Wolves, Spartans, Mockingbirds, Falling From the Sky: Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series Spring 2020 Preview

by Keri Haddrill & Claire Buck

Snow and ice are threading their way into the atmosphere here in Holland, Michigan. That means it’s the season to curl up with a good book (or five), so let’s agree to only venture out from our Hobbit-holes, magical treehouses, or bedrooms under the stairs for bookstore runs and literary events. 

What literary events, you ask? Well, the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series (JRVWS) has four amazing writers coming this semester, so make sure to mark your calendars now! 

February 4th: Marcelo Hernandez Castillo and Lesley Nneka Arimah

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo and Lesley Nneka Arimah are both writers who have crossed borders, not just between countries but across genres, voices, and traditions. 

Frequently moving throughout her childhood due to her father’s work in the military, Arimah grew up in Nigeria and the United States. Her debut collection of short stories, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, draws on her perspective of both cultures. Although her stories span a wide breadth of genres from realism to fantasy to science fiction, they hold similar tensions at their core. Whether she’s placed her characters in the U.S. or a post-apocalyptic dystopia, Arimah writes relational conflicts—especially conflicts between mothers and daughters—with skillful precision. Often dark, sometimes unsettling, and always sharply insightful, Arimah’s stories have earned her widespread critical recognition and the 2017 Kirkus Prize. 

At the age of five, Castillo emigrated from Mexico with his family, but his work is not solely about immigration. In his debut poetry collection, Cenzontle, Castillo uses evocative imagery and unique formatting to explore themes of marriage, fatherhood, parental abuse, immigration, race, and sexuality. For his work in Cenzontle, Castillo was awarded not only the 2017 A. Poulin Jr. prize, but also the 2018 Northern California Book Award. In addition to being a poet, Castillo is also an essayist, translator, and immigration advocate. 

And if you haven’t heard, Castillo’s debut memoir, Children of the Land (an Entertainment Weekly “Most Anticipated Book of 2020”), will be released on January 28th. We don’t know about you, but we’ll definitely be using the week before he arrives on campus to binge-read Children of the Land!

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Dawn Davies, Kaveh Akbar
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Dawn Davies, Kaveh Akbar

March 26th: Dawn Davies and Kaveh Akbar

Dawn Davies is another memoirist from Florida, just like our dear Heather Sellers. Davies’ debut book, Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces, was the recipient of the 2018 Florida Book Award. Despite the title, Davies’ debut is about more than being a mother; she also explores what it means to be a daughter, a child, a woman, a person repeatedly hindered by their physical body, and ultimately, a human. With a lively, snarky, and intelligent writing voice that sounds as if she is speaking directly to you, Davies doesn’t shy away from the raw, real, and intense moments of life.

Davies, along with Castillo and Arimah, are all winners of the 2019 GLCA New Writer Award in the categories of Creative Non-fiction, Poetry, and Fiction respectively. And did you know that our own Dr. Rhoda Burton was part of the panel that chose Davies for the award?

Iranian-born poet Kaveh Akbar is another writer whose work doesn’t shrink from radical honesty and vulnerability. Woven through his collection Calling a Wolf a Wolf are a series of “Portraits of the Alcoholic” in positions of recovery, temptation, struggle, and gratitude that emerge from Akbar’s long battle with addiction. His poems leap among surprising images and wrap wisdom in layers of lyrical language. Akbar’s writing is an invitation to press into uncertainty and confusion and strangeness, a call to reflect without needing to understand fully. As Akbar said in an interview with Lit Hub, “I really do sincerely feel that bewilderment is at the core of every great poem, and in order to be bewildered, you have to be able to wonder.” 

You’re excited now, aren’t you? But hold up, don’t put on your coats yet! (That is, unless you haven’t read the works of these amazing writers — then definitely run out with your library card or credit card in hand!)

MARCELO HERNANDEZ CASTILLO and LESLEY NNEKA ARIMAH will be here on Tuesday, February 4th for a 3:30PM Q&A in Fried-Hemenway Auditorium and a 7:15PM reading in the Jack Miller Recital Hall.

DAWN DAVIES and KAVEH AKBAR will be here on Thursday, March 26th for a 3:30PM Q&A in Fried-Hemenway Auditorium and a 7:00PM reading in the Jack Miller Recital Hall.

So, while you wait in anticipation, make sure to follow the JRVWS Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for more tantalizing sneak previews of these incredible writers!

In Search of Rich Soil: Alumni Feature by Annalise Klein ’14

In this post, we hear from alumna Annalise “Cici” Klein (’14) about how her cross-divisional majors sparked a global pursuit of vocation post-college.

On a humid Saturday morning in Serere, Uganda, three high school boys stood at the front of a large classroom, addressing a packed room of several hundred parents. One boy wrapped beef bones in aluminum foil. Another pounded a large wooden mortar and pestle. The third boy held a microphone, speaking to the crowd in English and Ateso. And there I was facing them all, in a cracked and faded blue plastic chair, sandwiched between the district commissioner and the school principal.

The boys were part of the Senior Five chemistry class at Serere Township Secondary School, a boarding school of 1,300 students in rural Eastern Uganda. I was there as a STEM education specialist on a six-week fellowship through the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching Program in the fall of 2019.

In my six weeks in Serere, I built a new vision for science education with local teachers, one that fostered 21st-century skills, including collaboration and critical thinking, and moved away from the colonial-rooted system of teacher lectures that lacked cultural relevance and real-world application.

