March is National Reading Month: Hope College and Ready for School Collaborate for Our Youngest Readers!

On Friday 2/26, Hope College featured a live virtual visit with author Kwame Alexander in conjunction with national Black History Month*. The virtual talk was entitled, “Light for the World to See: A Conversation with Kwame Alexander.” Alexander’s visit was a collaborative effort of several Hope organizations: the NEA Big Read Lakeshore, Black Student Union, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Ruth Tensen Creative Writing Fund, Cultural Affairs Committee, Department of Education, and Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series.

On the heels of Kwame Alexander’s Big Read presentation, Dr. Jesse Montaño shares about National Reading Month, and an exciting new collaboration between Hope College faculty and students (past and present) and Ready for School, via a grant from the Hope College Mellon Community-Based Partnership Initiative.


Welcome March—National Reading Month! Time to trot out the “green eggs and ham,” and don a costume at a reading-inspired party to celebrate the power of reading! As you may or may not know, March was chosen for National Reading Month because it marks the birthday of celebrated children’s book author Theodore Seuss Geisel, best known to us as Dr. Seuss.  

As we celebrate National Reading Month this year, we highlight a new collaboration between Hope College faculty and students (past and present) and Ready for School, via a grant from the Hope College Mellon Community-Based Partnership Initiative. This collaborative grant will promote reading and kindergarten readiness among the youngest kids in our community. Ready for School, a non-profit, community organization in greater Holland, was established in 2008 to meet a critical need: preparing children for success in kindergarten. Over the last decade, collaborative efforts in health, education, and public awareness have yielded success, increasing the level of readiness from 43% in 2009 to 70% in 2019. Even with this success, disparities in kindergarten readiness currently exist in our community. Our initiative, “Stories of Equity and Hope,” draws on the power of stories to improve our understanding of what barriers exist, why they exist, as well as how best to move forward. 

Image via Unsplash

In the coming weeks, the grant team will collect stories from local families and community members on ways to address kindergarten readiness and reading. These stories center knowledge that emanates from those who daily navigate the challenges that impede kindergarten readiness. We are convinced that solutions involve seeking these stories from disparate perspectives and listening to them attentively. In amplifying diverse voices in our community, we likewise alleviate ugly hierarchies of human value by honoring the dignity of all involved. Put another way, the sharing of stories and the listening attentively to them centers the simple humanity of tellers and listeners. 

Alongside our community story-gathering efforts, “Stories of Equity and Hope” will feature reading circles, a suggested reading list, and virtual read-aloud storytimes around the works of noted children’s author, Kwame Alexander. Families in the community will receive copies of Alexander’s Indigo Blume and the Garden City. Young readers will be encouraged to grow plants and flowers in emulation of the Indigo’s garden city project, as they consider the growth of plants as well as other kinds of growth. As character Woody Bark professes in the picture book, “plant the seeds of faith and love, and let nature do the rest.” Videos showing community members reading Indigo Blume and photographs from the plantings will soon come your way.  

Image via Unsplash

The grant team chose the work of Kwame Alexander, as well as other diverse authors and artists, to foreground the importance of intergroup justice and racial reconciliation in our local and our national communities as a part of kindergarten readiness. Even as we begin this post by citing to the significant work of Dr. Seuss in promoting reading, we call attention to the ways in which hidden forms of racism exist in all facets of our society and in all parts of our lives. As scholar Philip Nel has persuasively argued in his book, Is the Cat in the Hat Black?, Geisel was directly influenced by minstrelsy and blackface caricature in his illustrations of The Cat in the Hat and in his depiction of Cat’s actions. While we have known for some time that the Cat’s sly, secretive smile and the color of his skin was based on Annie Williams, an African-American woman who worked at Houghton Mifflin, the publishing house for The Cat in the Hat, what Nel reveals is the dogged ways in which racist images and ideas persist in our collective imagination. As Nel points out, Geisel knew of minstrelsy from a young age, having written and acted in blackface while in high school and having created minstrel-inspired images into his early career. By the time of the picture book’s composition, however, Dr. Seuss actively spoke out against racism. The moral to this fable, it seems, is that we need be attentive to hidden forms of racism and their purview in our communities. When the grant team considered books to highlight in our reading and kindergarten readiness initiatives, therefore, we intentionally chose books that offer counter-stories to deleterious and noxious stories and ideas. In this way, our project contributes to anti-racism efforts. 

