Marriage. One of the world’s most traditional institutions,
present in every culture, the same across centuries and millennia — at least
until recently. Right?
Um, not quite. In fact, as Hope students taking the new Cultural Heritage course “Marriage in the Modern Age” this semester could tell you, none of that is true. Everything from the reasons why people chose a partner (and who does the choosing); to who was or wasn’t permitted to marry; to whether marriage was a legal, religious, or purely personal agreement; to what rights, if any, a woman retained after marriage; to the gains that people sought to marry for — they’re all drastically different in different times and cultures. There’s even been one known culture without marriage at all (but to learn about that, you’ll have to check out Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage: A History).
History books can give us a big picture, and literature can give us personal stories; together, the two have told our class a lot about different views and forms of marriage in Western Europe and North America over the last 250 or so years. But while tales like Pride and Prejudice, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and A Doll’s House do hold truths about real lived experience in their respective times and places, they’re also fictionalized for our entertainment. That’s where the class’s Group Digital Projects fit in.
The idea behind the project was simple: pick a region and a decade, and see what marriage was like for real people in that place and time. Look only at primary sources: laws, trial reports, government documents, art, illustration, cartoons, journals, diaries, letters, advertisements, historical newspaper articles, magazine articles, op-eds, advice columns, and so on. Quantity is key — to notice patterns, draw conclusions, groups had to find enough material to know what was common and what was a fluke. Every community has its oddballs, after all!
Here are some of the topics the groups came up with:
Interracial marriages in America, 1965-1975
When polygamy became illegal in Utah (late 19th century)
The Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753, banning secret marriage in England
Unofficial same-sex marriages in the 1980s
The ideal marriage of 1950s sitcoms vs. the reality
Nifty, right? But where, you may be wondering, does the “digital” part come in? Well, after looking at all these great topics, the researchers needed a way to present their materials effectively, mixing different media and keeping the flavor of the historical sources while clearly getting their key findings across. Fortunately Tori Longfield, Hope’s Digital Arts Librarian, had just the tool for us: ArcGIS StoryMaps.
As Longfield taught the class, StoryMaps are cool because they can present images alongside text alongside interactive maps, charts, or timelines. It’s flexible, yet focused and contained: kinda like what you’d get if a PowerPoint and a website had a baby.
While they’re all very much worth a look, here I’ll highlight two of the students’ group digital projects.
by Jayla VanMaurick, William Harahan, Julia Hopkins, & Grace Goszkowicz
This group made use of the Joint Archives of Holland to look at what marriage was like between Catholics and Protestants in town during the Fifties. Disapproval in the newspapers! premarital contracts!what about the kids?!
In “Marriage in the Modern Age,” we’ve had a great time discussing the ins and outs of marriage — from a personal as well as societal angle. Has marriage become harder in the Western world as expectations for individual happiness continue to rise? How do some people like (Madeleine L’Engle, whose memoir we read) make marriage last a lifetime? Why do some choose not to marry at all, and how do they build alternative core relationships? The search for meaningful bonds between humans is relevant, after all, in every time and culture.
Dr. Lauren Eriks Cline, a Hope ’08 graduate, recently got her PhD in English from the University of Michigan and is now an Assistant Professor of English at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.
It’s March 20, 2020, and like millions of other people around the globe, I have spent the past week isolated in my house, watching red dots on a map expand as angry numbers on the margins tick upwards: 80,000 cases; 124,000 cases; 284,000 cases. While I wait for more news on the pandemic of the novel coronavirus, I am also recording and re-recording videos to orient my students at Hampden-Sydney College to the emergency distance-learning version of our English classes. When I told people last summer that my goal for my first year as an Assistant Professor was just to survive, I never imagined that word would feel so literal.
The semester I thought my students and I would have is now sitting in my laptop’s trash files. And as I prepare to begin take four of my walk-through of the new calendar of readings in my Shakespeare class, I find myself asking, not for the first time: “should I still be doing this work at a time like this?”
the one hand, it’s clear that some of this work can and should definitely go. It’s
been helpful for my sense of perspective that my partner is a healthcare worker
at a community hospital. Thinking about that lifesaving labor sheds a newly
stark light on the aspects of academic work that we could always have done
without. Grading, for example, seems more clearly than ever to be an exercise
in ranking that fails to accommodate barriers in our environment or differences
in our needs. The urge to change grading standards now reveals that those
standards were always built too narrowly. And every change I make to my
teaching in this moment is a lesson for later: don’t forget what you dropped
when we could only carry what we needed but we needed to carry everyone.
On the other hand, staring out at the world that today’s college students will inherit also casts a more hopeful light on my core commitments to literature. My “Monsters in Literature and Film” class is about to embark on our unit on zombies, sinking our teeth into post-apocalyptic stories from Colson Whitehead’s Zone One to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. To engage these texts is to ask newly topical questions: what conditions create contagion, protect status quos, or allow for change? Reading them encourages us to entertain more radical possibilities than reading the news alone.
Speculative fiction in particular pushes beyond what we think could exist all the way to the edge of what might be thinkable. My class’s big discussion question for the week was “why do people keep producing and consuming literature even when it feels like it might be the end of the world?” One answer might be this: that the end of the world as we know it is precisely the moment when we most need our capacity to imagine different worlds.
But as I contemplate the question of what it means to study literature now, it’s not just reading that I want to fight for. It’s reading together, and reading in ways that ask us to be responsible to each other. When I collect mid-semester feedback from my students, two of the questions I ask are (1) whether they feel supported to take risks in our class, and (2) what would help them feel more supported to take risks. Prioritizing risk might seem strange at a time when we’re rightly urging people to take physical precautions, but becoming daring in our thinking can become even more important as our material world gets more dangerous. Every time I read my students’ reflections on risk, I am reminded that – more than any individual choice made in the class – students thank the class as a whole for making it possible to take intellectual chances. It’s the curiosity and care of the other people in the room that allows them to try out new ideas and to practice being uncertain – even wrong.