We began with posing some questions to the Senior Five chemistry class around agricultural issues in the community. Over 90% of the students come from small subsistence farms, and agriculture plays an important role in their families’ well-being. While Uganda was once known for its highly fertile soil, it is losing valuable nutrients at an exponential rate not observed anywhere else in the world.1 We asked the students to research ways in which they could apply their knowledge of chemistry to address this problem.

The students made a goal of producing a fertilizer rich in NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) made from local materials. After scavenging some old cow bones from the butcher’s shop down the road, the students roasted them over a charcoal fire, ground it into a fine powder, mixed it with urine, and dried it in the sun. The fertilizer was tested on cowpea and maize seeds, which they planted on a plot in the corner of the school yard. On that Saturday morning, as they presented their initial findings to their parents, the room clung to each word, some parents leaning forward to catch every detail, others scribbling down notes.

Throughout this project, students and teachers began to witness the intoxicating effects of an education that empowers. In my planning workshops with the teachers, I used the following analogy to demonstrate the philosophical shift:

In the traditional model of education, if knowledge is water, our students’ heads are empty buckets. We expect them to fill up by compliantly copying notes, then we assess them by tipping the bucket and letting the contents spill out exactly how they entered. However, in a 21st-century skills model, if knowledge is water, our students are large, wooden water wheels used in rivers to power mills. When water is added, it creates movement, power, and energy. Likewise, by focusing a class on problem solving and community application, it facilitates original discussion, innovative ideas, and student ownership.

My own experience with waterwheel education traces back before my career in science education. At Hope, I was nurtured, surrounded by professors and staff who were brave enough and cared enough to speak into my vocation, not just my degree. As a Chemistry and English double major at Hope, I had many opportunities to apply the academic knowledge and skills that I was cultivating. Taking inorganic chemistry and TA-ing organic chemistry sharpened my analytical thinking and mental stamina, while courses like Latin American literature and poetry workshops taught me a deep appreciation for how detailed observations mold one’s perspective on life.

Any student of Heather Sellers will recall her frequent reference to Robert Olen Butler’s “compost pile” analogy on writing: our writing comes from our life compost pile, an ever-growing, ever-decomposing mound of experiences and memories. Our best writing comes from the white-hot center, and the older we get, the richer our compost pile becomes. The stories our class read came from authors who had massive compost piles with searing white-hot centers — people like Louise Erdrich, Amy Bloom, Tim O’Brien, Marion Winik, and Elizabeth Strout, just to name a few.

By the time junior year rolled around, I stood at a crossroads, thinking, “MCAT or real world?” and it was those lessons from my English degree that pulled me toward the latter. I gravitated towards a vocation that I felt would allow me to collect stories, building my own compost pile to produce richer soil.

After graduation, I joined Teach for America and taught eighth grade science in a small coffee farm community in South Kona, Hawai’i. I met bright students who struggled to translate that brilliance onto paper because of language barriers or instability at home. I taught a STEAM summer program for Native Hawaiian students and gathered valuable lessons on the importance of culturally relevant science curriculum that is accessible for all.

After three years on the island, I moved to the Bay Area to teach chemistry and AP Chemistry at a charter school in East San Jose and developed projects for my students connecting chemistry to social justice issues. The opportunity to work in Uganda last fall showed me new ways in which science can inspire innovation in a community.

On my last day in Serere, the students checked on the experimental plot and discovered with great pride that the plants in fertilizer had grown three times as fast as the control. They harvested the leaves, boiled them down over a charcoal fire, and together, we ate a final meal — hopefully the only time I will ever eat the products of an experiment!

As I said goodbye to the students of Serere and prepared to return to my students in San Jose, I left with new stories that enriched my perspective on educational equity and science instruction in the 21st-century. These experiences continue to cultivate my vocation, one that partners with students to hone their unique voices, influence change in their communities, and diversify representation in STEM. My compost pile overfloweth.

  1. http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/uga172925.pdf

Writer as Witness: Finding Our Common Humanity

Welcome back! In this week’s post, we want to share an incredible project that the students in Professor Susanne Davis’s Introduction to Creative Writing class completed last semester.

The English 253 class created podcasts as part of the course curriculum, aiming to delve into a range of common human experiences in order to deepen and enrich their creative writing practice. The resulting podcast series is called “Writer as Witness: Finding Our Common Humanity.” Prof. Davis asked students to enact the writer’s role to witness by giving a platform to a few of the many marginalized voices and populations within our culture.

Students chose their own podcast topics and who they wanted to interview. With titles like “Dance is Political,” “The Cultural Relevance of Christian Hip-Hop,” and “Healing From Head Trauma: A Patient’s Experience,” these 5-minute podcasts feature interviews that offer multiple perspectives on the chosen issue. Interviewees range from Hope students from under-represented groups to Holland community members to the broader society—for example, Detroit auto workers involved in a Women’s Alliance. Through this assignment, the students sought be become more observant witnesses and therefore better storytellers, but we as listeners also have much to gain from these impactful bursts of audio insight.

Check out their incredible work here. Happy listening & have an enlightened weekend!

Books to Curl Up With Over Winter Break

Happy (almost) winter break to our lovely students! We asked our faculty & staff to share a text that they would recommend for students on vacation looking to relax and take a break from scholarly pursuits. Be sure to stop by Van Wylen before you leave to check some of these out, and may your next three weeks be restful & renewing!