Image via Unsplash

As we celebrate National Reading Month, with all of its pageantry and possibilities, we also congratulate faculty Susanna Childress, Regan Postma-Montaño, Llena Chavis, Har Ye Kan, and Jesus Montaño on recently being awarded funds by the Mellon Community-Based Partnership Initiative to support work on reading and kindergarten readiness in our community. Thanks to these faculty, Hope students, and Ready for School staff and family partners for joining us on this exciting project!

*Special Note: If you were unable to attend Kwame Alexander’s live streamed event on Friday 2/26 and would like to watch it, please email the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at diversity@hope.edu. A one week link to the recorded event is available. It is only open to those with a Hope College email address.

2021 Senior Showcase – Volume 1

This spring, we will be featuring English Department Seniors as they reflect on their time in the department and look forward to life after Hope. Our first volume features Grace Alex and Jory Wynsma. These interviews were conducted by Hannah Jones (’21), who is our Blogs Administrator.


Grace Alex

Grace Alex ’20

What year do you plan to graduate? I just graduated this past November 2020.

What is your major? English Literature

What is your favorite book or author?  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

What is your favorite book/short story/etc. that you’ve read for class at Hope? Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya for Dr. Ernest Cole’s Modern Global Literature course

What are some research interests/topics you like to study? Feminist and Postcolonial studies

What are your plans for after graduation? My current plan is to land a job in the publishing and marketing industries in the coming months.

Why did you choose to study English? I chose to study English because I have a passion for reading, writing, words, and beautiful speech. I also love historical studies and contemporary feminist studies in literature.

How has your English major impacted your worldview? How has it shaped you? My English degree has molded me into a highly perceptive person of cultures and society. I love exploring and analyzing literature through different literary lenses, which broaden my views and beliefs of religion and the world.

What advice would you give to someone considering a degree in English? Put effort into your passion for literature and writing. Let yourself explore your potential; there are so many amazing opportunities and experiences that await you.


Jory Wynsma

Jory Wynsma ’21

What year do you plan to graduate? I plan to graduate at the end of the Spring 2021 semester.

If applicable, what are your major(s) and minor(s) aside from English? How do you see your English major impacting/influencing your other major(s)/minor(s)? Aside from English with a writing emphasis, I have a second major in Sociology. Sociology studies societies, and how the groups within them function. With this knowledge at my disposal, I can better analyze a text as it fits into the world it came from. My English major makes it possible for me to empathize with the individual, and sociology helps me empathize with groups. Combined, I think this has given me a unique and valuable perspective on the ways of the world.

What is your favorite book or author? My favorite book is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– I read it for the first time as a freshman in high school, and I fell in love with the varying narration within the story as well as her detail that created a dream-like world. As for my favorite author, I really admire the creativity Ransom Riggs utilizes in his writing. In his most popular series, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Riggs uses old photos he has collected in order to create a setting and characters throughout. His book was one of the first that showed me the beauty in writing and style. 

What is your favorite book/short story/etc. that you’ve read for class at Hope?  I think my favorite piece I’ve read at Hope was the Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I first read it in Creative Nonfiction with Dr. Rhoda Janzen, and the context she was able to provide us after our reading was immensely beneficial in both my understanding and my appreciation. The eerie tone of the piece kept me intrigued throughout, but moreover, the argument Gilman makes within the work is one I still think about often.

