Winners Announced for the Hope College Academy of American Poets Prize 2024

Congratulations to this year’s winners of the Hope College Academy of American Poets (AAP) Prize! First place was awarded to AnnaLeah Lacoss, and honorable mention to Elli DiLeonardi. Thank you to all who shared their creative work with us!

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 from the Academy of American Poets.

This year the judge was Amorak Huey. Huey is a poet and professor, a writer and sometime journalist, a decent dad and a mediocre slow-pitch softball player, an occasional essayist and co-founder of a small poetry press. He pronounces his first name uh-MOR-ack. He is author of four poetry collections, most recently Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy. He is also co-author, with W. Todd Kaneko, of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology.

He was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and grew up in a small town outside Birmingham, Alabama. He is now a professor of English at Bowling Green State University.  His poems appear in anthologies (such as The Best American Poetry 2012) and numerous print and online venues such as the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series. He received a Fellowship in Creative Writing from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2017. In March 2022, Amorak and Han VanderHart co-founded River River Books, which published its first poetry books in June 2023. Huey commented on the success and accomplishment of the work submitted for this year’s prize, writing “Thanks so much for the opportunity to spend time with these poems…. I enjoyed them all.”

1st Prize Winner: AnnaLeah LaCoss

“(keeping out the coyotes)”

The billboard said “create defensible space” and so I 
vowed to never rent (a storage unit) but the other night 
through a window I saw my friends lying on the road in
the rain convulsed with laughter the asphalt steaming the
pines nodding the turkeys (destined for death) concerned and 
clucking and the turkey pen (a quote unquote defensible 
space) keeping out the coyotes and the road keeping 
the cars in their assigned (defensible) lanes like 
parentheses keeping words unsullied and irrelevant and 
I sat inside watching through the window 
because I defend myself against the rain and roads and 
friendship and I laugh at people but never with them and this (poem) is 
a defensible space this (poem) is a window one side of which is dry one 
side of which touches the same air that touches a rainbow.

Amorak Huey wrote: “This poem is a tender meditation on friendship and boundaries: what do we keep out, what do we let in, how do we keep ourselves from harm while simultaneously existing in and engaging with the world? The landscape of this poem is at once familiar and surreal, drawing strange connections: turkey pen to highway lanes to parentheses — and it is precisely this strangeness that lifted this poem about the rest of the terrific poems in the packet of finalists. This poet knows the value of using language in surprising ways, of refusing to play it safe with syntax or sentence structure. What a pleasure it was to read.”

Honorable Mention: Ellie DiLeonardi

“Prayerful Elegy”

Dear God,
Can you put me
on with Gill,
please? Thank
Time is friction
and my legs are
parted, red-sea style.
Remember the mid-
night at summer
camp, you lit up
an apple, a pipe
bomb, and fooled Silas
behind the barn?
The girls whispered
about sex, real hushed
in the tent over, but
I swear I heard it.
The rumor—not
your barn sex,
I didn’t hear you
having barn sex,
though it makes you
credible as a mantis.
I’m seconds away
from faking
an orgasm.
You can laugh
your tinkling yellow-
laugh, smile that golden
bong smile,
but please,
I need you

to send me an orgasm.
You never faked
a thing in sixteen years.
Except, of course,
your happiness,
but that’s
Dear God,

Oh God,

Oh yeah,


Amorak Huey wrote: What a powerful elegy. This is a poem of mourning that does not reduce grief to a simple abstraction, a poem that is unabashed in its subject matter and unafraid to grieve openly. This poet moves between sex and death in its series of short, almost relentless lines that pull the reader’s eye down the page even as we’d like to linger in the more salacious moments — but then, that’s the point: we always wish we had more time for the good parts. Terrific poem. 

The Big Read Kickoff: Dr. Fred Johnson and Dr. Ernest Cole on Stories

By Natalie Glover, a Secondary English Education student and an intern for the Big Read

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore program is dedicated to spreading love and passion for reading in Ottawa, Allegan, and Muskegon counties. On Monday, Oct 30, the program had its kickoff event! Hope Professors Dr. Ernest Cole (English) and Dr. Fred Johnson (History) shared their ideas surrounding the importance of stories and how this topic relates to the Big Read Book, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The novel explores the complex topic of familial ties that span across countries, experiences, and generations. The kickoff event aimed to highlight the importance of engaging with difficult stories such as this one. 