The activist Mariame Kaba wrote recently that “we have to prefigure the world in which we want to live. That’s a minute-by-minute practice of aligning values with actions.” We’ve all just been forced to clear and reset our calendars. Our minutes are not exactly up for grabs – indeed, too many people may find that they are facing exhausting new demands on their time – but a wrench has been thrown in our day-to-day lives, which gives us a new chance to scrutinize our habits. So what do we bind and what do we release? How does what we’ve read shape the values we’ll use to make that choice? And what stories are we sharing or creating now that could make new configurations of our world thinkable?
COVID-19 has disrupted a good part of our daily routines or what was considered normal living: life as we knew it. From waking up in the morning to going to bed at night, Americans are confronted with the challenges of a different mode of living. For us in the teaching profession, COVID-19 has had a considerable impact on methods of delivery of instructional materials. From our usual PowerPoint presentations and Google docs to Zoom and Google Hangouts, professors at Hope College, and indeed across the nation, have been tasked with transforming content from in-person to online structure and format. This transformation has significantly affected not only course content but also approaches and methods of teaching. Pedagogy is being transformed and the changes are clearly discernible.
Last week, as I listened to my colleagues in English grappling with the structural and pedagogical changes to instruction, something became clear to me: we are in the process of a digital revolution and teaching will never be the same again. I suspect we will come out of COVID-19 very differently and our instructional structures and modes of delivery, assessment, and evaluation will change. We will come out of COVID-19; that is beyond question. The question is not whether we will come out of this situation, but rather how we come out of it and how we are prepared to handle the pedagogical shifts and assessment changes that the digitization of our courses would present.
In such moments, my grandmother’s words came clearly to me – “the early bird catches the worm.” If the above premise is true, then institutions that begin to put in place the necessary academic, administrative, and technological structures to accommodate these digital changes relating to the choice, delivery, and assessment of instructional materials now will be better served in the future. If we are to stay ahead of the “digital revolution” and its implications for our students, programs, and institution, we must begin to put these structures in place now.
As I see it, the first of these structures relate to faculty capacity building. There is a need for expanded programs relating to online teaching and coaching, and support from technological units and centers on campus. Faculty must be trained in the dynamics of online teaching and receive instruction on online delivery and assessment of courses. I foresee a situation where faculty would develop courses that meet the requirements for in-person, online, and hybrid instruction, and perhaps offer students these choices for enrollment in courses.
From an assessment perspective, I suggest we begin conversations on processes and procedures for online assessment that will maintain standards, integrity, and rigor. We must begin to ponder and reflect on the implications of online teaching for various disciplines on campus and what it would mean to shift courses to this mode of instructional delivery. We must begin to engage in conversations on the impact of COVID-19 on how we conceptualize education and methods of implementation.
Next, I would like us as an institution to reflect on lessons that COVID-19 has taught us in terms of global education. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the pandemic has taught us that we are more connected than we imagined and that the “big questions” of life cannot be solved by either a single discipline or single country. To that end, I would like faculty across campus to begin rethinking global education. If my assumptions are true, then it seems to me that we need to identify and restructure courses that address these “big questions” and approach them from an interdisciplinary perspective.
I am talking of creating a “hub” or “consortium” of courses with global content (such as immigration, public health, international trade, public finance, nursing, social work, medicine, etc.) and finding a place for such courses in the revised general education curriculum at Hope. This would truly equip our students with the knowledge and skills to function effectively in a global society. I suggest we begin a rethinking of our collaborative efforts with regional and international partners (GLCA & GLAA); our conception of study abroad; other experiential courses; and the ways in which these are assessed. Can we, for instance, begin to think about a “virtual study abroad” program and what that would look like? Can we begin to think of how we collaborate virtually with our partners beyond flagging courses and doing the usual conjoined courses? Can we transform these conjoined courses to virtual study abroad courses that will count for study abroad requirements for our students?
I would like to end with a bold suggestion, and this has to do with the current conversations regarding 3-credit and 4-credit courses. Part of the problem, as I understand it, with our current 4-credit system, at least in the Humanities, was the absence of faculty-led activities and instruction for the 4th hour. Again, this difficulty was also due to lack of creative ways to engage students in the 4th hour. I think what COVID-19 preparations have done for us is to equip us with online content and digital platforms to engage students in faculty-led projects that will count for the 4th hour. It seems to me that this is a valuable way to reconsider our conversations on 3-4 credit courses and to utilize the range of activities that Associate Provost Gerald Griffin has come up with that qualify for 4th-hour instruction. I encourage him to continue working with departments on online pedagogical instruction, but also to incorporate the 3-4 credit hour possibility that remote teaching has afforded us into the conversation.
I again commend the tireless efforts of President Scogin, Provost Short-Thompson, the Deans’ Council, faculty, staff, and students in addressing the current challenges we are facing. I reiterate the point that the workplace has considerably changed and will never be the same again. How we think of place and space, and how these constructs impact instruction, has also changed. Our conception of education, nationally and globally, and methods of implementation have changed; and with such changes, we must begin to create academic and administrative structures that will meet and accommodate the pedagogical shifts. Building and expanding technological capacities and training faculty to rethinking courses and curriculum are good ways for the early bird to catch the worm.
Chair of the English Department, Dr. Ernest Cole, shares his reflections on living through the Ebola outbreak and how we can instill hope during the Coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Cole did not contract Ebola, but learned much from being close to the chaos.
