The Vienna Experience

By Emily Martin ’17

Austria—home of an iconic singing family, towering snow-covered Alps, and Vienna, a sparkling gem of art, music, and architecture, and my heart’s new resting place.  Cheesy, I know.  But also true.  This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to study in Vienna for 3 weeks as part of the 65th annual Vienna Summer School, and I discovered that although I am neither a patron of the arts nor a musician or historian, Vienna will always hold hostage a huge piece of my heart.  It’s a strange feeling—I’ve traveled extensively within the U.S. and no city has ever captivated me the way Vienna did.  I can’t say what exactly it is about the city—could be the glittering Statsoper filled with women in ball gowns and men in tuxedos.  Could be the gardens of Schӧnbrunn palace filled with sweet-scented roses and whisperings of the Hapsburgs who roamed there in centuries past.  Could be the Kantnerstrasse filled with bustling people and a veritable Tower-of-Babel array of languages.  Could be none of these things, or all of them.  I remember being unreasonably excited about a telephone booth when we first arrived—my very jet-lagged roommate was not amused by my “I’ve never seen one in real life!”  Whatever it is, Vienna has that intangible “thing” that has been ensnaring Hope students and non-Hope students alike for decades, and I am its latest victim.  But what a captivity—our first and only weekend actually in the city, we had the chance to see Anatevka, or Fiddler on the Roof, and the Sound of Music—one on Saturday night and one on Sunday night.  The Sound of Music is my favorite musical—my family watches it together every Christmas—and to see it performed in Austria was unbelievable.  My journal entry for that day says, “I don’t even know what to write—I just pray I will always remember this.”  I think I felt that way about every day in Vienna because every day brought a crazy slew of new experiences.  Every day was a new adventure.  From Vienna, my housemates and I went to Slovakia and then Greece and France and England and the Netherlands and Germany and Switzerland and Italy.  We stayed in hostels, living out of our backpacks like typical college travelers.  Before beginning this trip, I didn’t realize how much I would learn—about myself, about life, and about the world.  Every country—every city even—was so new and so different, with so much to explore and discover.  From the Parthenon in Athens to the black sand in Santorini to the rain in London and the windmills in Amsterdam—the world is so big and it is so full of crazy adventures just waiting to be had.  I’ve always been restless, never content to stay very long in one place—always following the jet trails crisscrossing the sky and keeping my eyes fixed on the horizon.  But after this trip, I know that’s who I am—a wanderer, an adventurer, always looking for life’s next.  It’s both a gift and a flaw.  Often, I find that I forget to live in the here and now.  I’m always searching for what’s right around the corner instead of focusing on and appreciating the present.  It’s something I work on every day.  But, conversely, it also means I don’t wait around for life to come to me.  As I write this from Holland State Park, looking out over Lake Michigan, I find myself wishing I was back on the black sands of Greece admiring the beauty of the Aegean Sea.  But it’s only for a minute . . . I know I’m not finished.  Life—the greatest adventure of all—is just beginning.

New School Year and Other New Stuff!

Welcome to the 2016-2017 school year! We’ve just finished our first week of classes and whew! What a whirlwind of awesomeness.

We have lots of nifty things coming up this year such as . . . drumroll please . . . a new Office Manager!

So as we transition to a new year, we might miss a week or two of blog posts, but don’t fear. We’ll be back on track before you know it.

How We Tell Stories Matters

By Duffy Lampen ’17

Humanity has been telling stories for thousands of years. From cave paintings to theatrical performances, people have developed nuanced ways of conveying information. In the 21st century one of the most common modes of storytelling is through the novel, often hinging on the story-telling capabilities of a first-person narrator. Contemporary literature has experienced a flourish of creativity surrounding narrative styles pertaining to the role of unreliable narration as a tool for storytelling. The uncertainty this genre of narration creates affects both the style and plot of the novel while also opening up avenues for political and social expression. Aaron Cully Drake’s first novel Do You Think This is Strange? and Nicole Krauss’s novel The History of Love utilize this trend, including narrators who are youthfully naïve, intellectually disabled, or bordering senility.