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, Image Courtesy of Counterpoint LLC

Dr. Curtis Gruenler’s Pick: Jayber Crow By Wendell Berry

Our first recommendation comes from Dr. Curtis Gruenler, who wholeheartedly recommends Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow. “This is my favorite novel by my favorite living writer,” says Dr. Gruenler, “and it has everything: humor, coming-of-age story, insightful social commentary, love, friendship, and a subtle rewriting of Dante’s Divine Comedy in the genre of the realistic novel.”

Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos, published by Harper Perennial

Dr. Stephen Hemenway’s Pick: Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Dr. Stephen Hemenway shares this about his selection: “I enthusiastically recommend Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos. The title is Yuletide seasonal, and the fictional story highlights faith and family in a ‘novel’ way.” According to GoodReads.com, it’s the story of a man “trying to put his life in perspective. In the expert hands of Oscar Hijuelos, the novel speaks eloquently to the most basic and fulfilling aspects of life for all of us.”

An excerpt of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn By Mark Twain, currently published by Peguin Classics

Dr. Mike Owens’ Pick: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

This one’s a classic, but transcends time and is applicable at any age. Dr. Mike Owens recommends The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain as an enjoyable read for over the holidays. “It is not a boy’s book — everyone should read it as an adult, and Chapter XXXI contains, arguably, the greatest sentence in American literature.” Think you know what sentence Prof. Owens is referring to? (Hint: it’s 7 words long.)

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, Image courtesy of Ballantine Books

Alison Lechner, English Dept. Office Manager, selects The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This one’s for all our our literary & history buffs out there! Our Office Manager, Alison Lechner, recommends The Paris Wife by Paula McLain as a great historical fiction read for your holiday break. She writes: “I love hearing old stories told in new ways. This is a fictionalized account of the real Hadley Richardson, who was Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. It explores gender roles and inter-marital relations in the context of 1920’s Paris amidst the rise of Hemingway’s now infamous literary career. The Paris Wife is a fantastic read that sheds new light on one of literature’s most famous authors — I couldn’t put it down!”

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, published by Random House

Dr. Rhoda Burton’s Pick: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Dr. Rhoda Burton’s recommendation for winter break is nothing short of a life-changing read: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. She explains that “so many memoirs show us how — how we live, how we reflect, how we make meaning. But this one shows us why.” This book tells the story of a brain surgeon who is diagnosed with terminal cancer — make sure you’ve got some tissues on hand.

Noche Buena edited by Nicolás Kanellos, published by Oxford University Press

Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño’s pick: Noche Buena edited by Nicolás Kanellos

Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño shares her choice for some fun reading for over break: Noche Buena: Hispanic American Christmas Stories, edited by Nicolás Kanellos. As she puts it: “I love picking up Kanellos’ book each year during Christmas break. It invites readers into the fullness of the season as seen through Latinx eyes. In this collection of stories, songs, poems, and a play, we experience Christmas as a season spanning from the Festival of the Virgen de Guadalupe (December 12th) to Three Kings Day (January 6th). ¡Felices fiestas!”

Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

Our New Voices Young Adult Book Club chose Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Last but certainly not least, we have an excellent choice for all you YA fiction fans out there: Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Winter break is the perfect time to dig into this month’s selection from New Voices. This is a dark and riveting tale of magic, family, and adventure, a breathlessly fast-paced read inspired by West African mythic tradition. New Voices will meet on Thursday, Jan. 23rd in Van Wylen to discuss the book, so mark your calendars!

Happy Reading!

Is Literature a Vehicle for Learning Empathy?

As the fall semester draws to a close, two students — Paige Nelson and Isadora Baughman — offer their thought-provoking reflections on how they came to study literature and how it can enhance knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

More Than Fiction: How Stories Make Us Better People

by Paige Nielsen

My first exposure to literature was self-driven but not exactly intentional. After I learned to read, I consumed anything that I could get my hands on. I not only loved the words, but I also loved how those words conjured up pictures and led me to places I had never been. 

Story is something that binds us all together—it is the first way that knowledge was passed down orally, and it continues to be central to how we learn about the world around us. We use our own kind of stories to explain the natural processes of our planet and species when we conduct science experiments and write hypotheses and lab reports. We grow up with bedtime stories and the stories that our parents and grandparents tell us about their days in our place. And besides that, story is how we communicate every day. Books opened up my world beyond the streets of my small suburb into a vast country of spy schools and city apartments, with new countries and planets just past the horizon.

More than anything, I value literature because it teaches empathy in a way that no other discipline can because it allows you to step into someone else’s shoes. I decided to study English because I love the way that books reflect life back to the reader and in turn teach us more about ourselves and each other. I think that if you can gain a greater understanding of the people around you then you can be a better friend, employee, student, and community member. Literature is a bridge that we can use to learn more about dimensions of life that we have never experienced.

For me, literature is both a vehicle for finding our own voices and a way to hone our listening skills so that we can learn from our comrades on this walk we call life. These words we study all strung together on pages are not just created for amusement—they hold wisdom and guidance for all who come searching.

My approach to literature is not defined by a theory. Instead, I approach it with a pen in hand and search for how it resonates in my head and in my chest with the discourse of my life. I focus in on how people struggle and recover—mostly, I think, because I am fascinated by resilience and the lack thereof. I love learning about how people function, and in a way literature is all about how we function and overcome. 

Another thing I often find myself noticing is how literature connects us all together through shared experiences, because if it happened in a book then it happened to someone else too.  When studying literature in high school, besides the assigned questions for readings, I remember always wanting to know how to avoid the pitfalls in my path like the ones I read about in our texts. We focused on societal issues and explored them through our texts, so I wanted to figure out how to solve world peace through one giant book club. 