In May 2014, I was home (Sierra Leone) on sabbatical leave on what promised to be a 3-month period of productive research for a possible monograph. I intended to conduct interviews with amputees of the civil war in two resettlement camps in the outskirts of Freetown. 8 days later, my stay was cut short when the United States embassy in Freetown issued a mandatory request for Americans to return to the States. The deadly Ebola virus was on the rampage. That was the signal for me to get out of the country and with my “Green Card” in hand, I rushed to the next available airline. With luck, I got a seat on the next flight to Brussels aboard Brussels Airlines. From Brussels, I flew to the States. I did not contract the Ebola virus luckily, and was lucky to fly out when I did.
I recount this story with a deep understanding of the anxieties, fears, and tears that come with the outbreak of a pandemic; one that the current situation with Covid-19 is evoking across the USA. I also write this with a sense of humility and a willingness to share some of the lessons I learned from the Ebola outbreak in my native Sierra Leone. Ebola was devastating and hundreds, if not thousands, of my countrymen died in gruesome circumstances. However, despite this, I write to convey hope and promise to you all. As I witnessed the first cases of death of Ebola victims in Sierra Leone, I was stunned by the fact that my people never lost hope. Their resilience and unshakable faith in their Creator shined through the tragedy even as they watched a relative, friend, or community member succumb to the ravages of Ebola.
Coronavirus, like Ebola, has already taught me some valuable lessons. First, we are more connected than we imagined. More than ever we must be aware of the interconnectedness of our human societies. The phrase “the world is becoming a global village” is perhaps more than ever true. Second, in the same way, I learned that the problems of the world can no longer be solved by any one discipline or country but by interdisciplinary efforts, global cooperation and action. Third, the exercise of our moral and ethical values — as we practice compassion and love for one another, and follow medical advice relating to practical measures like individual hygiene and social distancing — should be paramount in all our actions. That is what will sustain us through this period of anxiety and trepidation.
On this note of values and collective action, I would like to acknowledge the tireless and tremendous efforts of Hope College’s administration in providing leadership, guidance, and support to the entire Hope community — including faculty, staff, and students. I would like to particularly recognize the work of President Matthew Scogin, Provost Cady Short-Thompson, Associate Provost Gerald Griffin, the Deans’ Council — Sandra Visser, David Van Wylen, & Scott Vanderstoep, Diedre Johnston, Kelly Jacobsma, Carol De Jong, and Shonn Colbrunn — and Human Resources for their guidance and direction.
While we are not yet out of the woods, the indications are that we are ready to take on the challenges that the virus poses to our college community. I suspect the conduct of college affairs will be different, but it is a difference that is crucial and necessary for our students, programs, and institution. My thanks to my Dean, Sandra Visser, for her resourcefulness in leading the Arts and Humanities, and to all of my colleagues, particularly in English, for their kindness, compassion, and willingness to adopt new methods of delivery of instructional materials in order to meet the needs of our students. I acknowledge the patience of our students to work with us and to adjust to new ways of learning. Our collective efforts have taught me the values of solidarity, community support, humility, love, and kindness. I am proud to be a member of the Hope community.
Finally, I wanted to reassure my colleagues that as many Sierra Leoneans survived Ebola, millions of American will survive Covid-19. And Sierra Leoneans did so without the health care system and structures to address a pandemic that the United States has. America has the resources and medical structures to defeat this virus. What it takes is, first and foremost, discernment from God, clear medical advice, community support, truth, and compassion for one another. I am thrilled to see the manifestation of these values at Hope in our collective endeavors to respond to the challenges that Covid-19 poses to our community.
Check out your upper-level English options for next semester! Remember, registration starts the week of March 30.
ENGL 248: Intro to Literary Studies – Dr. Emily Tucker
We will explore a variety of texts from different genres, including poetry, short fiction, drama, and the novel. We will begin by focusing on methods of close reading in order to examine ways in which authors use literary devices and forms to communicate meaning. After that, we will turn our attention to the ways in which literary works both reflect and construct the societies around them. In order to facilitate this inquiry, we will examine a number of contemporary critical theories. Throughout the course, we will practice methods of critiquing and appreciating literary works. Both English majors and non-majors are welcome. Authors will include Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Claude McKay, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood, Robert Browning, Bharati Mukherjee, Gwendolyn Brooks, Emily Dickinson, Edwidge Danticat, Toni Morrison, Franz Kafka, and Bram Stoker. TR 9:30-10:50, Lubbers 224.
ENGL 270: British Literature to 1800 – Dr. Curtis Gruenler
This course surveys the formation of the British literary tradition from its beginnings at the intersection of Christianity and pre-Christian culture in Anglo-Saxon England to the literature of the Enlightenment. We will focus on works that represent major literary and intellectual movements of the first millennium of English literature, written by great and influential authors you may have run across before (but are always worth going back to), such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Swift, as well as by lesser known but fascinating figures such as Marie de France, Julian of Norwich, Philip Sidney, John Donne, and Eliza Haywood. Goals: to acquaint you with basic forms and classic works of English literature, to develop your skills in reading and writing, and to help you learn to ask good questions that open up these texts. Format: some lecture, mostly discussion. Requirements: short papers/take-home exams. MWF 1-1:50 PM, Chapel B16.
ENGL 281: American Literature II – Dr. Stephen Hemenway
Make American Literature II Great Again!! I am so glad to be teaching this class again after a ten-year hiatus! This scintillating and daunting course will acquaint you with the major movements and writers in the United States from the end of the Civil War (1865) to the beginning of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic (2020). The literary canon (i.e., dead but vital white males, such as Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, O’Neill, and Frost) will be augmented by wondrous women warriors (Dickinson, Welty, Bishop, Cather, Plath, and Rich), African-American pacesetters (Washington, Hurston, Hughes, Brooks, Morrison, and Walker), and fresh ethnic voices (Zitkala Sa, Black Elk, Alexie, Cisneros, Lee, and Lahiri). Approximately equal time will be devoted to poetry, short stories, and drama. Forging links between geographical sections of the country, between genders, between genres, between races, and between critical approaches will be among the impossible dreams of the teacher. Four credit hours. MWF 2-2:50 PM, Anderson Werkman B03.
