined with in her home (though I did have those professors as well), she pushed me like I had never been pushed before…and I know now, 3 years later, that it is because she cares.
I can’t tell you how often something I learned in her class comes to mind. Maybe when I am typing an email to a faculty member and I remember a grammatical rule that she corrected me on 100 times. Or maybe it’s when I’m on the bus, listening to a Stephen King novel, because she introduced me to the complexities of his work. Or maybe it is when I show up at 8 am for work, because she got sick of me showing up late and told me. I liked literature before I came to Hope and before I met Professor Verduin, but she made me love it. She made me care.
I now reside in Chicago, Illinois, working as the Coordinator of Recruitment, Marketing and College Relations for Chicago Semester, following two years working in the Hope College Admissions Office. As I reflect back, I’m not sure if I ever said thank you to Professor Verduin…but I am so thankful. I’m thankful that she pushed me to be every bit of who she knew I could be. I’m thankful for the people of Hope. I’m thankful for that community. I am thankful for who I am today because of that community. But most of all, I’m thankful I was pleasantly surprised.
Nearing the end of my senior year in high school, it seemed as though everyone was asking me what I was going to major in. I’m sure that many English majors can relate to the conversations I had, and continue to have, with many people.
Random Person: What are you majoring in?
Random Person: Oh! Are you going to teach.
Me: No, I enjoy reading and writing, but I don’t want to be a teacher.
Random Person: Oh… [insert confused, you’re-never-going-to-make-any-money face here]
As I dove into the English curriculum, I was astonished by the opportunities there were for English majors and how quickly my writing abilities began to develop. I am an English Literature major, and I remember sitting in Prof. Natalie Dykstra’s Intro to Literary Studies class thinking that I had no clue what I was doing. By the end of the semester, I felt comfortable analyzing literature and was slowly realizing how pursuing a B. A. in English Literature was going to benefit me in the future.
In order to get the most out of your experience as an English major or minor at Hope, here are just a few things that I would highly recommend!
Make Yourself Uncomfortable
What turned out to be a paper that completely altered by college coursework, began as something that I thought was absolutely terrible. In Intro to Literary Studies, I wrote a paper comparing and contrasting two war poems.
Confession: I don’t particularly like war poetry and I absolutely hated that paper.
However, I embraced that it was a topic that I didn’t particularly like. Fast-forward to fall of my senior year, and I tackled another poetry analysis in Intro to Literary Theory. This time, I chose a poem that I really enjoyed, but I did not totally grasp the theoretical concepts I was using. Because I had prior experience of the opportunities that can come from doing something I wasn’t comfortable with, I was excited to challenge myself.
Write for The Anchor
Okay, I’m currently serving as Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Anchor, so I admittedly am biased. But quite honestly, I don’t think there are enough English students embracing the opportunities available in writing for The Anchor.
I began working for The Anchor as a Copy Editor because, quite simply, I love grammar. However, as I began working there and writing for The Anchor, I learned a new style of writing. Journalism is a lot different than the writing that English majors often do for literature and creative writing courses. Writing for The Anchor is a great way to challenge yourself to write in a new way. Ultimately, this experience helped me become a better writer in my English courses as well.
Side Note: You can also submit poetry and creative pieces to The Anchor, which is a great way to get some of your work published!
Meet the Faculty!
I would not be leaving Hope nearly as prepared as I am, if I hadn’t taken the time to really engage with the English faculty. So many of the faculty are willing to help students through the writing process. For me, this not only provided a lot of academic support but emotional support as well. As I built relationships with more and more faculty members, I was also building a support system.
Now, as graduation is right around the corner, and I’m beginning to take on the job market, I have professors who are genuinely interested and invested in my future. I am able to go to them for application advice, which has been super helpful. I won’t sugar coat things and pretend like looking for a job has been easy, but having the support of members of the English Department has been helpful in easing the stress of finding a job.
Now that I’m graduating, I still have people asking me what my degree is in and giving me quizzical looks when I say that I’m majoring in English. However, I can give that answer confidently, knowing that my experience at Hope and the opportunities I’ve had through the English Department have well-equipped me in whatever job I choose to pursue.
On Tuesday, April 5 the students of Hope College were fortunate to have the opportunity to hear a panel of Hope College faculty and alumni who majored in English talk about graduate school. This event was geared towards the logistic side of things, but there was still a time for question and answers, as well as a chance to socialize with alumni and current English faculty.
Four alumni, Marsha Davis, Raina Khatri, Rob Kenagy, and Kristin Brace were present, along with a long-time faculty member of Hope College, Bill Pannapacker. They all either attended graduate school, or are currently enrolled in a doctoral program. This allowed for some great insight due to the plethora of ages, graduate schools, and life experiences that were present. For many students, going on to graduate school can seem like a frightening thought or reality, but these panel members were able to answer various questions both from the audience and student moderators that put many worries to ease. The topics ranged from how to know if graduate school is for me to how a liberal arts college, such as Hope, prepared them for it.