Why did you choose to study English? I was always an avid reader and creative child, and these attributes stuck with me. Ultimately, this led me to declare my English major sophomore year. Before I decided, I took a few classes the year prior to get a feel for the department, and really loved the content, practice, and conversations I had in those courses. I knew coming into college that English was one of the possibilities I would consider, and it only took a few classes to realize this was something I wanted to stick with.

How has your English major impacted your worldview? How has it shaped you? I think in a lot of ways my English major has given me a lot of confidence as both a writer and a person. When I first started out I had a hard time seeing any sort of value in my pieces, and I constantly worried about saying the wrong thing in class. It took a long time for me to recognize that I was putting myself on way too high of a pedestal and that I wasn’t meant to be perfect– I was a student in practice. I put in the work to get where I wanted to be, and looking back on my pieces through the years, I am proud to see my growth. As far as my worldview, like I mentioned before English has given me more of an ability to empathize with individuals, which in turn has made me more open-minded and shown me the necessity of meeting people where they are at instead of where you wish them to be.

What advice would you give to someone considering a degree in English? If you’re on the fence about English, I would recommend taking a class or two to check it out– Intro to Creative Writing is a great way to test the waters for English with a writing emphasis. Additionally, English is incredibly versatile, so don’t listen to all the jokes about never finding a job– every job needs someone with good communication skills!


Stay tuned for Volume Two!

Alumna Feature – Kasidee Karsten (’13): “There’s No Right or Wrong Way.”

Kasidee Karsten ’13 took her English degree into the social media realm, working for the past few years as Social Media and Content Manager for the National Football League Players Association. She shares with us her insights on how her English courses at Hope led to her success.

Kasidee at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Ceremony.

What are you up to now?

I currently work for the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) as a Social Media & Content Manager. My job is to put together a communications strategy that includes social media, website content and email/text message campaigns to active NFL players. The NFLPA represents all active and former NFL players and collectively bargains over wages, working hours and benefits for NFL players. We also offer several programs for players like continuing education and tuition reimbursement, job shadows and externships, financial wellness, and mental health programs. It’s my job to get the word out about these programs to our player members so they know what’s available to them and what they can take advantage of while they’re in the league. I also work on crisis management for any important matters that relate to the NFL, whether that be healthy/safety, social justice, etc. All-in-all every single day is different, and that’s what I love about my job! Getting to support the best football players in the world isn’t bad either.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

At Hope, I was always pushed to think creatively and critically, two skills which are invaluable in my opinion. Learning to appreciate the way others view the world by reading their works has helped me to be able to understand my audience better and to make sure I’m communicating to them appropriately. Our world today is very focused on the quick-hit, flashy headlines, but can lack substance beyond that. Hope English gave me a solid foundation for writing pieces with substance and taught me how to find the stories worth telling.

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

One of my favorite things about English is that there are so many possibilities! Knowing how to effectively communicate, justify your thoughts and think critically are skills that will bode well in any career path. Whether it’s journalism, public relations, legal, advertising, brand strategy, etc. having an English degree is something that will allow you the versatility to find a path you really enjoy. It also helps you stand out from a crowd when it comes to applying for jobs and interviewing because you’ve learned to research, problem-solve and effectively communicate your skills. It seems standard to those of us who are naturally good writers and communicators, but there’s actually a huge lack of these skills in the professional world.

Kasidee interviewing play Richard Sherman for the NFLPA

If you could teach any English class, what would be the title?

Either “How to Master Your Audience” or “Social Media DTR: Why It Should Only Be a Part of Your Communications Strategy.” A lot of the work I’ve done over the past few years has been how to really understand the audience I’m speaking to versus slapping something on Twitter and hoping it sticks. It’s actually quite hard to learn how to tell a 20-something football player why they should care about personal finance! There’s a lot of thought and care that goes into creating a good social media strategy than most people think (see: Massive Corporate Social Media Horror Stories), and I love finding new ways to help campaigns land well.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

I recently read American Dirt and couldn’t put it down. These days I have a hard time finding books that I can really dig in and that keep my attention, and this one was so painful, intriguing and exciting at the same time.