Make art from experience. Memoir is the literary craft of understanding where we’ve been. Prerequisite: Multi-Genre Creative Writing 253. TR 12-1:20 PM, Lubbers 224.
ENGL 360: Modern English Grammar – Dr. Kathleen Verduin
Is it “lie” or “lay”? “Who” or “whom”? “I” or “me”? And when is a sentence not a sentence, and what is a dangling participle, and where (on earth) should you place commas? If you’ve ever been troubled by these questions, sign up for this course. We start simply, learning to identify the seven (some say eight) parts of speech, recognizing phrases and clauses, and yes—but fear not!—diagramming sentences. We go over the conventions of usage: affect vs. effect, amount vs. number, imply vs. infer, like vs. as, and a fearsome lineup of similarly daunting verbal mysteries. But (and yes, you can—indeed, you may—begin a sentence with this word!) we also look into the history of grammar, the invention of sentence diagrams, and the cultural questions surrounding the role of grammar in contemporary society: why does grammatical correctness matter (or does it?), who decides what’s “correct,” and why (for heaven’s sake) are grammarians so often represented as crabby old ladies? By the end of the semester, you will write with increased confidence, secure in the knowledge that your prose won’t be blotched with distracting and embarrassing errors. A great course for writers, future teachers, or anyone who just wants to look good in print. Lots of support, lots of exercises, lots of encouragement: if you take this course, you ain’t gonna be sorry. MWF 11-11:50 AM, Lubbers 222.
ENGL 371: The Beatnik Generation – Dr. Stephen Hemenway
Are you ready to “Howl”? This fifth-in-a-lifetime (mine, at least) course on “The Beat Generation” explores the “beaten down,” “beat up,” and “beatific” aspects of many nonconformist, rootless, drugged, and searching American writers of the 1950s and 1960s. Secular and sacred aspects of the Beatnik movement will receive critical attention and a fresh look at what makes the works durable or degrading more than half a century later.
Harvey Pekar’s recently released The Beats, a graphic history with works by eleven artists, serves as an excellent introduction. Classic and controversial memoirs, novels, and plays nestle next to each other: On the Road and The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir by Joyce Johnson, and Dutchman by Amiri Baraka. Poems by Gregory Corso, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Joanne Kyger, Denise Levertov, Michael McClure, and Kenneth Rexroth sidle up to nonfiction and essays by William Burroughs, Carolyn Cassady, Ann Charters, Edie Parker Kerouac, and Norman Mailer.
The course briefly examines early influences on the Beat writers from British Romantics, American Romantics and American Modernists. Musical connections get well-deserved attention, and campy old films about Beatniks show cinema at its worst. Very recent films reveal the continued popularity of this era. Beat celebrators and Beat debunkers get equal coverage. The squeamish need not apply; some material is R-rated. Four credit hours.
Reading: moderate to heavy. Writing: journal pieces, two analytical papers, research project. Evaluation: numerous methods of class participation and a variety of writing assignments.
TR 1:30 – 3:50 PM, Chapel B16
ENGL 373: The Serious Comedy of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde – Dr. Emily Tucker
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde are among the wittiest and most quotable writers in the history of English literature. Their writing also addresses some serious concerns about 19th-century British culture, and their humor often enables them to challenge societal ideals about gender, romance, propriety, money, and the role of the arts. We will use major texts by these two figures in order to explore their complex blend of hilarity and earnestness at the very beginning and very end of the 19th century. Austen’s novels will invite us into the century’s earliest years, at the high point of Regency-era culture and literary Romanticism. Wilde’s works will introduce us to the final decade of the 19th century—a decade marked by tremendous social upheaval and a literary culture starting to shift toward Modernism. We will also pay attention to some more recent works based on the writings and life stories of these two figures in order to explore their legacies in the 21st century. Assignments will include short presentations and reflections, a film review, a research essay, and a final project that will include options for both critical and creative work. MWF 9:30 – 10:20 AM, Lubbers 121.
ENGL 375: Children’s and Young Adult Literature – Diverse Books in Diverse Hands – Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño
This course is perfect for anyone interested in reading kid lit, in teaching, in scholarship, and/or in literacy advocacy. Together we will consider the importance of diverse children’s and young adult literature—the way it offers mirrors for diverse kids who see themselves reflected and for others, windows onto a different experience. We will think critically about race, ethnicity, language, gender, and ability in children’s lit and what is at stake for readers, parents, and educators. In addition to reading kid lit for a variety of ages and in a variety of genres, we will meet with practitioners in the field including librarians, teachers, literacy advocates, scholars, and publishers, and we will share what we learn through a service learning project with kids in the community. Authors considered in this course include Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Angie Thomas, Dawn Quigley, Stan Yogi, Jason Reynolds, Guadalupe García McCall, and Isabel Quintero, among others. Meets Hope College GLD credit. MW 3-4:30 PM, Martha Miller 243.
ENGL 454: Advanced Fiction Writing – Professor Susanne Davis
The heart of this course is about the writing each student writer produces. In this advanced workshop, we’ll focus on reading, writing, and discussing contemporary fiction. What has been said? Do we feel moved by what has been said? What remains to be said? And how shall we say it?
Texts: John Truby, The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller; David Benihof’s novel City of Thieves; and a linked short story collection and reading packet which includes short stories by Junot Diaz, Louise Erdrich, James Baldwin, Sherman Alexie, Kevin Barry, Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami, ZZ Packer, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, George Saunders and others.
We will spend two-thirds of our class time workshopping student writing, and the other third discussing craft and published writers. We will divide our attention between the short story form (including how to create linked short stories) and the novel, using Truby’s screenwriting text to guide that development of longform story concepts. We’ll be writing and workshopping roughly 40 pages. Consider for portfolio development — one masters the art of storytelling through practice of techniques (in fiction: character, plot, dialogue, scene, and point of view, among others). In this advanced course we practice those techniques in greater depth, adding others and attending to what it is we have to say as we develop an aesthetic. MW 12-1:50 PM, Lubbers 224.
