Adventures in Liverpool

By: Professor Bill Moreau

I am 40,000 feet above the Atlantic as I write this—aboard American Airlines flight #55 from Manchester, England, to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Professor Tony Donk and I are returning from a June Term in Liverpool with the Education Department. Our twelve students and the two of us are exhausted but elated with a very successful June Term experience.

While in Liverpool, Professor Donk taught a class on literacy to Hope elementary education students, while I taught a secondary methods and principles class to Hope students who would like to teach in a middle school or high school some day. We were housed on the campus of Liverpool Hope University, but we also traveled to London and Edinburgh for long three-day weekends. Our group also took a northern Wales day trip, spent two weeks in either Northway Primary School or in King David High School classrooms to observe and teach, and had multiple opportunities to visit the town center of Liverpool itself.

Once back home from such an experience, friends, family, and colleagues will invariably ask me, “What were the highlights, Moreau?” Here is what I will say in response:

From a group perspective, the absolute best part was getting to know our twelve Hope College students. We had lots of “together time” as one would imagine: traveling, sharing meals, planning, learning, and playing were all part of that togetherness. And this group was amazing when in close proximity to each other. When the fourteen of us were seated family-style at Childwall Abbey pub or in Five Ways Hotel pub or in the small pub that shared space with our Edinburgh hostel or in the London pub where we watched England’s first Euro Cup soccer match against Russia, we shared food, drink, conversation, and therapeutic laughter. These gatherings have bonded us for the remainder of our time left together at Hope College. And for that, I am grateful.

Another highlight was the way our students mastered their school placements. Although everyone’s experience was unique, all loved their students and supervising teachers. While at King David High School, I had the honor of observing our Hope students teach lessons based on analyzing slave poetry, reading informational text explaining the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, writing creatively about a selected region of the US, creating Prohibition propaganda, and reviewing math facts using a form of the Jeopardy game. It was a pleasure to observe their quality work and take pride in the fact that our college and respective departments have prepared them well for their future as teachers.

I must also mention that group togetherness included an hour climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat just outside Edinburgh, Scotland. This nearly thousand-foot climb was on an inactive (rather fortunately) volcano near the royal palace in Holyrood Park. We were also able to spend some time climbing with the sheep in Snowdonia National Park in northern Wales on our last full day together.

I also had several personal highlights that I was afforded on this trip. One of those involved our venture to London for a long weekend. I visited Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub on Fleet Street. This is a pub that was destroyed by the Great London Fire in 1666, but was rebuilt a year later and has remained in its present place since that date. One of my favorite authors, Mr. Charles Dickens, considered this pub his favorite. There is even a small plaque that denotes the very seat where Mr. Dickens usually sat. On a very quiet Saturday afternoon, I sat in his spot and enjoyed a pint of ale—much as Charles Dickens would have done over 150 years ago! As a bonus, one of my favorite books is Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. A first edition copy of this novel is encased in glass and hangs on the wall near Dickens’ seat. It is open to the page that describes a tavern that is undoubtedly Dickens’ favorite, the Cheshire Cheese. What a great afternoon for an English teacher!

So, thank you to Hope College, to my twelve new student best friends, to Professors Donk and Pardo who asked me to join their team, and to the English and Education Departments for allowing me to participate in this June Term adventure. It was truly life altering.

5) Six of our women in Snowdonia National Park in Wales.
Six of our women in Snowdonia National Park in Wales.
4) The copy of A Tale of Two Cities hanging on the wall near the Dickens’ seat in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub.
The copy of A Tale of Two Cities hanging on the wall near the Dickens’ seat in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub.
1) This is the group of 12 students at Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.  Starting at the bottom, L to R: Row 1: Taylor VanRemmen, Caren Shin Row 2: Nicole Mirabile, Allie Thomason, Libby Rieman Row 3: Betsy VerHage, Caitlin Maas, Rachel Bartkowiak, Macauley Wieland, Row 4: Aaron Hazen Sara Frank, Emma Fowler
This is the group of 12 students at Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.
Starting at the bottom, L to R:
Row 1: Taylor VanRemmen, Caren Shin
Row 2: Nicole Mirabile, Allie Thomason, Libby Rieman
Row 3: Betsy VerHage, Caitlin Maas, Rachel Bartkowiak, Macauley Wieland,
Row 4: Aaron Hazen
Sara Frank, Emma Fowler
2) The view looking down. Note the city of Edinburgh in the upper left hand corner—including Edinburgh Castle.
The view looking down. Note the city of Edinburgh in the upper left hand corner—including Edinburgh Castle.
3) The Dickens’ nameplate in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in London.
The Dickens’ nameplate in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in London.