Anything else to add? (writing process, advice, managing expectations for success, etc.)

It’s important to find a process that works for you! In college, I found myself comparing my writing process to others and the truth is that what works for me might not work for you. Some people dive right into their thoughts and they flow perfectly, others need outline after outline before getting something concrete down on paper. There’s no right or wrong way–the process is really what counts and what you learn the most from.

Kasidee at Super Bowl LIV.

Kaijsa Johnson’s “A Look Back for Looking Ahead”

Editor’s Note: Students in English 480: Introduction to Literary Theory began the semester by writing reflections on their lives of reading thus far. This post is a revision of one of those essays.

Kaijsa Johnson, Class of 2021

Reading literature has always been a passion of mine, ever since my mom would read Harry Potter to me. I eagerly anticipated each new installment in my childhood years. The value I place on reading has influenced me to major in English and pursue a career or graduate degree in children’s literature. 

Image via Unsplash

Along with my love for children’s literature, I gravitate towards English because my whole family were English majors. I also believe that the influence of the Jane Austen movies and novels, like Pride and Prejudice and Emma, pushed me to explore more in the literary field that I loved as a child. The novels and series that my parents and my schooling exposed me to have shaped the way I perceive the world. The joy I felt when reading Harry’s magical friendships and the thrilling adventures of the Magic Tree House series pushed me to read more and analyze more. I hope to help the next generations of children do the same and so much more because the next generations of children deserve to escape to a whimsical place or see their identity reflected back to them in the pages of a meaningful book. Hope College offered me the opportunity to analyze my childhood literature as well as new literature well-suited for my professional aspirations.

Throughout my English education, I have been exposed to works of many backgrounds and cultural experiences that will help influence my career in children’s literature. Learning about other societies and cultures through paper was one of the ways I felt I could reach outside my little bubble of Winchell Elementary. I was involved in the Global Reading Challenge in elementary school, which meant that I was able to read more books written about ethnically, culturally, and racially diverse backgrounds other than my own and most of my classmates. In high school, I remember the boring tales of Aeneas or The Iliad and The Odyssey along with books such as Into the Wild or In Cold Blood. My college years brought me classes in which I could expand on the books I had read in elementary school with courses such as American Ethnic Literature and Children’s Literature. In all these books, I simply enjoyed the worlds I could dive into while seeing each author’s writing style.

Image via Unsplash

I’ve always been drawn to the historical approach to written work. I’m fascinated about events in our own history that may have contributed to the author’s creation or viewpoint for a fictional work. It’s especially interesting to look at a fictional work set in either our world or its own unique world that makes statements or compares events from our history. Finding tidbits of subtle historical facts is also interesting in a biography or some other work of nonfiction. For children, this may not be the case, yet I wonder how much they do pick up on. As a child, my teachers would point out historical facts in the novels we read and I was always amazed at the author’s knowledge and inspiration. 

College supplied me with the analytical lenses to pour over texts more substantially than I did in my childhood years. I have looked at a feminist angle as well as examining the ways that class and societal systems can influence stories. I utilize these in my rereading of Jane Austen. Yet these lenses just take me further in the ambition to read that began with my childhood exposure to literature.

Literature isn’t only for one literary critic or writer with a seemingly refined or collected sense of literature to relay their knowledge to the rest of literary scholars. In my Children’s Literature course, we keep coming back to the danger of a “single story,” a story only showing one perspective from one demographic. The danger of this is that children and adults alike can be influenced to only view a demographic from that single story they read. All the writers of past and present, wise and experienced, have their own voice to be heard and story to convey. While those with accomplishments can instill wisdom in others, they should not be the only voice of reason in a field.

Alumnae Feature: Shanley Smith (’19) on Community Building in Romania

Recent grad Shanley Smith (2019) spoke with the English Department about her post-Hope path, which included mission work in Romania and a sudden return home to Holland in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What do you plan on doing with your degree?”