ENGL 480: Introduction to Literary Theory – Dr. Curtis Gruenler
Literary theory equips you to think better about how to read and why, and maybe to enjoy it more too. Tour major schools of thought from Plato to the twenty-first century, such as formalism, structuralism, deconstruction, psychoanalytic criticism, gender and sexuality studies, postcolonial criticism, ecocriticism, and disability theory. Meet theorists such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, René Girard, Adrienne Rich, Judith Butler, Edward Said, Chinua Achebe, and Wendell Berry. Connect literature to other disciplines such as philosophy, theology, and the social sciences. You’ll have a chance to write and talk critically about whatever texts you like—stories, poems, films, TV, games, etc. The course will be conducted as a seminar with several short papers and two longer ones. TR 9:30 – 10:50, Lubbers 220.
Grace Goszkowicz, a student in Dr. Salah’s Cultural Heritage course “Marriage in the Modern Age,” shares her reflections below on a recent WGS & History event commemorating 100 years of women’s suffrage.
This past Tuesday, I had the privilege of attending the talk given by guest speaker Dr. Kristin Kobes Du Mez, an established historian and professor at Calvin University. Du Mez’s enthusiasm was clear as she eloquently engaged listeners with a historical account of the evolution of the struggle for women’s rights in America. As her announced research interests suggest, much of Du Mez’s work focuses on the intersection of gender, politics, and religion in American history.
In her talk, Du Mez persuasively addressed the subject of “Purity and Patriarchy: Christianity and the Struggle for Women’s Rights in America.” Du Mez prefaced her talk with a description of her sheltered, small-town upbringing, pointing out the perceived discrepancy between Christian teachings and feminist progress. Such tension, she said, was exemplified by prohibition of female leadership within the churches that she encountered growing up. For her, and many unfortunately, the edict was black and white: powerful, individualistic women did not conform to the feminine, chaste depiction of women in the Bible. With this train of thought then, the feminist movement that swept through the country following the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 must have lacked any sort of Christian support, right?
Wrong. Du Mez addressed this surprising realization, focusing on the Christian leadership of the first American women’s rights movement. Many Christian women took a stand on the issue, she explained, listing Sarah and Angelina Grimké, Mariah Stewart, Jarena Lee, and Sojourner Truth as critical trailblazers of the beliefs that later grew into the feminist movement.
Frances Willard, too, as Du Mez recounted, was a Christian woman and vital leader of the movement in the late 19th century until her death. A faithful member of the newly respectable Methodist church (which has allowed female ministers since the 1800s), Willard rejected the “cult of true womanhood” that was commonly accepted at the time, and, under her presidency of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, transformed the women’s rights movement from a discreditable one to one of religious necessity. As a home-grown Methodist girl myself, I felt pride well up within my girl-power heart for the work of this kindred Methodist reformer. When I think back, I can remember my Methodist mother expressing her distaste for the Catholic church’s ban of female leadership—just a personal connection I made when Du Mez highlighted Willard’s views.
One of Willard’s suffragette contemporaries, Kate Bushnell, was a great focus of Du Mez’s presentation (and her previous book). Bushnell’s principal contribution to the women’s rights movement was calling attention to incorrect Biblical interpretation and translation. She advocated for and worked herself to accomplish a more accurate translation of the Bible, calling out all previous English translations in their doubly defined adjectives that, when concerning women, connote chastity, purity, and submission. This sparked my interest immediately—how was an original Hebrew word translated as strong when in reference to man but pure when describing a woman? Does that mean the Bible I read and hear read aloud (and hold as God’s truth!) more than a dozen times a week is incorrectly worded? In this way, Du Mez painted Bushnell as a pioneer of the reexamination of Biblical translation with respect to the portrayal of women—a Christian woman who worked to amend beliefs that deprecated females, previously seen as supported by religion. How fascinating!
The conclusion of Du Mez’s talk emphasized the effects of societal upheavals like World War I, the sexual revolution, and the bread-winner/homemaker era on the gender role and expectations of women. Long after the ratification of the amendment that constitutionally granted white women the right to vote, double standards were unfairly placed upon women: single or married, working or not. We have come a long way, Du Mez noted, but many tensions remain, and being a Christian and a feminist can still prove to be a complex double-label.
Throughout her impactful talk, Du Mez paid tribute to the powerful, Christian women who exercised their independence in order to fight for the rights of women. What a fantastic way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment! In closing, Du Mez reminded us that suffrage should not be taken for granted, but rather be continually sought after, fought for, and appreciated—ultimately striving for deserved dignity and rights for all. And to that, I say, amen!
“Think of something you used to do, that you loved to do, that did something for you while you were doing it. Brought you something. Everybody thinking of one?
Now think of that thing you gave up that you loved to do. You gave up because you were, yeah, not good enough. Wasn’t ‘good enough.’ Gave it up.
The only thing Americans don’t give up that they aren’t any good at it is golf.”
This was the opening of a TedX talk called “Perfectly Imperfect” by the great Jack Ridl, retired Hope College professor. His talk is about reclaiming things you love to do – not to be the best in the world at it or even turning it into your full-time career – but simply for the love of the craft.
My “something” has always been writing, all the way back to second grade. I followed this love to Hope College, graduating in 2012 with an English Creative Writing degree. I’ve been writing ever since.
But most of it is done as a hobby. Takes place early in the morning before work. And the trouble is that, even as a hobby, I’ve found it’s hard to write only for the sake of writing. The goal of “I want to write a book” quickly morphs into “I want to write a bestseller.” With a blog, it’s tempting to keep checking the number of views, visitors, likes.