7 Things: Some Advice

By Sarah Baar

Though I am not really an expert at anything, I have general knowledge about many things. Sometimes I like to give advice. Take it or leave it.

  1. Start saving for retirement immediately. Experts estimate that you’ll double your investment return if you start saving at 25 instead of 35. Most companies offer a 401k or similar retirement investment plan. Sign up for it. Immediately. Even if you think you’re setting aside a dinky amount of money each pay period, it’s still worth it in the long run. Don’t trust me? John Green agrees.
  1. Get rid of debt (if you have any). The average grad has about $35,000 in debt when they finish college. If you have student loans, credit card debt, or you owe your buddy twenty bucks, start paying them off now and pay more than the minimum monthly payment. You’ll end up saving money in the end.
  1. Make a budget (and do your best to stick to it). This will help you pay off your debt and it will help you realize that spending five dollars on coffee every day might not help with that process.
  1. Thank the people who helped you. Teachers, family, friends. The next step of your life will be all that much richer if you say thank you to the people who supported you. And it feels good, too.
  1. Develop a non-digital hobby. This one sounds a bit silly, but I realized how much time I’ve been spending with my face in my computer. Then I had lunch with a friend, spent the afternoon reading a book (a real, live book, not an ebook on my Kindle or computer), and took a walk outside. Going electronics-free for a day (or an afternoon if you can’t handle a whole day) is good for the soul.
  1. Build community. To be honest, I wasn’t great at staying in touch with high school or even college friends. When I started working, I found a group of like-minded women who supported and encouraged each other. It made all the difference. Sometimes it takes a while to find people who click. But it will happen, and it will be awesome. Be ready for it.

7. Have fun. You’re only young once. And while saving for retirement and getting rid of debt are important and will help you live a fuller life, don’t forget to pay attention to the now. It’s fabulous.

Eight Peas in a Podcast

By Susanna Childress

This past January, on an icy Sunday afternoon, I took my husband on a hot date. I know, perhaps not a typical first sentence for the English Department blog. Stay with me.

Somehow I’d snagged front-row tickets to see Ira Glass—yes, THE Ira Glass—at WMU’s Snow Auditorium. If you’re not familiar, Ira Glass is host and executive producer of the long-running, highly-lauded podcast, “This American Life.” Josh and I also happen to think he’s one of the most precocious, on-point, and winsome public figures we’ll encounter in our lifetime, and we’re pretty picky about our public figures.

Though we’ve been podcast fans of all sorts for years, it’s become a ritual to listen to “This American Life” while we do the evening dishes, clean up the day’s mess, set out the next day’s lunch. We find the episodes entertaining, certainly, but they also provide us with a type of news we’re hungry for—truly, sometimes even infuriatingly, complex—good journalism, funky journalism, raw and real, stories and people and scenarios that make us question, and curse, and laugh, and cry. We regularly do all four of those things as we bend over the dishwasher or spread a bagel with peanut butter and jelly because these well-crafted episodes include such a gamut of the human experience, from the retelling of a hilariously chaotic Peter Pan production to an up-close exploration of the devastating state of segregation within our public school system. “This American Life” is not messing around.

I’d already decided I wanted to do a class podcast with 358, Intermediate Creative Nonfiction, in the spring semester, since literary essay-writing and this kind of journalism—sometimes called immersive or literary journalism—have much in common. I knew that we’d model our episode after “This American Life,” and I’d been brainstorming with Josh which episodes were the best to assign and enjoy/analyze/steal from as a class. But for whatever reason, when I bought the tickets last fall to see Ira Glass, I thought I was going on a really great date that kind of sort of happened to tie into this thing I was going to try in one of my classes. Front row tickets, man. With my man, man. My kids’ favorite sitter lined up and a trip out of town, man. HOT, right? (No joke, I’m living large here, folks.)

But then we arrive and take our seats and the lights go down and from the minute Ira Glass steps on that stage, it’s as if he knew there was a gal on the front row teaching a creative nonfiction class and planning to incorporate a podcast assignment. It was as if he had designed his talk to teach me how to teach this assignment. His whole talk—riveting from the first word to the last, not only because the guy is wryly comedic but also intelligent, kind, self-aware, and convicted—encompassed why they saw a need for “This American Life” in broadcast journalism, what they hope each episode is doing to fulfill that need, what they look for, where the material comes from, how they craft an episode, how that process has evolved, and why the narratives in “This American Life” are so important—even necessary—in our lives. He talks semiotics and storytelling. He speaks at length about his own undergraduate education. He shares highs and lows of his time in broadcast journalism as well as thoughts on the recent boom in and popularity of podcasts.