One major function of unreliable narration is to create new ways that readers interact with stories through plot. Drake’s protagonist, Freddy, slowly remembers his mother’s death and the truth surrounding her last hours. Since Freddy has repressed this major incident throughout the novel, the plot propels via the reader’s and Freddy’s simultaneous unearthing of the mystery. Krauss similarly uses the unreliable narration in her books, implementing two first-person narrators, Alma Singer and Leo Gursky. Again, these characters give the audience knowledge piece-by-piece, yet it is always under suspect. Gursky, an elderly Polish man, is sliding towards senility. All his remarks and conclusions as a narration, therefore, are dubious and color the reader’s interpretation of the plot. The most grandiose example of this is when the reader discovers that Bruno, Gursky’s longtime friend present throughout the novel, has actually been dead for over 50 years.

Unreliable narrators also recreate the style of storytelling in books through creative aestheticism. Krauss uses Gursky’s moments of senility to construct aesthetically pleasing passages of confusion in sections of the book. For example,  the book ends with Gursky sitting next to young Alma, unable to discern whether she is a stranger or his childhood love. Similarly, 15-year-old Alma’s unreliable narration, spurred from her naiveté and youth, engenders plot changes while also creating aesthetic pleasures for readers. As a young mind, Alma narrates her story through the usage of lists, enumerating her thoughts in an easy-to-follow format. This uncommon mode of script initially shocks the reader out of the common trends of prose writing.

A third and more abstract use of this trend is to help audiences empathize and understand the inner workings of unique identity groups such as individuals with intellectual disabilities. Drake’s novel is one of several novels written in the last 15 years that uses a narrator with an intellectual disability. Many of these authors consciously advocate for this identity group, equipped with personal experiences to create realistic depictions. For instance, Drake’s daughter is on the autistic spectrum. Without defining these narrators by their disabilities, authors such as Drake integrate examples of how intellectual disabilities may manifest themselves, illustrating the unique perspective that these people possess. Drake simultaneously implements humor into this informative process by showing how certain individuals with intellectual disabilities have trouble understanding idioms or figurative language. Freddy describes his complex desire to be alone yet also be accepted in a way that teaches readers certain paradoxes that result from not only his disability but from society’s rejection and exclusion of him. Creative usage of first-person narration opens a door for authors to explain difficult ideas such as complex embodiment theory—the belief that disability is constructed through both medical and social influences.

The recent experimentation revolving around unreliable narration has enabled writers to interact with the written word in entirely new ways. This trend not only questions how people can tell stories, but it reinforces the power of narrative as a tool for bringing awareness to marginalized groups. Only time will tell what other effects this tool will precipitate.

Time to Write

By: Julie Oosterink ’13


50 is the maximum number of books a student can check out from Van Wylen Library. I know this because I hit that number on more than one occasion during my time at Hope. As a student of English and history, I always juggled a few research papers or projects and found more than enough texts to help me.

I did not always juggle gracefully, and I hardly ever appeared graceful while balancing a stack of books, a coffee mug, and my oversized backpack.

During my first semester at Hope, I could hardly navigate my way through the library. I remember writing a research paper about the psychology of happiness and I could not figure out how to use the online catalogue. I just stared at the computer and started crying, stubbornly refusing to ask for help. This was a beautifully ironic moment which I could not appreciate until an awesome student reference assistant swooped in to help me.

Long story short: we found the books, I stopped crying, and I fell in love with the library.

However, I soon discovered that the number of books checked out or articles read did not automatically add up to a perfect research paper. In the end, I needed time to write.

I thought I would have this time in college.

During that first year, I gave myself time–time to walk to JP’s, time to run into a friend, time to check out not-going-to-happen-in-your-life dates, time to migrate to Lemonjellos aka Ljs (Have we made a decision on this yet?), and time to end the evening back at Van Wylen, ordering some more coffee from the Cup and Chaucer while inserting a cheery “busy, busy, busy” toast to fellow dedicated students in place of small talk.

I wasn’t procrastinating, right?

I had my highlighters, pencils, post-it notes, and Norton Anthologies all aligned next to my chocolate-raspberry muffin and coffee mug.

I had print-outs of articles that I had read at least once.