Because we spend so many years aiming for a target – first in a land of letter grades, and then in a land of salaries, promotions, and “where do I rank” – it can be hard to work on a craft just for the sake of doing it, to have fun, and not rely on any external measurements.
This impacts how writers feel about the publishing process too. One may think, “Well, if I can’t get a literary agent or traditional publisher, it’s not worth doing.” Or, if they self-publish, it becomes all about the rankings. Looking at the book sale bar graph.
The business I started in 2018, called Long Overdue, began as a way to bring more fun to the publishing process. Especially for first-time authors. It’s a way to encourage people to write and put meaningful stories out there, even if the audience is only friends, family, and some people in your local community.
Recently, we’ve expanded the idea to include recording family stories. For example, if you have a grandparent, mom, dad who has all of these great stories but they’ve never recorded them, we’re helping turn these stories into books. This was inspired by my own family. I have a book of poems from my great-grandpa. My dad wrote a children’s book about my nephew. My grandma is an artist and her sister has written a couple of novels. I’d love to help more families create these types of libraries that they can pass down to future generations.
Long Overdue is run by me and three other friends. All of us have full-time jobs, so the work is done in the mornings and weekends, which can definitely be tough to balance. One time* in particular, I got so in the zone working on a book before work, I looked up and it was 8:55.Close the laptop, rush to the bathroom, switch from glasses to contacts. Slide out of the good ol’ writer’s sweatpants. Run to the bus then jog into the office around 9:20.
I feel guilty on the walk to my desk. Everyone’s already there, and several colleagues have been working for an hour already. At this moment, I don’t feel a sense of pride in how hard I was working on Long Overdue, I feel like the late guy. Flaky. Letting people down. And wondering, “Why can’t I work as hard at the steady job that’s paying me more than this side business I’m trying to get off the ground?”
*And by “one time,” I think this happened at least 10 different times.
And yet… those before-work projects included helping an author in England (Joy M. Lilley) with her novel Strawberry Moon, an author in Illinois (David Warden) with a book of career advice called Don’t Be That Guy, and an author in Florida (David Ovitt) bringing a children’s book to life, Cecil the Centipede, which he first wrote 30 years ago. We’re working with fellow Hope College grad Jon Oldham (’12) on his Tackle the Libraryseries, and we have several other books in progress.
The part I enjoy the most is when the author receives the final copy of their book. There’s a deep sense of accomplishment and distinct finish line to their project. Plus, all of the authors we’ve worked with so far have multiple book ideas in mind, so it’s been really cool to see Long Overdue ignite/re-ignite a passion for writing, not just a one-time project.
In this process, I’ve found that starting a business feels a lot like writing a book. You have a vision for where you want things to go and you just keep chipping away at each new chapter. Writing and revising. In this way, I think writers and English majors are secretly well-positioned to be entrepreneurs, especially with startups. Year 1 of any business is more art than science.
And, just like writing a book, there’s never a perfect time to start a business. Life is busy. There are bills. Rent. Mortgages. But if we wait for the perfect time to get started, the project keeps getting pushed off until it becomes long overdue.
Maybe someday, there will be more time to work on everything, less trial and error.
But right now, it’s just fun to work on something I love to do. To have Long Overdue be perfectly imperfect.
In my poetry classes, I often teach the basic structures of
poetic rhythms through rap music. I use rap songs from artists like Public
Enemy, Run DMC, Fu Schnickens, Queen Latifah, Eminem, LL Cool J, Lizzo, Frank
Ocean, Kendrick Lamar and many others. This no accident. Rap and poetry go
together like Salt-N-Pepa.
I first heard Grand Master Melle
Mel and the Furious Five in the cafeteria at Hackett Catholic High School. I
was 15, at the spaghetti dinner for the JV football team, and the Henagar
brothers had their boom box on the table. “Music for crushing skulls,” one of
them said, and I heard the MC King Lou rap “K is for Kool, running through my
veins/I got ice water blood, so I show no shame.” I was hooked.
I’d been a suburban b-boy for a
couple of years, break dancing in the halls at school, at school dances across
the city, and at a charity fair or two. I’d even been paid to do it—once. I’d seen the movies Breakin’ and Beat Street and loved them. And since these movies used hip-hop and
rap as a background to the dancing, rap became a part of my social world. Break
dancing hasn’t stuck with me—I mean, how could it?—but rap grew into the most popular
genre of contemporary music in the world, and it never left my body and mind.
Rap took off nationally in the early 1980s. The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” charmed me to no end. Run DMC helped me think about the powers of community and neighborhood in ways a boy in suburban Michigan would never experience. Salt-N-Pepa exposed me to a new kind of strong female power. Public Enemy schooled me in anger and frustration at systemic racism. I wanted to understand all of it.
Witty, charming, silly, and angry, the lyrics that rappers
created seemed to roll out of their mouths. Some were deeply experimental and
intelligent, like Fu Schickens. Some were sweet and funny, like DJ Jazzy Jeff
and the Fresh Prince. All were highly creative, and oozed youthful exuberance.
As a boy and young man, I stuttered when I spoke, sometimes
terribly. Speaking in front of people, especially strangers, put me into a
panic. I avoided it, hard. But rappers spoke in tight, improvisational
patterns, eloquent and strong. I wanted that power, and rap showed me a path to
Poetry had an ascendant respect in my family, and rap was my first poetry. I began writing poetry and rap at around the same time, in the 80s, but because I stuttered I never saw myself as a rapper. I had to learn to work with language in the quiet of a white page and a solitary room.
Over time, my poems became less auditory, shed their rhyme
and tight rhythms controlled by the 4/4 bar structure of a rap song. But rap
and poetry can never be fully separated—they are siblings, sisters in song,
singing in their own overlapping spheres of influence. And you don’t have to
love rap music to see the connections—it’s there in the deep analysis of rap’s
Among the best poets in the world is the rapper MF Doom.