I have encountered a lot of poetry, plays, and novels, spanning from Beowulf to King Lear to Never Let Me Go to A Light in August to The Brothers Karamazov, and I have never walked away from a book without being reminded that we all have an individual experience that is far too valuable to be muted or ignored. The books I was privileged to encounter taught me about more than their characters and their plot lines. Literature, to my mind, is the best vehicle for teaching empathy because it allows total strangers to encounter issues they could never fathom with clarity.

Yes, Literature Is as Powerful as You Think: My Journey as an English Major

by Isadora Baughman

My study of English literature so far has always been ongoing and natural. Growing up, reading was a favorite pastime. Books were not only a source of entertainment for me, they provided security and safety from sometimes too-loud fifth grade classmates. Moreover, books and the stories they told captured my attention and imagination. I remember being glued to the pages of the children’s versions of Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Jane Eyre, enthralled by the journeys of the main characters and wishing I could join them.

My passion for books and reading followed me through high school, where we had an English class each semester. At first, we studied American classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Glass Castle in Freshman English before moving on to upper-level topics such as British Literature, Greek Myths, and even Literature and Film. As much as I enjoyed these classes, I was hesitant to continue to pursue English when I reached college. With loving books and enjoying English classes for so long, I thought I should take the time to explore other disciplines before doing anything more with English. 

Fortunately, my English 113 class second-semester freshman year reminded me of my lifelong passion for literature and researching ideas. Ever since, I have not stopped taking classes. At first I was just an English minor, but I soon declared English literature as another major when I realized I would miss English classes if I stopped taking them. I enjoyed the freedom of interpreting texts from my perspective and then presenting my points in the form of papers too much to resist.

In college, I have taken a variety of courses: beginning with examining ancient Greek and Roman works, I have also studied literature from World War I, African American literature, and the works of Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway. From my courses, I have learned how much history and society shape the literature we read. Likewise, I have also learned how much literature can shape history and society in return.

While I am reading, I value entering characters’ worldviews and in that way broadening my own. I believe that reading, especially about cultures or characters different from your own, helps you develop empathy and acceptance for others.

I believe literature has this power not only based off my own feelings, but the research I conducted this past summer. As well as being an English major, I am also a Psychology major, and I helped conduct research about the effects of literature on readers’ social cognitive abilities. We had participants read excerpts from fiction or nonfiction pieces and then respond to an article about an international conflict. We measured for different aspects of the social cognitive ability “wise reasoning” (which involves humility and perspective-taking).

While we did not find that the different types of reading affected the participants’ levels of wise reasoning in the short-term, there was correlational evidence that reading in the long-term might affect intellectual humility and aspects of wise reasoning. Reading, then, could aid us in developing wise reasoning and empathy towards others in the long-term.

Although the relationship between reader and text still has to be fully teased apart scientifically, intuitively, literature changes you as it has changed me. It is an all-encompassing, interdisciplinary way to not only express and receive words but learn about yourself and others. How lucky are we to be a part of it.

Fun Facts about Going to the Theater in the 19th Century

A Faculty Feature by Dr. Emily Tucker

Popular theater in nineteenth-century Britain drew enormous audiences and exerted tremendous influence on writers in other genres. Sadly, though, it has a bad reputation as “the nadir of the English drama.”1 Other than late-century playwrights like Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, most writers for the nineteenth-century stage are rarely taught in college courses or performed in theaters anymore.

Okay, I’ll admit, there is plenty to dislike, from contrived plotting to political messages that could veer into sexism, racism, colonialism, and other problems. Still, if you’re willing to wade through some occasionally terrible texts, there are moments of tremendous creativity and humor. As a preview of my upcoming public talk at the English Department Colloquium on Dec. 3rd, I’ve collected a few of those gems for you here:

Surprising Feminist Origins of the Train Tracks Rescue

The thrilling, last-minute rescue of a damsel in distress tied to railroad tracks is popularly (somewhat erroneously) thought of as a cliché of the silent film era, but it appeared far more frequently on stage. While these days, the trope is often associated with female victims rescued by men, this wasn’t always the case.

The train tracks rescue was popularized by Augustin Daly’s 1867 play Under the Gaslight, an American play that eventually made its way to London. It inspired many other plays to make use of the dangers of the railway—in fact, Daly won a court case against the famous Irish playwright Dion Boucicault after Boucicault included a similar scene in his 1868 play After Dark.2

Under the Gaslight features a male victim named Snorkey who is tied to the tracks while the heroine, Laura, is locked in a nearby shed. She breaks down the door with an axe and releases Snorkey just before the express train rushes past. The scene ends with the grateful Snorkey exclaiming: “And these are the women who ain’t to have a vote!”

A black-and-white illustration of a woman about to rescue a man who is tied to train tracks, while a train approaches in the distance (from 1868).
Laura about to save Snorkey in the nick of time! (1868)

Expressive Forms of Being Angry for a Polite Audience

Creative insults and emotional outbursts are certainly not unique to the nineteenth-century stage, but the oversized emotions combined with the sometimes rigid licensing standards of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office led to some particularly interesting examples.

Nineteenth-century audiences were treated to invectives like “rascally night hawk!” and “herring-gutted villain!” Meanwhile, villains who found their evil plans flummoxed would sometimes give audiences a condensed version of their own psychological state; for instance, an American play adapted for the British stage features a frustrated evildoer shouting “Confusion!”