By and large, Ira Glass gives an enormous craft talk. He teaches me how to teach what a podcast of this sort is, what to aim for, and how to hit it.

Of course I’d come without paper and pen (who brings that stuff on a date?) so there I was, on the front row, madly tapping out notes on my phone, which galled the women next to me into several sidelong glares and a couple tornadic sighs. Did she think I was texting? I wanted to lean over and say, “This is bugging me, too. You have no idea. I need a whole notebook and my best ballpoint right now, not two ridiculous thumbs!” but I was too busy typing out what I could summarize, key points and main ideas, juicy bits and stunning bits, to commiserate. His talk went nearly two hours, what with excerpts from several episodes and a Q&A with the packed auditorium. Josh and I both said we could have—would have gladly, with bonus overtime for the sitter—listened to him for several more hours.

We didn’t want to leave. (Now that’s a hot date. Am I right?)

The next “podcast” class session with my creative nonfiction folks, I was bursting. I stammered over myself in excitement. I mean, I’d sat at the feet (yes, literally) of the Master Podcaster Himself!

And my dear, beguiled students—all eight of them—were game.

They took it in stride (…that their professor was coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs, so to speak). They invested themselves. They made it their own. On their own. (I cut the kite strings early so it could truly be something of their own making.) They rose to the occasion. They took risks. None of them had done this kind of podcast, which requires a very specific sort of writing that’s a hybrid of the journalistic and literary. Where they collaborated and had to rely and build on the work of their classmates. Where their voices were on display in a digital format. For all to hear.

ENGL 358 working in the Learning Lab on the podcast; from left to right: Josue Guitron, Madison Veverka, Elizabeth Ensink, Anna Jones, Becky Downing, Amber Carnahan, Nicolette DeSantis, Katie McMorris)
ENGL 358 working in the Learning Lab on the podcast; from left to right: Josue Guitron, Madison Veverka, Elizabeth Ensink, Anna Jones, Becky Downing, Amber Carnahan, Nicolette DeSantis, Katie McMorris)

These 358 students worked together to create a 35-minute podcast with several “acts” (segments that fit together and build around a theme). They each had something to contribute. And, as far as I can tell, they walked away with a greater understanding of (and deep appreciation for) the exact kind of creativity, endurance, patience, thoughtfulness, teamwork, and tech-savvy it takes to pull off every single episode of a podcast like “This American Life.”

We all learned a lot this semester, not least of which is how easily a hot date can turn into a “craft” moment you didn’t even know you needed…which sometimes can turn into teaching-and- learning moments you did nothing—minus the happen-chance to be in the right place at the right time—to deserve. (Maybe we should all go on more dates?)

Please enjoy the following 10-minute excerpt of the podcast, whose theme is “Growth,” from the spring semester’s 358 class. This act begins with a portion of an interview with Hope biology professor Dr. Greg Murray by Elizabeth Ensink and then proceeds to writing and interview by Madison Veverka (with her grandmother) with folded interview questions by Josue Guitron; final editing and production was done by Katie McMorris and Elizabeth Ensink.

Winner of the Stephenson First-Year Writing Prize

Hope College has a plethora of awards given out to students on a regular basis. The English Department alone has the honor of awarding students over ten different types of honors and prizes for showing exemplary skills in literature and creative writing.

One of the awards we recently gave was the “Stephenson First-Year Writing Prize.” Each semester, a committee of faculty judges selects a student author as having submitted the best paper in Hope’s first-year writing course, English 113. Its purpose is to encourage and recognize standout writers. The winner receives recognition at the English Department’s Award Ceremony and a gift certificate to the Hope-Geneva Bookstore.

Professor Regan Postma-Montano introduced this year’s winner, and some insight as to how the winner was selected:

“On behalf of the English Department and the Stephenson Prize Selection Committee, it is my honor to present this year’s award.

The Stephenson prize goes to an outstanding research paper written in English 113, which is selected for its originality, clarity, logic, and quality of research, in addition to its format and style.