Of all the answers I had prepared throughout my years of undergraduate, teaching rock climbing to youth in Romania wasn’t on the list. Yet as I marched to grab my diploma in 2019, that was the answer I had up the flowing sleeves of my graduation gown.

I moved to Lupeni–a Transylvanian town roosted between the Carpathian Mountains–a few weeks after graduating from Hope with a degree in Creative Writing and Classical Studies. My life developed a rhythm that summer that, as I look back, feels nothing short of idyllic. Work tasks varied: I set routes at the gym, kept spontaneous water fights under control, and belayed young climbers as they scaled rock faces in the Carpathians. Sundays, my only day off, were dedicated to soaking in the Transylvanian landscape. When sabbath arrived, we’d rise early to spend morning and afternoon in the glory of the mountain ranges.

Even after stretching my eight-week internship into three months, I hadn’t satisfied my growing adoration for Lupeni. During week three, I volunteered at a children’s book camp. My supervisor directed me toward it when she discovered our kindred passions for literature and education. The book camp, one of a kind, revolved around children’s rights. Every book we read empowered children to know and speak of for their rights as determined by UNICEF. This is how I met Brandi, an American-expat librarian. Out of her own home, she ran the town’s only library–one dedicated specifically to children’s literature. What blossomed from Brandi’s response to a need in her town had over the years grown into a national literacy initiative. She founded Citim Împreună România (Reading Together: Romania), an organization that promotes reading aloud to children in a fashion that fosters enjoyment and produces lifelong readers. She has lectured at events across the country on reading techniques and helps run Romania’s annual incubator for children’s authors and illustrators. This incubator has helped put children’s lit on the map as a respectable genre and prides itself on empowering artists to incorporate Romanian narratives into their books. In short: Brandi had the Midas-touch of creative innovation.

My coworkers at the gym enthusiastically endorsed my interest to intern for Brandi in the future. Though it should be said, no one was more excited than Marc. At the time I referred to him as just a friend; a year later he slipped a ring onto my left hand. But that’s a different story, albeit one of my favorites

In August I returned to the United States with an internship offer and a long-distance boyfriend. By January of 2020, I had stuffed my life into two suitcases to return to both of the aforementioned prospects. Little did I know I’d only stay two months.

Covid-19 showed up swiftly at Romania’s door in March. The schools closed. Library programming stopped. Then my sending organization called. Rumors circled that the United States would close its borders. Two days later Marc and I boarded a plane bound for Michigan.
Looking at the latter half of 2020, I knew the months to follow wouldn’t go according to anyone’s plan. I couldn’t help but think of Brandi in Lupeni. When she saw her community in need, what did she do? She met the need. She created a library.

As fall neared in Michigan, I looked around at the community that had raised me. Chatter about school systems peppered the streets. Would they remain online? How would we keep families healthy? But the question that stuck with me: What about outdoor education?

It’s times such as these when the often quoted words of Frederic Beunchner come to my mind: “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” This summer I looked around Michigan and saw a community in need of safe activities for their children. Experts had already declared the outdoors a low-risk environment. And during times as wild as 2020, I knew that a little art goes a long way in restoring hope. In response to a growing enthusiasm for outdoor education, I developed Creative Explorers: a nature-based writing program specifically for young artists and outdoor enthusiasts.

I intend to pilot my first classes this fall. At times, I wonder if I’m the person for such a task. But then I remember Brandi. The woman who stepped up in her community. She noticed the need intersecting with her deep gladness. I look at her story and recognize, that’s exactly where I now stand.

For the foreseeable future, I look forward to giving back to the West-Michigan community as I teach classes on the very soil that raised the writer I now am. Beyond that? I plan to let the road ahead continue to surprise me. So far my path has done an exceptional job at that. And truth be told, I’m a bit excited for whatever twist astonishes me next.

Spring 2021 Course Preview

Online Registration for next semester starts the week of October 26, and we’ve rounded up the upper-level English course offerings that we think you’ll love!