MF Doom has the ability to layer chains of sounds in seemingly endless
overlapping links. Check out these lines from the second verse of “Rhymes Like Dimes”:
Better rhymes make for better songs, it matters not If you got a lot of what it takes just to get along Surrender now or suffer serious setbacks Got get-back, connects wet-back, get stacks Even if you gots to get jet-black, head to toe To get the dough, battle for bottles of Mo’ or ‘dro This fly flow take practice like Tae Bo with Billy Blanks “Oh, you’re too kind!” “Really? Thanks!”
That verse goes on for ten more lines. It seems nonsensical,
the references coming so fast you almost can’t track them. Rhymes weave across
lines, sometimes only at the end of a line, sometimes appearing six times
across three lines (lines five to seven). Alliteration—the technique of
repeating the sounds at the beginnings of words—appears several times, occasional
(line one) or rapid-fire (line three).
Most interested in sound and association, MF Doom filters
the world through his imagination and what comes out in his rap is a
representation of what his memory can conjure at the moment. His raps are in
the best tradition of poetic nonsense, like Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” In nonsense poetry, sound
structures take over to shape our understanding of the poet’s world. How the
words sound is as important (more important?) as what they say; they flow
together in a kind of language music.
That is why I love rap, and this kind especially. As a boy and young man—even in college—I could barely string together a spoken phrase. My speech hemmed and hawed, paused at the worst times, and I would lock up, my face twisting, my lips in a struggle to shape the sounds. Those who work and live with me have seen this happen even today in my middle age, especially when I’m tired. My everyday face sometimes feels like a mask about to transform.
But rappers like MF Doom display the transcendence of human
speech as artistic expression. Their faces, however hidden, never falter, the
muscles of their throats never seem to fail. In their poetries I feel transformed
into a person with no limits to my language, no limits in my ability to express
myself. I write poetry, but in the back of my creative mind, rap will always be
pulling at the levers.
As Marcelo Hernandez Castillo dug through the photo gallery on his phone, searching for a picture of his son, I realized that the thin man who sat before me didn’t quite match my idea of the poet I had envisioned behind Cenzontle. The beautiful and surreal lyrics Castillo weaved through his 2018 book had prepared me for a somber and stoic man, with a gravity that matched the incredible weight of his poetry. I certainly hadn’t expected a man who would stop in the middle of a conversation to point out a cute baby in a stroller outside the restaurant where we shared lunch.
However, as I had more chances to speak with Castillo, I began to see
where Cenzontle came from. His thoughtful nature, his appreciation of
beauty: these were the traits of an author who, as Brenda Shaughnessy puts it
in her foreword to Cenzontle, “knows that blood is a lyric never to be
forgotten.” As Castillo spoke with our Advanced Poetry class, I saw hints of
the emotional burden that drove him to produce such a powerful book of poetry;
as he said, “I had to write Cenzontle so I wasn’t the sole observer—it
wasn’t just mine anymore.”
Despite this, in our short time together, I couldn’t get over just how normal
Castillo was. He could have been any college student, he conversed so well with
my peers in class. He even shared a story of an interaction he had with another
author, where they went swimming together and Castillo realized “he was just a
normal guy in swim trunks.” I certainly shared this sentiment, and I wasn’t
surprised to hear other students did as well; Thomas Stukey (’21) remarked: “We
ask these authors what the secret is, but they’re just average people—they’re
This paradoxical image of Castillo continued throughout lunch and the
Q&A session in the afternoon, where he and Lesley Nneka Arimah both
displayed the warmth and humor one might expect from an old friend. Whether it
was Castillo joking about how challenging he found writing, or Arimah making a
witty observation about the magical realism inherent in her Evangelical
upbringing, both authors handled themselves with a charming ease that felt distant
from their own intense work. They even made conversations about the weather engaging,
demonstrating the particular creativity that has made them such wonderful
The highlight of the day, however, was the evening reading. Though I had
already devoured Cenzontle, hearing Castillo read his work gave each
poem a new burst of energy. Beyond that, it gave Castillo himself new life. As
he read his first selection, I saw him grow into the preconceived image I had
held, his stature broader, his voice larger. This was the poet I had expected: tender
and powerful at once, just as his own poetry was. He also took some time to
read from his recent memoir, Children of the Land, and I was struck by
the equal power of his prose. Despite the different format, the energy and
emotion behind the words was the same.
Arimah, too, gripped the audience as she shared two of her own short stories. Though I wasn’t familiar with her work, it didn’t take long to decide I wanted to change that. The settings and characters she laid out practically demanded that I get to know them better. Even as she immersed the audience in the dark worlds she created, though, she made sure to pull us back out in equally short order. After she finished her first story, a quick joke was all it took to break the tension in the room.
These visiting authors impact Hope College and its students in a
significant way. Castillo not only offered to meet with a few students to
discuss their poetry over coffee—he actively went out of his way to squeeze in
meetings with as many students as he could. Even students from outside the
English Department left the reading with fuller hearts; Marcus Brinks (’20), a
chemical engineering major who anticipated feeling lost during the event, said
afterward: “Seeing the authors read their own work was cooler than I could have
ever imagined… It really enhanced the meaning for me.”
I can personally echo his thoughts: it was a delightful day with
incredible authors, and I cannot wait to read the work Arimah and Castillo
surely have planned for the coming years.
As the airplane began its final descent into Banjul International Airport, I was overcome by a feeling of nervous excitement. I was excited at the prospect of coming back to my adopted home, the place where my wife and I sought refuge at the height of the civil war in my native Sierra Leone 24 years ago. I was equally nervous at what to expect of The Gambia after all this time.