This year’s winning paper, ‘Bowing to No One: Black Feminism in Frances E. W. Harper’s “Vashti” and Janelle Monáe’s “Q.U.E.E.N”’, written for Dr. Kendra Parker’s English 113, highlights the use of poetry and song as a tactic for black women to free themselves from social expectations.

The committee was impressed by the articulate writing, thoughtful research, and engaging, unique argument demonstrated in this paper. One member commented on the paper’s ‘strong voice’ that showed ‘a lot of conviction’ and another on the writer’s enthusiasm. Please join me in congratulating Nina Kay for her outstanding paper.”

A copy of Nina Kay’s paper can be found here.
Congratulations, Nina!

A Letter to Hope College Prospective Students

Dear Prospective Hope College Students,

First of all I want to wish you all luck on your college searches.  Having been through it myself, I understand the time and effort that goes into finding the perfect college.  That being said, there is no question that on the next level—the collegiate level—the stakes are higher.  In this post, I wanted to talk about some of the expectations, the “do’s and don’ts” if you will, of college writing.

One of the biggest misconceptions about writing that they teach in high school is that there is a standard way to write a paper: intro, body, conclusion repeat. This may not be the best way to write papers in college.  In fact, the English department at Hope College encourages its students to use varying sentence structures, phrases, sources, and even to be creative.

You may be thinking, “How can I be creative in a research paper?” well, there are many options you can use to get out of the habit of boring yourself and your professors.  One effective way to make your research paper creative is to add a sense of voice to the paper itself.  This will make sure that the paper is (A) not plagiarized—which isn’t taken lightly at Hope College—and (B) does not sound like the other 20 or so papers the professor will be reading.  Being an English education major, I understand the value of trying something outside the box.  

Another way to spice up your papers is to choose topics that are interesting to you.  Most professors that I have had in the English department are very willing to tweak their prompt in order to accommodate your needs and wants; use this to your advantage.  Unlike other colleges—where you could have up to 300 students in your intro to English class—Hope College classes are between 15-30 students, which means you will know your professors and they will know you.  So don’t hesitate to ask for help or advice.  This is one thing that I find very valuable, especially in an English setting.  

Also, use the writing center on campus.  If you’re like me—stubborn—you’ll say things like, “My writing is good enough, I don’t need someone else to proof it” but I hate to break it to you: it’s not.  I came in with the same understanding of my own writing and while I held my own, I never could quite get over the hump of mediocrity.  However, The Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing will not only proof your papers, but they will give you tips.  Did I also mention that many professors award extra points on papers for attending the writing center?  (A helpful hint I was unaware of when I first stepped on campus.)

I hope this post gave you a sneak peak into the world you’re about to enter, college.  I again wish you all luck and I “Hope” to be seeing you soon.  Thanks.
Logan Klepac, Senior; English Education

Either/Or vs. Both/And

By Sarah Baar

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.

What Makes An Effective Educator?

By Bryant Russ, ‘11

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.

Hope College Academy of American Poets Prize 2016

By Pablo Peschiera

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 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.


EnsinkElizabeth 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.

Honorable Mention

tdawgTommy 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.

From Howard to Hope: the CLA Difference

By Kendra Parker

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.57.18 PM
2016 CLA Conference Call for Abstracts

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.57.33 PM
Dr. Kendra R. Parker, Ansharaye Hines, Mariana Thomas, and Katharyn Jones

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.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.57.42 PM
2016 Panelists: Layla June West, “Eloquence in the Discipline of Rhetoric: Kemetic Roots, Often Forgotten” Alexis Boyd, “Engaging the Master’s Tools: How Western Ideologies Complicate the Rhetoric of Protest and Resistance Literature” Drew Monroe, “Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Complexion’: A Poet’s Take on Black Experiences” Sarah Harvin, “One ‘Triflin’ Project: Exploring ‘Trifling’ and Incorporating African American Vernacular English in High School Curricula”

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.57.53 PM
CLA Executive Board,  Photo credit: “CLA 2016-Houston” Heat Strings Theory

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 few on 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.

Cheers to keeping the CLA spirit alive!

How Writing a Novel Prepared Me to Run A Marathon

By Sarah Baar

So, I did a stupid thing the other day. I signed up for the Chicago Marathon.


There are a number of reasons this is insane. Here are a few:

  1. It requires running 26.2 miles. MILES.
  2. The marathon got its name when a man ran (26.2 miles) from Marathon to Athens . . . and then died.
  3. 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.

NaNoWriMo-2008It 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.