General Education Courses

ENGL 155: Intro to Creative Writing: Poems – Susanne Davis (FA2)

Image via Pixabay

Course Objective: To practice writing poems and have fun doing it! We will read poems, learn poetic techniques and put together the practice of craft with our unique expression and vision. To master one’s art requires practicing craft and analyzing how master writers practice their craft. A range of poems both classic and contemporary will help us write poems of our own. We will examine the power of image, line, speaker, diction and rhythm. Powerful art also depends, in part, on the felt experience of our humanity captured through the written word. As we develop aesthetic taste, our heart guides our responses to art. In this course we will begin to develop and hone our aesthetic taste (some of this a mysterious process at best), all toward the purpose of strengthening our own poetry. In order to succeed, this class needs for every student to possess a sincere desire to write and read, evaluate the work of others in the class and receive criticism of your own work.


ENGL 231: Literature of the Western World 1 – Stephen Hemenway (CH1, also counts for the English major)

Image via Pixabay

Aesop’s fables and Homer’s tales of war and adventure start you on an odyssey of ancient literature. Frowns and smiles accompany your dramatic responses to Greek tragedies and comedies. Ancient Roman and medieval Italian epics send you on a spiritual journey that also embraces excerpts from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita and the Chinese Tao Te Ching. Chaucer takes you on a pilgrimage with the Pardoner and the Wife of Bath, and Cervantes inaugurates a quest for an impossible dream with Don Quixote. Sappho, Lady Murasaki, Margery Kempe, Marguerite de Navarre, and Sor Juana de la Cruz go places where few females dare to tread. Michelangelo, Columbus, and Shakespeare lead you through the Renaissance and Reformation and prepare you for the modern world. As you investigate and explore these authors and works, you read and take tests or written test alternatives, write journals and short papers (or a longer research project), and engage in lively discussions about these masterpieces of Western literature in a global context.


IDS 171: From Virgil to Dante – Curtis Gruenler (CH1, also counts for the English major)

Domenico di Michelino / Public domain

During the 1500 years between the birth of Christ and the Renaissance, the world as we know it today took shape through changes such as the rise of Christianity and Islam, the invention of romantic love, the formation of modern nations, and the interaction of Christian and classical thought. Yet even though this is such a formative time for our own culture, people saw the world much differently that we do. We will try to imagine medieval life and understand medieval thought through the lenses of history, literature, philosophy, and to a lesser extent theology, music, and art. Transporting ourselves to the past can give us a new perspective on the present and on big questions like what makes a good life, what it is to love, and how people can live together well in communities and nations. This will happen most powerfully through our encounter with great texts from this time such as Virgil’s Aeneid, Augustine’s Confessions, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, philosophical works by Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, the Lays of Marie de France, and above all Dante’s Divine Comedy, which we will read almost in its entirety. Students will write several short papers, one longer essay, and midterm and final exams.


IDS 172: Banned Books: From the Printing Press to the Internet – William Pannapacker (CH2)

Image via Unsplash

What makes some writers so dangerous? Why would the Zeeland Public Schools get so upset about Harry Potter? Why did some readers think that The Catcher in the Ryewas a threat to American national security? Why would the Catholic Church maintain an Index of Forbidden Books for more than 400 years? Are some scientific discoveries too dangerous for the public? Why was freedom of the press a crucial part of the revolutions in England, France, and the United States? Should some books, such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, be banned from schools because they are too offensive? Why have banned books, such as Voltaire’s Candide and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, become bestsellers and literary classics? Why do some people still discuss Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud in hushed tones? Why is the struggle between freedom and censorship a challenge that every generation must face? Those are some of the questions “Banned Books” will attempt to answer.