I was returning not as a Sierra Leonean, as I was during my 7-year period of refuge, but as an American. I was bringing with me a child (my younger daughter) born in the United States, who was coming to the continent for the first time. I was also anticipating the arrival of my elder daughter from study abroad in Liverpool: Hope junior Ernesta Cole, who was actually born in The Gambia, 20 years ago. And so, as Brussels Airlines navigated the final stretch of tarmac and taxied to the arrival gate, an incident that occurred 17 years earlier flashed through my mind.
I was leaving for the University of Connecticut in August 2003, and my family—Ernesta and my wife, Everetta—had accompanied me to the airport. After saying goodbye and going through customs and immigration, I could only make out the tiny hands of Ernesta waving goodbye to me in the crowded airport. She couldn’t actually see me, but from the farewells of family and friends, she knew daddy was going on a journey and it was important to wave goodbye.
I watched her for a very long time, transfixed to one spot, until the voice of the announcer over the PA system interrupted my thoughts. Ghana Airways was almost ready for boarding. When we were finally airborne, I broke down. I cried for a long time. The image of those tiny hands as they waved goodbye has never left my mind.
Six months later, Ernesta and Everetta joined me in Willimantic, Connecticut. But today, as I collected my thoughts, it was a different story. Time has elapsed and situations have changed. As we stepped out onto the tarmac and walked the few yards to the arrival lounge, my nervousness increased. I have always wanted to take my children home. For me it is not so much about them having a sense of cultural heritage and roots, with all its implications for identity and belonging, as important as these may be. Rather, it is an invitation for them to walk in our shoes and retrace history. I deem this as necessary in order for them to begin to understand the sacrifices made by us and the implications for our family.
I wanted them to understand that there is a cost to success: that a price was paid for being a professor at Hope College, and that there were people along the way who assisted us in a variety of ways and made it possible for my wife and I to be where we are today. They have to recognize, as my people say: “we never got to where we are by our own strength, and so, may we never forget the road we traveled.” I wanted to introduce them to some of the people who made this success possible.
In the same vein, I wanted them to know that there is a cost to migration: that migrants are continuously navigating the complexities of the in-between—the third space of being self and Other, African and American, insider and outsider, central and marginal. Importantly, they too as “first generation.” Americans would have to navigate the trickling effects of those complexities.
But, notwithstanding the costs, it is important to take time to give glory to God—for in spite of what we think of our journey, His hand upon our lives is clearly discernible. That is non-negotiable.
At this point, I will step back and allow Ernesta to give her impressions of her return to her birthplace, her homeland, the motherland, the continent of Africa.
After 16 years in the United States, I went back home. A nearly overwhelming sense of belonging grew as each family member, each friendly neighbor, each nursery school teacher said “Welcome back.” I knew I was home, but I also knew that my being away for so long would change how I fit back into Gambian life and society. I would have to re-learn the new Gambia and re-teach the new Ernesta.
Both of my very musically talented uncles asked me if I played any instruments, like the piano or kora, or if I sang. I said no. Family friends asked if I spoke any Wolof or Mandika. I said no. Nearly everyone spoke of distant memories, and asked if I remembered them as fondly as they did. I said no. I began to feel like I might end up disappointing people, for changing too much and not being Gambian enough. After only a few days, I quickly realized that my anxieties were not necessary. Those who truly knew me did not care if I was partially this, raised here or there, and used to that. They loved me as Ernesta, and it was just that simple.
It’s true that, due to living in the United States for the majority of my life, I had become Americanized. But the amount of time spent in a location does not fundamentally change who you are, especially if your culture and sense of self are continuously encouraged and developing.
Waking up to the sound of ocean waves was the perfect way to start each day. The warmth of the 89-degree days was the same warmth and comfort I felt inside my chest being surrounded by people who looked just like me. Everything felt new and exciting: from shopping in the busy markets in the capital Banjul, to petting crocodiles in Katchikaly, where we stumbled across an elusive white crocodile, believed to have supernatural powers. (I’ve started considering that the white crocodile helped give me confidence for the rest of the trip, as well as for 2020.)
Adventures to different attractions brought more discussion about my identity as a Gambian. In most touristy places, like the National Museum of Gambia and Bijilo Forest Park (more commonly known as Monkey Park), the price for Gambians is less than the price for visiting tourists. Initially I thought, “Oh, sweet! I get to save a few dalasi”—but I quickly learned that those local discounts would not be applied to me. In the National Museum, the lady selling tickets looked me up and down and promptly amended the rules with: “well actually, the discount is for residential Gambians.” My uncle, his girlfriend, my mother, sister and I all exchanged looks and couldn’t help but share a laugh. My American was showing.
On a trip to the local Bakau fish market, I met a Jamaican man working there who ended up encouraging me in an exciting idea for what I want to do for the rest of my life. He started the conversation by asking my sister if she was a university student, due to the Liverpool Hope University shirt she had on. She smirked and told him it had been a gift from me. After spending much of our conversation laughing over the presumptions he had about where the two of us would end up, based on the “caring talkative vibes” I gave off in comparison to the more “strict and authoritative” ones of my sister—who is 13, by the way—gave off, he said something that will stick with me forever. He said that he was proud of and excited for us, for the things we would accomplish and how we would shape the future. He added, with a slight sad smile, that he was not educated. Then he said: “But, I speak Wolof, English, Spanish, French, Finnish…” and must have listed at least two more. How could this kind, multilingual person not define himself as educated? It settled on me that since he did not have a westernized, idealistic academic repertoire he had limited himself against those standards.
I decided at that moment that I would study sociolinguistics. What languages do people speak based on location? Why do they speak the way they do? Which languages or accents are seen as cooler, better, more intriguing than others and why? Should academics be, at minimum, bilingual?
Gambia was an amazing, tropical, relaxing and love-filled time for me. Going back home filled me up in so many positive ways—from my spirit to my stomach! I will never forget the impact our trip had on me and I cannot wait to get back.