I made a nice outline on a napkin that nearly connected to a thesis statement.

I did not have a single sentence written for my research paper.

I wish I could say this was a single incident in which I failed the paper and learned that one should never ever ever ever procrastinate. Alas, I have always been more of a Hamlet than a Laertes.

By the next semester, I was able to apply for a job working at the reference desk. I wanted to help other students find the resources they needed, and selfishly, I wanted to be paid for hanging out at my favorite building on campus.

Surely, more time in the library would make me a better reader, writer, and student. Right?

Indeed, working at the reference desk improved my research skills and affirmed my love of helping others pursue their academic passions . . . or simply their desires to pass freshman level English. It did not, however, solve my predicament with time.

What did help me was the advice of one of my writing professors, Heather Sellers. She encouraged her students to be “good moms” by timing ourselves whenever we wrote. A generous, “good” mom will give a 5-minute warning before the kids have to pack up their toys or come inside for dinner. For writing, this would help us not get stuck on the first line of a poem, waiting for inspiration to strike while wasting an afternoon away. Writing thrives on immediacy. Writers need time, but unlimited time sometimes becomes a vacuum to creative productivity.

I fostered my “good mom” habits and discovered that limiting my time on writing opened up more opportunities for enjoying Visiting Writers’ Series events, marathon reading sessions of The Hobbit, or any number of other opportunities the English Department presented, like decorating Christmas cookies. Yum!

I could even make time for a second job at the David J. Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing. Then, I was able to help other students work through the wonderfully frustrating and satisfying struggle of researching and producing papers.

Each semester working at the library continued to affirm my passion for helping students write and my passion for becoming a teacher. I loved meeting students from every area of study and helping them find the resources they needed. I enjoyed learning a little bit myself as I searched with students to find out more about global politics, geology, dance, nursing, and literature, too. Then, I could see where their ideas progressed as they wrote outlines and drafts for the writing center.

It was in the library that I truly appreciated Hope College as a liberal arts institution. The flow of students and professors researching, writing, and sharing ideas with one another inspired me to also read, write, and share ideas. It inspired me to conduct research in Washington, D.C. with Dr. Jeanne Petit, study in Vienna for a May term with Dr. Stephen Hemenway, and it shaped me to become the person I am today. What helped me most about my experience at Hope College was not one class or one professor, or even one fascinating book. It was the culmination of all the parts of the liberal arts education which helped me discover the kind of teacher I want to be.
I am so thankful for the time Hope gave me, so I can teach my students how to make the most of their dreams in all the time they have.

Novels: How I Discovered I was on the Right Career Path

By Lauren Marchany ’17

Majoring in English allows for a wide variety of career choices. My goal is to be an editor for a publishing house. The class that I found has been the most helpful to reaching this goal is Creative Writing: Novels with Dr. Elizabeth Trembley.

When registration rolled around near the end of fall semester of my junior year, I allowed my best friend to convince me to take Novels with her in the spring. I had wanted to take the class, but I wasn’t sure if I could survive it.

Novels is definitely one of the hardest classes I have taken at Hope. The goal of the class is to study the structure of a novel and then to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. At the end of the class students write a synopsis of their novel and complete a submission packet – as if they were going to submit their book to an agent or a publisher.

Walking out of the first day of class I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that had been thrown at me. It was at this point that the enormity of the task of having to write a novel hit me. I seriously contemplated dropping the class.

However, I decided to look at the class as a challenge. I had never written anything close to a novel, so why not stick it out and see where I end up? The first couple of weeks were easier than I had expected and I began to relax into the class. In hindsight this was a mistake.

At the end of January we began to prepare for the actual novel writing. At this point in the class I began to panic; I had no idea what I wanted to write about and it seemed like everyone else in the class had a semi-concrete idea for their novels.

During the month of February I continually struggled with meeting my daily word count quota and I again contemplated dropping the class. The writing section of the class really helped me appreciate how much work went into creating a novel. February challenged my perspective on my own writing. My entire life I had people telling me that I was a great writer, and then I walked into Novels and had to reevaluate my writing ability. I started to question if I actually had any talent and whether I should be a Creative Writing major because it seemed that every one of my classmates’ novels had stunning plots and were well thought out. I felt like I was just word-vomiting on the page and that my novel did not have any kind of direction. I felt inadequate as a writer and I struggled with this thought all through the writing of my novel.