Stage Adaptations That Preceded the Completion of their Source Materials

Because many Victorian novels were serialized, there could be a substantial gap in time between the publication of the initial chapters and the final ones. Playwrights attempting to capitalize on popular novels still ongoing were therefore frequently in the position of having to write their own endings. Scholar Deborah Vlock notes that there were twenty-five theatrical versions of Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby produced before the novel’s completion, resulting in what she terms “a larger Nickleby experience.”3

The circulation of numerous versions of the plot and characters while the novel was still in process gave nineteenth-century audiences a sort of precursor to today’s popular culture, in which book series, film and television adaptations, and fan-created works all contribute to our perceptions of popular stories and characters.

Lots of Plays on Words

Comedic theatrical fare was very reliant on puns and wordplay, like this moment from J. R. Planche’s The Golden Fleece:

Chorus: Sir, I’m the chorus.
King: Sir, you’re indecorous.

Henry J. Byron’s Esmeralda, or the “Sensation” Goat!, a cheerier version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, features many similar moments of comedic wordplay, such as:

A poet, forced from the bay-leaf to fly,
‘Tis altogether past belief

The play also links “homicide” to “oh, my side!” and “animate it all” to “any mate at all.”  

Humorous Versions of Shakespeare

Nineteenth-century audiences often found a lot of humor in Shakespeare’s plays, and not just in his comedies. Shakespearean scholar Daniel Pollack-Pelzner argues that comedic versions of Shakespearean plays in the nineteenth century formed an “alternate literary history” that allowed for interpretations of Shakespeare outside of the emphasis on interiority.4

Referred to as travesties or burlesques, many Victorian versions of Shakespeare were designed to entertain audiences by contrasting the elevated language with silliness, such as by having Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene marred by a case of the sniffles. This same 1859 version, by Andrew Halliday, also features Queen Mab turning up at the end to bring all of the characters back to life so that they can yell at Shakespeare’s ghost!

Perdita, or The Royal Milkmaid, loosely based on The Winter’s Tale, resolves Shakespeare’s famous stage direction for Antigonus to “exit pursued by a bear” more happily than Shakespeare’s play does: instead of being mauled to death off-stage, Antigonus turns up at the play’s end with a large furry friend, who’s now wearing respectable clothing and has learned how to dance. Sadly, this reimagining of the bear’s role failed to make a lasting impact—every production I’ve seen of Shakespeare’s text has left Antigonus to his originally-planned misfortunes.

Decorative border with dancing bear.

These plays are rarely or never performed for contemporary audiences, often for entirely legitimate reasons. However, the existing scripts give us a fascinating glimpse into popular entertainment at this point in time, and contain many moments of humor and drama that are worthy of applause.

Professor Tucker will speak on “Charles Dickens & Victorian Melodrama” at the English Colloquium on Tuesday, December 3rd at 5:30 p.m. in VanderWerf 104. Professor McGunigal is also presenting. Pizza provided. All of Hope is invited.


  1. Hadley, Elaine. Melodramatic Tactics: Theatricalized Dissent in the English Marketplace, 1800-1855, (Stanford UP, 1995), 2.
  2. Daly, Nicholas. “Blood on the Tracks: Sensation Drama, the Railway, and the Dark Face of Modernity,” (Victorian Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 1998), 48-49.
  3. Vlock, Deborah. Dickens, Novel Reading, and the Victorian Popular Theatre, (Cambridge UP, 1998), 3.
  4. Pollack-Pelzner, Daniel. “Shakespeare Burlesque and the Performing Self,” (Victorian Studies, vol. 54, no. 3, 2012), 401.

5 Literary Feasts to Sate Your Imagination

With all the snow coming down this week, it’s not so hard to believe that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. To get us in the mood for food, we’re thinking about some of the most memorable feasts in fiction. What’s the first one to pop into your mind?

Supper and a Toast in Joyce’s “The Dead”

“It was always a great affair, the Misses Morkan’s annual dance,” James Joyce tells us in “The Dead,” one of the best-known stories in his famous 1914 collection, Dubliners. “Never once had it fallen flat.”

Gabriel Conroy, the protagonist, feels pressure to keep up this tradition, knowing he’s expected to address the crowd with a festive speech at suppertime. But the guests are probably in a forgiving mood, considering that this sumptuous meal awaits them:

A fat brown goose lay at one end of the table and at the other end, on a bed of creased paper strewn with sprigs of parsley, lay a great ham, stripped of its outer skin and peppered over with crust crumbs, a neat paper frill round its shin and beside this was a round of spiced beef. Between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side-dishes: two little minsters of jelly, red and yellow; a shallow dish full of blocks of blancmange and red jam, a large green leaf-shaped dish with a stalk-shaped handle, on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds, a companion dish on which lay a solid rectangle of Smyrna figs, a dish of custard topped with grated nutmeg, a small bowl full of chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass vase in which stood some tall celery stalks. In the centre of the table there stood, as sentries to a fruit-stand which upheld a pyramid of oranges and American apples, two squat old-fashioned decanters of cut glass, one containing port and the other dark sherry. On the closed square piano a pudding in a huge yellow dish lay in waiting…

Was ever a meal described in more loving detail? One has to suspect Joyce was hungry while writing it…

Wedding Cake Blues in Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate

It’s hard to talk about food in fiction without including the book where food literally embodies emotion: Like Water For Chocolate, a magical realist tale in a historical setting, published in 1989 by Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel. Tita, the heroine, is held back by her strict family, but when she cooks, the pent-up feelings she’s experiencing are felt by whoever eats her cooking!