Dr. Johnson’s lecture focused on the history of slavery and power in the United States. The talk emphasized that racism continues to persist, pointing to groups such as the KKK. Johnson stated, “Just because it’s homegrown, doesn’t mean it’s any less tyrannical.” By emphasizing the ever-present nature of racism, Dr. Johnson called attention to the importance of reading and listening to marginalized stories.

Dr. Johnson ended his talk by sharing his profound experience in Liberia, where he saw African people crying and saying that “one of the stolen ones has been returned to us.” He claimed that in that moment, three hundred years of separation closed, and he was able to fully understand the themes of Homegoing.

Dr. Cole’s lecture provided an additional perspective on these topics and emphasized both his connection to Africa and the importance of personal histories. Dr. Cole talked about the importance of his two historical and cultural identities: African and African American. He said, “I am my story. My story matters,” and went on to explain that to challenge his story is to “interrogate the legitimacy” of his existence.

Dr. Cole explored the concept of power and how our histories are inevitably missing certain stories because of those who were oppressed in the past. This is why stories like Homegoing are so vital – they give a voice to people who have historically been silenced. 

If you were at this event, it was impossible to ignore the weight of the speaker’s stories. The moments after the speaker’s sentences were often filled with the “mmms” and “ahhs” of understanding. Other times, the room was completely silent as people let the words seep into their hearts and souls. The event served as a reminder of the importance of literacy and led me to one vital conclusion: stories are vital to our existence. They allow us to look back, look forward, and fully absorb the present. The Big Read Program helps to spread this message and aims to show students and adults alike the importance of stories. 

Navigating the Literary Landscape: Alumni Spotlight with Meaghan Minkus (’11)

Submitted by Hope Senior, Piper Daleiden

“Navigating the Literary Landscape: Careers for English Majors” is an alumni panel that will be held on Wednesday, October 25, 2023, at 6:00 p.m. in the Boerigter Center’s Learning Lab. Meaghan Minkus ’11, Sarah McCabe ’07 and Chris O’Brien ’12 will share experiences, advice, and practical tips from their professional careers. Visit Handshake to learn more and register for the event.

Read on for a preview of Meaghan Minkus’ journey from Hope to assistant editor at a publishing company.

What activities were you involved in at Hope? Nykerk, study abroad (to York St. John in York, UK), Chapel Choir, Luminescence, Opus
What were your on-campus work experiences? I was a tutor in the Writing Center for a semester or two, and I worked in the English Department as an office assistant almost my entire time at Hope. I started there the second semester of my freshman year and stayed on until I graduated, only missing the semester I was abroad!

What is your current position? Assistant Editor, Zondervan Books

What do you enjoy about your current job? I’m involved in several processes along the book production timeline, from initial acquisitions decisions to finalizing final files. It’s so rewarding to see a book on bookstore shelves (or on Amazon…let’s be real) that I first saw as a “baby” proposal and to know I had a hand in making it into the book everyone gets to see!

How have your campus/educational experiences in your liberal arts degree helped develop your current worldview? I certainly have a broader, more holistic worldview than I would have if I had only taken courses that applied to my major/minor. One semester, I was studying the French Revolution in both my French class and my Cultural Heritage class at the same time, getting different views on the same events from both French and non-French perspectives. My study abroad experience allowed me to take a class on Caribbean literature in the country that colonized much of the Caribbean, which generated fascinating discussions on the implications of British colonialism on Caribbean people and the experiences that showed up in their writings that were direct results of British imperialism. My Astronomy class not only encouraged me to learn more about science but also to appreciate the scope of our incredible universe and all of the beauty we can find in how very small we are in the grand scheme of things. Theology, history, science, linguistics, music…it’s all shown up in literature I’ve encountered, conversations I’ve had, and people I’ve met since I graduated, and being able to actively participate in those encounters is something I can directly attribute to my Hope education.

Do you have any advice you would give to current/prospective English majors? Don’t let the haters get you down. 😉 There are a TON of career paths for English majors because plenty of fields need people who can construct good arguments, communicate effectively and in ways their end users can easily understand, and think critically. Teaching, publishing, journalism, and copywriting are all excellent fields, but don’t count out off-the-beaten-path options like law, coding/tech, UX/UI, nonprofit work, advocacy, politics, or other career paths that might not immediately spring to mind when you think of “jobs for English majors.”

Do you have a favorite book? This Here Flesh by Cole Arthur Riley. Her writing is lyrical and mesmerizing, and she can speak truth to hard things–in her own past and in the world at large–while still finding beauty in the mundane and hope in the darkest places. It’s honestly one of the most gorgeous books I’ve ever read.