A big question of the night was “how do I know if graduate school is for me?” Many of the panelists noted that it takes an enormous amount of time, money and risk. Rob Kenagy, a Hope graduate and now Assistant Professor of English at Hope College, stressed a simple question to ask oneself: “is writing, poetry, whatever, your life-long passion?” If you do not want writing to fully engulf your life, then no, do not go to graduate school. He continued his advice by noting that a student should have their passion figured out before going to graduate school. This will allow for a successful experience and make it worth your while. Kristin Brace re-emphasized Kenagy’s point by sharing that “if you want to be a better writer, be immersed, connect and work with distinguished writers and English professors, go to graduate school.”
Bill Pannapacker, Hope College’s DuMez Professor of English, also brought up the important point of what to look at in a graduate school and their program. Considering all of the resources that a student is going to have to put into this investment called graduate school, they should choose the best available to them. With a multitude of English graduate programs scattered across the country, where does one start? Pannapacker highlighted that it is important to look at the data on the programs you are looking into. How much debt does the student walk away with after completing the program? What is their success rate in placing students in jobs that they wanted to be in? Along with these critical questions, “you should be talking to a variety of people about the program.” This means currently enrolled students, students fresh out of the program, alumni, people on the job market that went through this program and faculty members. Lastly, “it is important for an honest appraisal. [This could mean scanning] twitter, blogs, or other various websites that rate English graduate programs.”
There is more to just graduate school than just deciding if it is for you and researching them. A proper undergraduate education is essential when applying to these highly selective institutions. Hope’s liberal arts education offers a host of advantages to prepare all students for these universities. Kristin Brace, a graduate of Spaulding University with a Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) in fiction, noted all the benefits she had because she went to Hope for her undergraduate degree. A few notable things that she included was her involvement with the Visiting Writer Series, internships, and being able to talk and work with distinguished writers that came to Holland during her time at Hope.
This is just a summary of what happened at tonight’s panel, so if a current English student at Hope College wants to go more in-depth about a certain aspect of graduate school, there is myriad amazing faculty members in the English department that would be more than happy to discuss whatever it may be that is on your mind. So while graduate school may seem frightful, Kenagy emphasized the rewards of going: “working with amazing people, doing the things you love, and gets you to a place where you want to be quicker.” Finally, it is important to note that Hope College is adamant about making sure opportunities such as this are always on student’s fingertips. It allows for them to explore the opportunities after leaving Hope’s boundaries and learn about different options that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
At the Spring 2015 Board of Trustees meeting, the board awarded the DuMez Endowed Professorship to English faculty William Pannapacker. The post was previously held by Dr. John Cox, now professor emeritus of the English department. Dr. Pannapacker will hold this endowed professorship for ten years. After an entertaining and heartfelt introduction from Dr. Kathleen Verduin at the investiture dinner, Dr. Pannapacker shared these words:
Thank you, Kathleen. Along with many of those here tonight, you have been a mentor, colleague, and friend since I first arrived at Hope College.
I also want to note the honor of being able to succeed John Cox, a great scholar, teacher, and servant-leader.
And I want, most of all, to acknowledge the love and support of my spouse, Teresa Jenkins Pannapacker who has made countless sacrifices to enable us, together with our three daughters, to follow this path through several places far from our original home, friends, family, and church.
I was asked to address what I am “passionate” about as a faculty member at Hope College. If I interpret that word within my own faith tradition, then perhaps it means those things for which I believe I am willing to make sacrifices.
Certainly, I aspire to be passionate about literature: its commitment to preserving the best that has been thought and said, and to expanding the boundaries of what can be thought and said, and by whom.
I aspire to be passionate, likewise, about scholarship: its commitment to recognizing our debts to the insights of others, and to asking new questions, devising new methods, and seeking answers that are always already provisional, always pursuing reform.
I aspire to be passionate about service: its commitment to preserving an institution in turbulent times, securing new resources, and exploring new opportunities that allow it to move forward with vitality and hope in a global context.
I aspire, most of all, to be a passionate teacher: to provide a context for students as whole persons: their character, intellect, social engagement, and spiritual development; to encourage them to seek knowledge for its own sake while enabling them to apply their gifts to the world’s needs.
The preparation of students depends on many forms of trust, extending beyond the classroom to the entire institution. The free and authentic exchange of ideas, the bedrock of liberal arts education, depends on reducing, if only for a brief moment in the lives of our students, the “reality distortion fields” of ideology, insularity, privilege, and power.
As John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote in The Apologia Pro Vita Sua, “Many a man has ideas, which he hopes are true, and useful for his day, but he is not confident about them, and wishes to have them discussed. He is willing, or rather would be thankful, to give them up, if they can be proved to be erroneous or dangerous, and by means of controversy he obtains his end. He is answered, and he yields; or on the contrary he finds that he is considered safe. He would not dare do this, if he knew an authority, which was supreme and final, was watching every word he said, and made signs of assent or dissent to each sentence, as he uttered it.”
I want to believe, passionately, that the liberal arts can cultivate the conviction—and the reflexive humility—to consider that any person with whom one disagrees is no less honorable, and could be right.
Finally, I am grateful for the added support and standing provided by this professorship, to pursue those passions. I am grateful for the trust it signifies on the part of the Board of Trustees and our President. And I am pleased to have this moment to recognize the generosity of the DuMez family.