This is never more memorable than at the wedding feast of Pedro, her beloved, who unfortunately happens to be marrying Tita’s sister. Tita stirs her own tears into the wedding cake batter… and the result is not a joyful end to the celebrations.

An array of cakes and cookies.

The Fifteen-Day Feast in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”

The unnamed author of this late-14th-century poem about the days of King Arthur really liked a good feast. The most memorable one, celebrated over the holiday season, went on for quite a while!

This King lay royally at Camelot at Christmas tide with … all the rich brethren of the Round Table, with right rich revel and careless mirth … For there the feast was held full fifteen days alike with all the meat and the mirth that men could devise. Such a merry tumult, glorious to hear; joyful din by day, dancing at night.

Trans. by W. A. Neilson

All the meat and the mirth? Sounds like an excellent party, unless you’re a vegetarian.

A Feast of Fancy in Burnett’s A Little Princess

Sara Crewe was used to the finer things, but after her father’s death, the young heroine of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1904 children’s book A Little Princess must live as a servant in an unheated attic with rats. On one especially hard and hungry evening, she and her friends take comfort in imagination: they pretend to have a grand banquet, complete with minstrels, golden platters, carven flagons, and a feast of sweet things to eat.

Caught and punished by her cruel employer, Sara falls asleep in despair, only to awake to find that something like her fantasy has some how, unbelievably, come true:

In the grate there was a glowing, blazing fire; on the hob was a little brass kettle hissing and boiling; spread upon the floor was a thick, warm crimson rug; before the fire a folding-chair, unfolded, and with cushions on it; by the chair a small folding-table, unfolded, covered with a white cloth, and upon it spread small covered dishes, a cup, a saucer, a teapot; on the bed were new warm coverings and a satin-covered down quilt; at the foot a curious wadded silk robe, a pair of quilted slippers, and some books. The room of her dream seemed changed into fairyland—and it was flooded with warm light, for a bright lamp stood on the table covered with a rosy shade.

After Sara has called in her friend, “they removed the covers of the dishes, and found rich, hot, savory soup, which was a meal in itself, and sandwiches and toast and muffins enough for both of them.”

Is it a dream? Magic? Or is there some still more surprising explanation? We suggest picking up the book to find out.

Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Dinner in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

Naturally, the list wouldn’t be complete without this. No, not that skimpy little goose the Cratchits would have eaten and enjoyed! We mean the big prize turkey that Scrooge sends to them after he embraces the true Christmas spirit. And don’t forget “the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball … bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top”!

Then again, you might also think of the impressive feast that the Ghost of Christmas Present brings with him:

“Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see…”

But Scrooge isn’t reformed yet, so nobody eats this feast which is maybe for the best, since it’s been sat on.

Which of these dishes would you pick if you could have one appear by magic? And what other literary feasts have made you drool?

For the English Major with No Plan: Alumni Interview with Brooke Furry ’13

Hope graduate Brooke (McDonald) Furry shares her surprising journey into the world of marketing, and how her English degree prepared her to thrive in business and leisure.

Thanks for speaking with us, Brooke. So, what do you do now? And we’ve love to hear about how you got there, as well.

I’m a marketing manager. It wasn’t my plan, but here I am.

Like many English majors, all I wanted after graduation was to get paid to write! For my first job, I worked at a tiny web development agency in Minneapolis writing web copy for small businesses. I left after a year for a larger digital marketing agency, where I started out writing but ended up managing projects and working with clients. As the business grew, the pace sped up. I worked longer hours, ate too many Twizzlers, and cried a lot. Despite the stress, the lessons that agency life taught me — in advertising, strategy, creativity, quality — should count for a mini marketing degree!

When the time felt right, I took a new writer gig at a software company. It was comfortable and wonderful. As doors opened to new opportunities, however, I felt ready for something more. So I started walking through doors until I stepped into my current role managing a team.

Marketing is all about telling stories that resonate with people (and getting those people to act). Management is all about helping people succeed and grow. Blending the two has been a surprisingly good fit for me. I could not do this without both my English background and also those first few grueling years of agency life that filled the gaps.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

At a very basic level, it humbled me! I will never forget sitting in class my freshman year hearing classmates drop names I’d never heard of, like Toni Morrison and Aldous Huxley. These bright kids were far beyond me in their ability to articulate opinions and reach conclusions. Daily immersion with them (and the brilliant, thoughtful professors who guided us) sharpened and challenged my brain.

Exposure to the world’s best literature also refined my palette. I’d like to think I’m a more discerning reader now. Like people who love craft beer or making homemade pasta, once you’ve tasted what’s truly good, it’s darn near impossible to go back.

Creative writing classes taught me how to tell the truth, avoid the saccharine, and bring my “best whiskey” to the table (your metaphor will forever stick with me, Heather Sellers). I use these skills every day, in both professional and personal writing. 

Did you study off campus? And if so, what did it mean to you?

Yes! Junior year, I spent a semester participating in The Philadelphia Center (TPC). For 16 weeks, I interned at a legal newspaper, took urban issues and marketing classes, lived in Chinatown… and sampled all the cheesesteaks.

Living and working in the city was immensely practical. My fellow classmates and I learned to balance career, class, and tourism. We dealt with landlords, public transportation, and bosses — all with TPC as our safety net. And we gained what was, for most of us, our first real job experience. Personally, living downtown and mixing with students from other institutions exposed me to new viewpoints and helped me define my own values more clearly.