New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Esther Odukomaiya

Submitted by Hope College senior, Piper Daleiden

What class(es) are you teaching this year?
ENGL 113, ENGL 230 (Fall): Ethnic Perspectives in American Literature, ENGL 230 (Spring): Black Women Writers, and ENGL 335 (Spring): Black Science/Speculative Fiction.

What do you love about teaching? 
I derive great satisfaction when I see my students progress –whether it’s in their critical thinking abilities or academic achievements–over the course of a semester. I am particularly excited to see this growth manifest over a period of time– especially when they come into my classroom as freshmen and then I get to see them again two or three semesters later.

Do you have a favorite book or author? 
My favorite author is Octavia Butler.

What makes you excited to teach at Hope? 
I consider it a blessing to be able to teach at a college where I can freely share my faith without worrying about violating any policies. I also appreciate that Hope welcomes everyone. 

If you could teach any class, what would it be? 
I would love the opportunity to teach a course that focuses on Black Digital/Visual Arts, especially Afrofuturist art and aesthetics.

English Department Course Preview – Spring 2024

Advising week starts October 16th

Registration begins October 30th

Take a look at our upcoming offerings as you begin to plan. Be sure to make an appointment with your advisor if you are not sure which English classes to take in the Spring.

New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Michael Van Dyke

What class(es) are you teaching this year? ENG 113; ENG 110; ENG 210.

What do you love about teaching? It’s gratifying when a student reads a book in my class that they would not have chosen to read themselves and end up loving it.

Do you have a favorite book or author? I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the poet Kenneth Rexroth, and twenty years later I still love to re-read his poems and incredible essays. I also really admire Marilynne Robinson’s body of work.

What makes you excited to teach at Hope? I deeply appreciate the way Hope embraces its identity as a Christian liberal arts college that is open to diversity. It’s not giving up on the things that make the traditional college experience so rich and meaningful, yet it isn’t anxiety-ridden about the ways in which the world is changing. 

What’s one book you think every student should read? Walden by Henry David Thoreau. It is the most philosophical book produced by an American author, if philosophy is defined as a thorough examination of basic human values and how they shape the way we live our lives.

What are your favorite hobbies? I like painting (pictures, not houses), watching movies from the 1970’s, and rabidly following Michigan State basketball.

Danger Pickles and Other Totally Cool and Peer-Reviewed Ideas: A Night at the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series

By Maggie Haeussler, English Department ‘26

Chatter fills the Schaap Auditorium as students, faculty, and community members gather in anticipation of an evening spent in literary discussion. A hush falls over the crowd as the event is dedicated to Tom Andrews, an adventurous soul and talented writer who tragically passed away at only 40 years of age. The first presenter of the night approaches the microphone, and the audience members shift to the edges of their seats, eagerly listening.

Elizabeth Trembley, a Hope alum and former faculty member, introduces her graphic memoir Look Again. The memoir, released exactly one year prior to the night’s gathering, explores a traumatic experience and six very different variations of the story in the medium of comics. On a peaceful Friday morning in November, the narrator finds a dead body in the woods while walking her dogs. She then has to process the shock of this event, especially the terrible responsibility of calling 911 to report the body. Throughout the narrative, our main character is accompanied by three voices inside her head: Dragon, Hawk, and Danger Pickle

All of us are familiar with Dragon: the hyper critical voice that yells (in Maleficent’s voice) that we’ve made the wrong move. Inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics, Hawk represents black and white two-dimensional logic: two and two is four. Tell the truth and everything will be okay. As anyone who has experienced anxiety understands, Danger Pickle’s only dialogue is to call “danger! warning!” in an almost constant chorus. (On a lighter note, Danger Pickle’s name and shape come from a finger-painting by Trembley’s nephew.) The reading from Look Again is spellbinding — as the audience sees comic panels projected onstage, four Hope students provide additional voices to assist Trembley in bringing excerpts of the memoir to life. It’s vivid, haunting, and beautiful. Applause fills the auditorium as our next presenter, MK Czerwiec, RN, MA, takes the stage.

Czerwiec is a pioneer in the field of graphic medicine — a combination of art, writing, and nursing. She already had a strong background in creative writing and in nursing when she first began to doodle comics as a stress-reliever after long days. She didn’t ever expect to do anything with her drawings, but she’s now published several books, including one called Taking Turns: Stories from HIV-AIDS unit 371. The book focuses on the humanity of the patients, caregivers, and families in Unit 371. Czerwiec has come to recognize the power of comics as an efficient visual metaphor to help us quickly make sense of confusing or distressing concepts and situations.