By some miracle from the universe I had a 50,000 word novel at the end of February. When we got printed copies of our books, I was in complete awe. I couldn’t believe that I had actually written something that took up 173 pages. It was such a great feeling to know that I had overcome my challenges and survived the month.

The next step was to edit the first couple of chapters of our novels and to create a synopsis and query letter. This section of the class was by far my favorite and helped me to solidify my decision to go into editing. I had such a great time helping my classmates improve their novels through workshops and peer edits. Editing my peers’ packets left me with a feeling of accomplishment because I knew that I was helping them to create the worlds they envisioned in their heads. I felt useful and like I was helping to make a difference, even if the novel never got published.

At the end of the class I was thankful that I hadn’t left the class when the work became difficult. Novels helped me to truly realize that going into editing is the right career path for me. I encourage every English major to take a class that might daunt them. The results could be surprising.

Faculty Writing Camp Reflections

By Regan Postma-Montaño

This past June I joined eight other faculty (including Marla Lunderberg and Kendra Parker from the English Department) for my first ever Faculty Writing Camp. Much like the time spent at Northern Michigan summer camps during my youth, this camp offered me the blessings of community and growth, along with good snacks and walks in nature, and yes, a few tears.


Each day the other campers and I met in the teaching lab on the second floor of VanWylen Library. Mornings began with a “Writing Camp GPS” goal sheet and a tip from Barb Mezeske, our wise and encouraging coach. Mid-day we took a break for a lunch in the Cup and Chaucer Café and for free time, which for me meant walks around campus or downtown. Afternoons we continued writing and ended our session with a reflection on our progress and where to start the next day. In total, we wrote 30 hours in one week. I was thrilled with the tangible successes of the camp: a performance review accepted for publication and a scholarly article submitted for review. I also am thankful for the ways I grew as a writer during the camp. I share three personal takeaways:

1. To write well, I need movement between time alone and time in community. My good ideas and precise wordsmithing come in solitude while my momentum (especially when tired or stuck) comes in community. Barb and my fellow campers provided much to this end. I also found myself encouraged by library staff and student workers who often asked about my project. I hope to cultivate this balance of solitude and community in the upcoming semester as I continue writing.

2. To write well, I need to let go more quickly. I have the tendency to hold onto my writing, wanting my work to be perfect and thinking it is never “good enough.” Barb encouraged me to submit my work quickly — that same day or the very next week. I found this quicker pace freeing.

3. To write well, I need to write from my reality and the reality of the world today. I initially thought I could simply cut down my 50-page dissertation chapter to a 20-page article. As I began the process, I realized the world had changed. To accurately arrive at the article’s intended outcome I needed to rewrite from my current location. Although this proved to be more work, I feel proud of the relevance of my writing.


Much like the camps of my youth, the respite from daily life, the lengthy open periods of time, and the intense focus on a particular task led directly to my growth. Along the way, I learned that my work, which is professional in nature, emerges more quickly and beautifully when I pay attention to the personal meaning it provides.

Thank you Barb, Kendra, Marla, Berta, and everyone else who made my first Faculty Writing Camp a great adventure. I look forward to next year!

You Say Goodbye I Say Hello

By Sarah Baar, ’04

I first arrived on Hope’s campus in 2001 as a student. I remember standing in line in front of Dykstra Hall with my roommate, waiting to get checked in and get our keys. A bee buzzed around us in the late summer heat and humidity and I worried it would get stuck in my frizzy hair and make a home with us for the year in Dykstra 345.

Fast-forward seven years and I once again arrived at Hope, this time as an employee, the newly-named Office Manager for the English department. I wouldn’t start working with the History department for a few years still, and I thrilled in my shiny new office–a big step up from my cubicle in my previous job. I took a picture of the nameplate outside the office with my name on it.

Now, fifteen years after my first introduction to Hope, I’ve resigned my position as Office Manager to say hello to a new, unknown adventure.