If I ever had a doubt beforehand that my liberal arts education wouldn’t translate to the “real world,” I left Philadelphia confident that it would. For any student who wants a trial run at adult life (and an excellent addition to your resume), I can’t recommend a program like this more highly. 

If you could start a nonprofit, who would it help?

Low-income mothers! Pregnancy and parenting are overwhelming enough for people with plenty of resources and quality healthcare. So many families worldwide want to care for their children but lack basic necessities, and it’s heartbreaking.

I say this because my husband and I are about to welcome our first child into the world, so motherhood is top of mind for me! As is reading all those books on my shelves that I haven’t had time to tackle. It’s going to be a lovely maternity leave.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

My book club recently read Tara Westover’s memoir Educated. What an unbelievable story of overcoming, told with such insight.

In one of the story’s defining moments, Tara finds herself at Cambridge University, far from home, dealing with major self-doubt. Despite high praise from her academic advisor, she attributes her success to “the Cambridge effect” — that at such a lofty institution, everything, including herself, appears more impressive than it really is.

And her advisor tells her this:

“You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were.” 

I believe the gift of college is time and space not only to discover who you truly are, but who you can be. To help you shine for the rest of your life… whether you pursue grad school, the corporate world, teaching, starting your own business, or whatever path you choose. What a privilege!

Transformed by Hope: An English & History Alum Returns

Meet our new Office Manager & Hope Alum ’12, Alison Lechner, as she shares how her experience at Hope shaped her career.

How did your Hope education shape you?

Alison Lechner, Class of 2012

I feel very blessed to have earned a liberal arts education, and that has absolutely benefited me in my career post-graduation. I was a History and Environmental Studies composite major, which allowed me to tailor a lot of my research in a way that I know I would have never been able to do had I gone to a traditional university.

I eventually went on to work in arts administration and earn my Masters in Art History, and I know that my writing skills set me apart as a candidate in the art world. In grad school, I was much more prepared than most of my classmates when it came to research writing and critical thinking. The liberal arts do such a tremendous job at teaching you how to think, not necessarily what to think. I’ve spent a lot of my art historical research on the notion of institutional critique, and I think my interest in that topic was inspired by this innate sense of questioning that I learned here.

Alison with her research on artist Carrie Mae Weems displayed at an exhibition at the Jepson Museum of Contemporary Art in Savannah, 2018.

I also took writing courses that allowed me to be creative. I know my work in copywriting and art criticism has truly benefited from the creative writing courses I took at Hope. Heather Sellers was my creative writing professor and was my first example of how discipline needs to be a constant companion of a creative life. She often preached to us about routine, prompts, and a need to see your writing as a kind of muscle that should be stretched and challenged in order to grow.

I’m a highly organized person (hence why I love being an office manager), and I think her way of approaching the writing process really made sense to me as a creative person who also needs order to produce results. I’ve never been some bohemian artist; I thrive on strategy and timelines, and Heather was the first person to show me that there was more than one way to nurture your life as a creative. That has probably been one of the most important things I ever learned at Hope.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

Alison as a Freshman at Hope (center), 2008.

I have a 3-way tie for this! Two recent choices are Michael Pollen’s How to Change Your Mind and Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World, plus one from my college days: Marion Winik’s Glen Rock Book of the Dead.
Pollan is an exceptional researcher, someone who has a real talent for fleshing out the origins of the topic he is writing about – in this case, the use of Psilocybin in therapy. I learn so much from his writing, both from a historian’s perspective and from a deep appreciation of his ability to make complex topics engaging.

Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World really inspired me to pursue work in the arts and is a refreshingly honest take on how the modern art world operates. Working with and for artists on a large scale can be both challenging and rewarding, and Thornton doesn’t shy away from the sometimes contradictory aspects of working in the arts. I re-read it usually once a year and I always take something new away from it every time.

I was really lucky to read Winik’s Glen Rock Book of the Dead in Heather Seller’s ENGL 454 class, and it quickly became my favorite book of all time (See my lovely classmate Stephanie Mouw’s similar adoration for this text in her blog post). Winik’s skill as a poet is so visible in her short stories; she creates these incredibly tender, artful vignettes of people she knew who have died. I’ve had a recent loss of someone who was really larger-than-life, and Winik’s writing always seems like the most complete understanding of grief which otherwise has felt like such an enigma.

What do you now wish you had learned or done in college?

Alison with Senator Tim Kaine during the Washington, D.C. semester, 2011.

I wish that I had been more focused on my life after college, which is something that took me longer than I’d like to figure out. My advice is to talk to professionals whose career you admire while you’re in school, and don’t stop learning even once you are out of the classroom. Stay curious about the things you love and they will never become work. 

What are your goals for the History and English Departments?

Alison (left) with her Hope roommate Anne in 2011.

I would love to gain more exposure for both departments among the student body. Both English and History are programs that are applicable to wide variety of career paths. I believe a core foundation in writing and research are so vital to success in the working world; being able to communicate your ideas effectively and creatively is truly invaluable. All of the professors that work in these departments are so passionate about their area of expertise and we are really lucky to be able to learn from them.

What do you like to do in your free time?

You can catch Alison taking photos all around campus for both departments’ social media, like this one from Lubbers.

I’m an avid boxer and I love being active – yoga, lifting, running, hiking. Since I’ve moved back to Michigan, I spend as much time outside in nature as I can. I’m also a photographer and try to participate in the arts scene between here, Saugatuck, and Grand Rapids – my goal is to start writing art reviews, which I was lucky enough to do in Atlanta [where Alison spent the past 7 years]. I try to spend a lot of time with my family and close girlfriends here as well; it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to move back.