Czerwiec’s sense of humor shines forth as she presents, laughing at the dorky group-reading and joking that she turned to comics as an alternative to revising written pieces. Her points, however, are serious — a comic can help a patient tell their story, a caregiver de-stress, or a family member learn about a policy or procedure. She believes that everyone should draw and everyone should doodle — even if they think they “can’t draw.” And to all the intellectuals out there who don’t have time for silly things, Czerwiec says that “drawing is totally cool — and peer reviewed!”

Poetry, Prose, and Pretzels: A Preview of Opus Soup

Written by Lindsay Jankowski, co-editor of Opus

Hi everyone! I’m Lindsay Jankowski, one of this semester’s Co-Editors for Hope College’s Opus Literary & Arts Magazine.

Unfortunately, this will be my first and last semester as an Opus Co-Editor. In three short weeks, I will be walking across the graduation stage, shaking hands with President Scogin, and leaving Hope College behind in pursuit of greater adventures. If you are wondering what great adventures lie ahead for me, well. . . I’m wondering, too. I don’t know what my post-graduation life will look like, but I’m confident it will all work out. At least, that’s what I’m telling my parents.

Anyways, let’s move on before I further slide into an existential crisis, shall we? The good news about the semester coming to a close is that I can confidently say—barring an alien invasion or other such problematic events—Opus Soup is happening this Thursday! 

Opus Soup, a campus-wide event, celebrates the publication of the newest edition of the Opus magazine. At this event, published artists and authors will speak about their incredible work. Also, attendees can pick up a copy of the Spring 2023 edition! Knot Spot will be catering this event, so if student-curated art and literature aren’t incentive enough, definitely stop by for the delicious pretzels!

This semester’s Opus Soup will take place at 6 pm on Thursday, April 20th in Winants Auditorium, located in Graves Hall.

Keep reading for a super special preview of the magazine’s content!

But first, you should check out our social pages and give us a follow if you want to stay up to date on all Opus happenings!

Now, on to that sneak peek!

Letters from the Editors:

Eileen’s Letter:

If you’re reading this, then that means we got through another successful semester of Opus with me as a Co-Editor. If you’re curious why I consider that to be an achievement, then I’ll let you in on the little mantra I repeated to myself before every meeting this semester: time to go act like I have leadership skills!

I am not a natural born leader. In fact, I was so much of a follower that I waited for three siblings to be born before I decided to give the ol’ life thing a shot. Growing up, I was like my sister’s little shadow. When she played soccer, I played soccer. When she became afraid of “flushy potties” and “sock fuzzies,” so did I. When she joined choir, I joined choir (which, if you’ve heard me sing, you know I had no business doing). But then we got to college and she decided to major in nursing and uh, yeah… my following days came to a very necessary end.

In all seriousness, being a part of Opus is the best thing I’ve done during my time at Hope. Being Co-Editor has also been one of the most challenging things I’ve done (I had to talk to people on the phone which I’m still recovering from), but I wouldn’t change any of it.

I want to thank Lindsay Jankowsi for stepping into the role of Co-Editor so fearlessly. No one else could’ve gotten me through this semester. I’d also like to thank her for writing “Not Eileen” on our meeting attendance sheet. Although we’re equally in charge, that still felt like insubordination.

To Sophie Mae: you are a God-send. Thank you for designing such a beautiful book — Lindsay and I couldn’t have done this without all of your amazing help!

To Issy Gaetjens-Oleson: you’ve done an amazing job on running our social media this semester and I’m incredibly grateful and proud of you.

And to the rest of the staff: Katelynn Paluch, Kallen Mohr, Gabbie Crone, Sophie Mae, and Abi Vanderwall, you are all such wonderful people and it was an immense honor to work with each of you! Thank you for your grace and patience and being okay that I had to leave the prose meeting early (which, it should be noted, was at my house). And to Abi, thank you for not taking my cats.

Eileen Ellis

Lindsay’s Letter:

As a freshman dedicated to her pre-med studies, I would have been beyond confused if someone told me that during my last semester of college, I would be an Opus Co-Editor and pursuing an editing and publishing career. When Eileen and Adriana invited me to succeed Adriana after her graduation, I cried (check out my nonfiction essay titled “Capricious” for my exact reaction). One million thanks to you both, Eileen and Adriana, for trusting me to lead this organization and the Opus community. Serving as Co-Editor has been one of the best experiences of my college career.