No doubt I will miss many things about working at Hope. But most of all I’ll miss the people. My faculty have been nothing short of amazing. And the students? The students! Geesh, I could fall over from the greatness of our students. It’s been an honor to get to know you, folks. Love you all very much.

Why English 113 Is a Must

By: Trevor Sooy, ‘19

Most students coming to Hope College are required to take a semester of English. Like me, they may have thought, “I thought this was the time to study what I’m interested in and get as far away from writing lengthy papers on material that means next to nothing for me.”

This thought turned out to be quite the opposite, as taking English 113 allowed me to fully understand how to utilize the VanWylen Library, learn how to navigate through their databases, and most importantly, learn to write successful college-level papers.

With the VanWylen Library having four floors and a basement containing a plethora of books, articles, and journals, incoming students may find themselves confused and discouraged in finding the material they need to write a paper for a certain class. Every English 113 class has multiple library information sessions that show students how to use their website to find the appropriate and necessary books needed to find what type of document one may need. Another great resource that students learn how to use is the Klooster Center for Excellence In Writing. This department of the library helps students with writing projects of all kinds, and you can learn much more about the Center here.

Yet another tricky thing in college is trying to navigate through databases. Without proper instructions on how to do so efficiently and effectively, this can be a headache. Hope College allows its students to have access to a myriad of databases. Again, in every English 113 class, they teach the benefits one can have by using this resource. At the end of the semester these skills are then put into action by writing a research paper.

Every professor has high expectations for their student’s papers and projects. But English 113 is designed to help you succeed. There are various workshops throughout the semester such as sentence style, word choice, revising, and properly citing. These concepts may sound mundane and repetitive, but these aspects of writing are crucial to understand.

Hope College is fortunate enough to have a wide range of English 113 classes that cover an array of topics. There is not an English class alike. Students are able to choose what sounds interesting to them, whether that be spirituality, American presidency, and even Jurassic Park. While the core of all of these classes all teach students about the things mentioned previously, they all have their own overarching theme.

English 113 allows students to clearly understand the writing resources available on campus, lets you explore different writing techniques, and makes sure every student is comfortable writing college-level papers. All of these things are beneficial in the short and long run. So, despite the initial dread that you may have felt about have to take another English class, it will help in many other areas of college writing and researching.

Writing In Community

By Leigh Clouse, ’13

IMG_0167As a writer, there is often nothing more terrifying than sharing my work with others. Whether I’m in a formal class workshop or in a relaxed setting with fellow writer friends, my anxiety always finds a way to tag along for the ride. The critique process has a way of making me feel exposed, so exposed that I want to sink through the floor when I hear someone say that the main character in my story seems one-dimensional or that the ending that I worked on for eons comes off as trite. Having to critique another’s piece can be daunting too. There’s an internal pressure to be insightful, and I struggle at times to articulate why I think something is or isn’t working. On more than occasion I have thrown out lame comments that make me wince when I think about them hours later.

As nerve-wracking as being part of a writing community can be, I have learned over the years, as a creative writing major at Hope and as part of a MFA cohort at Boston University, how vital it is in both bettering my work and forming a network of people who challenge me.

To ward off bouts of shame-spiraling, I try to keep in mind the benefits of workshopping, one of the most essential being that there are more minds than just my own at my disposal. When I am at my wits’ end because my plot has evaporated into the ether, it’s a comfort to have the resources of others’ imaginations to come up with potential solutions for the problematic.

Once I’ve been working on a piece for a while things tend to become muddled, and it can be difficult to put my finger on what doesn’t feel right. It’s good to have people who aren’t also trapped in the mire of my self-doubt. And while I may not want to act on every suggestion I receive, I am comforted by having pages of notes about possible next steps after a critique session.

Being in different writing groups has also improved my ability not only to constructively critique another’s work but also to be a better critic of my own. Once I get past the thought of workshop as something to dread, it becomes an opportunity to immerse myself in different ways of thinking. While it may not seem I have anything more to go on than a feeling when it comes to someone’s story at first, often hearing another’s opinion causes me to make sense of my own.