Hope Graduation, 2012

The Benefits & Beauties of Pairing English with Another Discipline

Today we continue with more brief personal reflections written for Professor Curtis Gruenler’s Literary Theory course. Aine O’Connor and Taylor Lombard illuminate how their study of history and biology (respectively) has intersected with their literary learning.

Aine O’Connor, “Miracle of Miracles: Storytelling as Power”

I am often asked, especially now in my senior year, what I have learned from my two majors. The answer is more complicated than the questioner perceives. Lately, my response has been that history taught me storytelling and English taught me everything else.

Often, the questioner seems confused by this answer. I think they believe the two should be switched—that English taught me the meaning of a good story and history taught me about the “real world.” Of course, both majors offer a healthy mix of things to learn about. English, though, magnifies the glory of humanity’s wonder in ways I never could’ve imagined when I decided to pursue the field as a major.

Within Plato’s Republic, the character of Socrates tells his companions: “everything that fable-tellers or poets say is a narrative of past or present or future” (Plato 392d). This quote gets at a critical tenet of learning both English and history: nothing and nobody exists in a vacuum. Every single book included in any curriculum came from a contextual background. We, too, are made up of pieces of other people, pieces of our past that have (miracle of miracles) bound together to create us.

Humans and books have a lot in common. The best of both help us realize that we are not alone, and that we came from somewhere and are going somewhere else. The English classes I have enjoyed the most are the ones designed to include literature that stuns me in its relatability. Complex characters invite recognition and appreciation.

I carry many characters within me. Some have been tagging along in my life since I was very young. The first fictional character I felt close to was Roald Dahl’s Matilda, a quiet yet plucky child who read voraciously, loved school, and firmly believed in the power of self-advocacy to make a difference. As a quiet yet plucky child who read voraciously, loved school, and desperately wanted to use my voice to change something (not my parents—unlike Matilda, my parents are wonderful), seeing a character who felt so much like me was a bolt of lightning.

My adult self knows just how lucky I was to find a character who looked and felt like me at such a young age. Much of my research in English throughout my time at Hope has been working towards a world where all children find a character to whom they can relate, whether in race, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, ability, ethnic background, or any other identifier. For so many generations, a huge portion of humanity was left out of classic literature, or portrayed solely as a stereotype. Curricula can and should change to reflect the diversity of the human experience; I’ve been enormously grateful to have been on the receiving end of many these shifting curricula at Hope, from African American literature to Big Read books to disability YA novels.

Reading books across so many different genres is a gift. While many of my close friends struggle to stay motivated in majors that are essentially a means to an end, I get to do and read what I love every single day. That statement does not imply that my majors are easy. No, all it means is that my struggle to understand, to learn, and to grow is a beautiful conversation amongst different times, stories, cultures, and personalities. Books have taught me that I am miraculous, and, far more importantly, they have taught me that everyone else is miraculous, too. True joy is reading literature that motivates us to wonder, to marvel at the complex world around us that holds more beauty than darkness.

Taylor Lombard, “The Study of Life”

My study of English literature thus far has spanned genres, time periods, and cultures. Throughout higher education, my studies have included analysis of novels, memoirs, poems, journals, and short stories. Though primarily focused on British Literature and 20th Century American Literature, I have also explored the cultures and perspectives of nations around the world during courses focused on global literature. From these various readings, I learned more about myself, others, and the world around me.

The decision to study English was, for me, less of a decision than a consequence of my interests. My desire to understand people led me to appreciate any and all literature responding to the human condition. As a Biology major, I am familiar with studying the human person through a scientific lens. While science helps us explore the human anatomy, literature serves as a medium to explore the complexities of the human mind and soul.

In high school, I began to appreciate the role literature plays in the exploration of humanity: why people make certain decisions, how desires lead individuals to achieve great feats, why pain drives others to tragic ends, and when a greater purpose has the power to bring people together. I am drawn to English because its domain of influence is not singular, but rather transcends across all areas of life.

In studying English, I hope to improve my critical reasoning skills, explore the human psyche, and broaden my understanding of the world as a whole. Already, the skills I have developed in English courses—how to analyze texts, dissect layered meanings, and interpret nuances—have transferred outside the classroom to positively influence the ways I approach scientific literature, problem solving, and conversations. I hope to further develop cognitive thinking skills as I prepare to enter the medical field. As a health professional, the ability to think in a critical and multidimensional fashion will better serve patients in need.

My approach to studying literature was greatly influenced by my instructors. Claudia Taniguchi challenged me to question an author’s decisions and draw conclusions about humanity from the desires of characters. Dr. Rhoda Burton invited me to apply literary theory for a more in-depth analysis. I was encouraged to approach texts with different perspectives—focusing on content, gender, historical context, or the human psyche—to reach a richer understanding of both the purpose and meaning. While Taniguchi fostered the development my analytical skills, Burton provided me with the knowledge and vocabulary to more accurately describe the approach with which I was analyzing texts. As my studies continue, I look forward to further developing my skills and enhancing my vocabulary.

Literature has played a substantial role in my overall education, despite my dedication to the sciences. The tools developed in English courses, such as the ability to analyze texts, ponder deeper meanings, and grapple with ambiguity, have contributed to my success as a student. When the scientific world becomes too rigid and confined, English allows me to escape to a place where creativity and imagination are welcome, and the exploration of higher thinking is encouraged.