I also need to thank the Opus staff members and advisors, the contributors, and every submitting artist and author. Thank you everyone for your hard work and dedication to this magazine. This was the first time Eileen and I were in charge of the whole process from start to finish, and, to be frank, we were both terrified that the final edition of Opus would be no more than a stack of paper stapled together. Truly, without your help, support, and submissions, this edition would not have been possible. Thank you all. 

One particular Opus staff member deserves a special shout-out. Opus’s senior art editor, Sophie Mae, designed this semester’s edition from start to finish, which goes above and beyond her art editor responsibilities. Thank you for devoting your time, energy, and incredible creativity to Opus Spring 2023. This magazine literally wouldn’t exist without you, Sophie.

And lastly, I’d like to give an emphatic congratulations to my Co-Editor, Eileen. We did it.

Opus Spring 2023 is officially more than a stapled stack of paper.

Leaving the Comfort Zone: Alumni Spotlight with Kelsie Cavanaugh (’20)

Submitted by Hope College senior, Piper Daleiden

What do you do now? And we’d love to hear a bit about how you got there as well.

I am an editorial assistant for the Business, Computing, and Career Education team at Goodheart-Willcox in Tinley Park, Illinois. Graduating from Hope in 2020 made finding a job a bit difficult. I worked on a farm and then at a staffing agency before landing an interview at G-W. I started as a publishing intern on the BCC team for six months before taking a few weeks to participate in NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute. After returning from the program, I transitioned into my current role. My job includes assisting the editors on my team with their projects as well as working on some of our career titles. 

How did your Hope English education shape you?

My Hope English education shaped me by helping me to hone and improve my writing and critical thinking skills. It brought me into a great community of professors and peers who pushed me to learn and grow in every class. I look back on my time in the English department with fondness and pull from the things I learned (both in and out of the classroom) every day.

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

Don’t be afraid to take classes that scare you or are out of your comfort zone. I was skeptical when I walked into my memoir class with Dr. Burton since I didn’t really like talking about myself. It ended up being one of my favorite classes and introduced me to a new style of writing that I wouldn’t have previously thought too much about. 

Favorite book read recently or in college?

House of Salt and Sorrow by Erin A. Craig. It is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale that combines fantasy and horror. It kept me in suspense the entire time, and I couldn’t put it down. Even though I read it over a year ago, I’m still thinking about it. I can’t wait for the sequel to come out over the summer!

Do you have any special animals in your life?

While I don’t own any pets myself, I get to hang out with my family dog–Dakota–almost every week. He is a seven-year-old black lab who keeps us all on our toes with his puppy energy. I’m also a loving cat-aunt to Tatum and Dale, who belong to my roommate and her fiancée. They love to fight with each other and provide entertainment and snuggles on the daily!

How I Met My Mother: Visiting Writers Anne-Marie Oomen and Jack Ridl

Written by Anna Stowe, Creative Writing major

Down the spiral staircase nestled in the center of the Herrick District Library is an auditorium, filled with chattering spectators, all looking in anticipation toward the honey-colored stage. At 7:00 sharp, the room stilled, as eyes were drawn toward two cozy, green armchairs divided by a small table piled with books. Truly, it was a book lover’s dream—the perfect setting for the fifth and final event of the 40th anniversary of the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series, featuring a conversation between Jack Ridl and Anne-Marie Oomen. 

In 2006, the Visiting Writer Series was named after Jack Ridl, honoring his commitment to storytelling, promoting poetry literacy, and mentoring writers of all ages—often in his own home. Beyond helping others to grow in their writing journeys, Jack continues to tell stories and has published ten lauded collections of poetry, most recently St. Peter and the Goldfinch, along with five anthologies. Working with his wife Julie, Ridl has devoted his life to helping others encounter the written word as it is read aloud in community.

After Jack Ridl’s introduction, Anne-Marie Oomen was invited to the stage to discuss her book As Long as I Know You: The Mom Book. This memoir recently received the Sue William Silverman Prize in Creative Nonfiction, one of the highest awards in the genre. Focused on her relationship with her mother, the memoir is best described by a quote from Oomen’s website: “The story of one daughter’s journey to her mother’s heart.” 