Workshopping becomes a team sport rather than an individual event. And by helping others hone their writing, certain truths about my own can be revealed if I’m open to it. I may find that another writer’s language is clearer and livelier than mine, encouraging me to declutter my pieces of ungainly metaphors, which wrap their sea monster tentacles around the vessel that is my story. Making these types of observations keeps me mindful about what I am trying to achieve and how I want to get there.

Most importantly, I believe being in community is the best way to stay humble and striving as a writer.

It’s a system of checks and balances on the ego. While I would be dishonest if I didn’t say I enjoy having workshops where I feel like I’ve won all the gold stars, the story a hit, I don’t learn as much from them as the ones that are, in my mind, total train wrecks. When done right, critiques move writers toward development and growth. Though it might be humiliating, a “bad” workshop pushes me to rally and be resilient when facing rejection—something that happens to writers on a regular basis. Though I’d rather isolate myself and wallow after these experiences, my writing communities have always been there to bolster my confidence.

As a Hope professor once said, we need our fellow writers to be both our cheerleaders and coaches. We are there to help each other get up when we stumble and then to move on. So in those moments I feel exposed when workshopping, I try to remember all the good that can come from it. Anxiety, be gone.

For my Fellow Writers: How to Stay Motivated during the Summer

By: Katie McMorris ’17

If you’re anything like me, your first month or so of summer probably included the following: sleeping, eating, Netflix, then back again to sleeping. After spending the last two semesters constantly producing new material, you deserve a break; however, sometimes that break seems to last until the end of August. For Creative Writing majors and minors, it’s important to stay disciplined during the summer. This post aims to provide my fellow writers out there with some solid advice on how to stay motivated during the summer:

1. Get out of Your Room

As tempting as the comfort of your room may seem, inspiration comes from stepping out of your comfort zone and discovering new places. To keep writing during the summer, you have to find new ideas. If you’re living somewhere new for the summer, talk to locals about the must-see attractions but also the “hidden gems.” If you’re living in a familiar area, check out a place you always wanted to visit but never did. Art museums, libraries, quirky restaurants, or that statue downtown that reminds you of French fries all make good writing destinations. Because if you stay in your room all summer, all your poems will end up being about that pile of clothes you still haven’t washed since May

2. Attend Writing-Related Events

While I do not support copious amounts of internet time during the summer, I recommend Google for this one. Search for poetry slams, open mic nights, book signings, and writing workshops in your area. Nothing gets you more motivated than hearing and meeting with others who share your talents and passions.

3. Have a Writing Partner(s)

In most Creative Writing classes, you workshop your pieces with your classmates. Without classmates readily available, it can be tricky finding others to read your work. By having a Writing Partner, you can share your work and stay on a schedule. For example, if you say you will exchange work on the second and fourth Friday of every month, you have to uphold that. A Writing Partner keeps you accountable for your writing (shout out to Liz Ensink and Nathaniel Nelson for being my Writing Partners).

4. Give Yourself Deadlines AND Rewards

During the school year, adhering to deadlines means you won’t receive a lower grade simply for turning in the assignment late. Without an incentive during the summer, it becomes difficult to produce work in a timely and consistent manner. What I recommend is a deadline-reward system: set yourself deadlines, but then reward yourself when you accomplish your goals. For example, one completed poem could equal one episode of The Office.

5. When in Doubt, Read

My final piece of advice might sound cliché, but I honestly believe that reading is one of the most crucial ways to stay motivated. By reading consistently, we gain more knowledge, inspiration, and motivation to produce work equally as good. If you don’t feel motivated to read, check out a Summer Reading Program at your local library. These usually include prizes as an incentive to keep you reading. And if you can’t find the perfect book, check out a nonfiction book on something you know nothing about. For all you know, novelty architecture could be your hidden obsession.

While I recognize that these five steps cannot physically lift your fingers to the computer or notebook to begin writing, I hope they encourage you to stay motivated for the next few months. And for those of you who are not Creative Writing majors or minors but are working on a research project or textbook, I believe you can apply these in your own way as well. Modify these steps to fit you and your writing schedule.
So let’s log off Facebook, get comfortable, and start writing!