Jack and Anne-Marie settled into their chairs, old friends excited to talk about their work. Jack began by cracking jokes. Surveying the audience, he said, “I’m gonna let Anne-Marie take over the whole thing—I haven’t prepared at all. I don’t care if they named the damned thing after me.” Ripples of laughter swirled through the crowd, any nerves disappearing at once. Knowing he had won his audience over, Jack kicked off the conversation with Anne-Marie, asking her to read a selection from her memoir. She chose to read the prologue “Cessation,” which was written immediately after her father died, leaving her mother alone. “I have not been a good daughter, and I don’t intend to start now … I know nothing really of [my mother]” she read. With these haunting words stealing the breath from the room, Anne-Marie introduced her difficult relationship with her mother. 

Jack then asked Anne-Marie whether there was an evolution in her writing toward this memoir, and how she had compiled ten years of notes into a single volume. Anne-Marie explained that, in her previous books, she had tried to honor her mother and respect her privacy. After her father died and her mother’s dementia became evident, Anne-Marie slipped into anticipatory grief, knowing that her mother would soon be gone. As her mother started to fade, Anne-Marie began writing notes, recording conversations and thoughts, and working through her broken relationship with her mother. “As I’m losing her, I’m finding her through the writing,” she explained. Still, Anne-Marie was unable to finish her memoir for quite some time—she did not want to end with her mother’s death.

After reading another excerpt from the novel about an incident in which her mother was fully lucid following months of silence, an audience member asked Anne-Marie how she prepared to write about emotionally charged events and then revise that writing. With a smile, Anne-Marie described her writing process: “I was blocked for two years previous to her death, trying to find a way through it. After her death, I was catapulted by grief to dive back into the project to process my emotions.” Returning to the project so quickly allowed Anne-Marie to feel her mother’s presence and hear her voice. As she revised, she could see the life they had lived and the life she learned they lived through her writing. This knowledge transformed her grief into a companion rather than a burden. 

Hearing about Anne-Marie’s grief in such a personal way prompted a question from the audience: “Could you have loved your mother better?” For Anne-Marie, the answer was yes. She said, “I think I will always carry some regret and remorse. The memoir is deeply personal, but underpinning everything are the problems in the healthcare system. It’s incredibly difficult to get aid and the elderly suffer the most in this process. I will always be haunted that my siblings and I could not take my mother into our homes and care for her.” Jack agreed with Anne-Marie wholeheartedly: “Are we betraying our elders? Yes, we are. We don’t honor them or care for them enough.”

Anne-Marie soon diverted the conversation to Jack, asking him to read one of his poems from her dog-eared copy of Practicing to Walk Like a Heron. As she searched for a poem, Jack quipped, “By the way, I have PTSD. I mention that to get sympathy and to mention that [Anne-Marie’s] mother wouldn’t have had access to the help that I’ve had that allows me to sit here today.” Anne agreed, recalling the secrecy both of mental health struggles and rural farm life. She then asked Jack to read his poem “Listening to Chopin in Early Winter.” Jack’s voice lilted across the auditorium, casting a spell across the audience. As he breathed the last line, “There is duration,” the room was filled with hope. Later, Jack read a second poem from this book called “It Wasn’t Folklore.” Anne-Marie requested that Jack read this poem, stating, “I love the irony of the poem. Because we think it’s folklore and we want it to be, but at the heart, it’s not. There are so many more layers to life.”

At this point, the floor opened once again to questions from the audience. Because Anne-Marie writes primarily about her family, she was asked whether she would have published if her siblings objected to her writing—essentially asking where Anne-Marie found the balance between private life and the essence of her story. Anne-Marie explained that she has learned to self-regulate her own consciousness of what she should and should not say ahead of the curve. Once the story is out in the world, though, Anne-Marie stated that she sees her writing like any piece of art. At that point, her work has been handed off to the reader and is separated from her despite still being her own story. 

As the evening drew to a close, Jack and Anne-Marie discussed their writing journeys and how words became the foundation of their lives. Anne-Marie encouraged the audience, stating that “ultimately it’s an individual journey. If you’re driven, you’ll be able to find your own path.” Sometimes this path may look like notes scribbled on the back of receipts, journaling in spare moments, and spending hours crafting a manuscript. It may look like taking classes, going to conferences and lectures, and building a writing community. No matter the journey, Jack said it best: “Everyone should be writing. It doesn’t matter if the writing is good if it has value.” Stories have the power to heal and bring people together, building bridges across cultures and generations.