Designed for future teachers, scientists, librarians, activists, and journalists—as well as anyone who cares about the complex interplay of history, philosophy, and literature—”Banned Books” provides an overview of major events in Western Civilization during the last 500 years, from the Reformation to Globalization—while encountering a selection of banned books as a basis for more in-depth understanding of cultures to which they responded. Materials are not included in this course gratuitously; participants must risk being shocked and offended by some of the texts and images. While this course will not take place in a moral vacuum, “Banned Books” endorses no specific agenda other than the need, as mature thinkers, to balance freedom with responsibility.


ENGL 232: Literature of the Western World II – Emily Tucker (CH2)

Image via Unsplash

This course will cover Western literature from the late seventeenth century through the twenty-first century. We will read drama, novels, poetry, and short fiction in order to explore how literary works have shaped the modern’s world’s approaches to concepts like love, time, religion, science, and the pursuit of justice. We will also examine the values that have influenced the development of a canon of Western literature, as well as the efforts that have been made to challenge, critique, and expand this canon. This endeavor will take us through a number of brilliant representations of moments in Western culture: snarky cynicism among the seventeenth-century French aristocracy, clashes of sentiment and reason in early-nineteenth-century Britain, challenges to sexism and racism in twentieth-century Hollywood, and many more. Authors are likely to include Molière, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Jonathan Swift, Phyllis Wheatley, Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel García Márquez, and Lynn Nottage.


Upper-level English Courses

ENGL 248: Monsters, From Beowulf to Beloved – Jesus Montaño

Image via Pixabay

What if we read Beowulf, an early medieval text written in Old English, through the lens of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a novel about a ghost and about slavery? What would we learn about ourselves? About others?

This course is about monsters. It is a course on literature, because tales and stories are where monsters find form, where they find life. In this, monsters are bound up in our imagination, in what we find abhorrent, frightening, horrifying. And. To a large extent, what we most fear is the Other. This, then, is our task: to look at monsters through “dark” lenses that allow us see the devaluation of humanity in the making of monsters: in other words, the making of Others.

Along with Beowulf and Beloved, we will read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Jorge Luis Borges’s “The House of Asterion,” a short story told from the perspective of the Minotaur.


ENGL 253-02: Intro To Creative Writing – Susanne Davis

Image via Pixabay

“To master one’s art requires both the practice of craft and analyzing how master writers practice their craft. In this creative writing class we will read good contemporary fiction, poetry and essays and learn to read the way writers read: to discover how the author achieves the singular effect through elements of craft. We will also learn the writing craft through images, energy, tension, pattern, insight and revision in order to write stories, poems and essays of our own. The mentioned elements are basic building blocks for the techniques in each genre. In prose, those techniques are character, plot, setting, dialogue, and point of view. In poetry we will examine the power of image, line, speaker, diction and rhythm.
My promise to you this semester: As you build your artistic expression you will capture the felt experience of humanity through your written word. As you develop aesthetic taste, your heart will guide your responses to art. In this course we will begin to develop and hone your aesthetic taste (some of this a mysterious process at best), all toward the purpose of strengthening your own writing. In order to succeed, this class needs for every student to possess a sincere desire to write and read, evaluate the work of others in the class and receive criticism of your own work.


ENGL 271 – British Literature II – Emily Tucker

Image via Unsplash

This course covers British literature from the 1790s until the present, and proceeds from the understanding that Britain’s empire-building during this time produced an increasingly complex British identity. Literary works played many roles in the formation of this identity. Imperial powers used the written word to preserve traditional British culture and to promote or dispel various anxieties about Britain’s global presence. Colonial subjects fought to tell their own stories. Sometimes, readers and writers from around the world found ways to listen to each other. As the empire took shape across six continents and grew to cover a quarter of the Earth’s land surface, words built worlds, and the literatures of the British Empire developed around an increasingly diverse national identity.

The course will begin with the Romantics, whose revolutions in literary form coincided with new understandings of humanity’s relationship to nature, the divine, the past, and the international sphere. As the nineteenth century continues, we’ll trace the growth of literary realism and explore the ways in which technological developments in travel and communication generated new fascinations and fears about Britain’s role in the world. We’ll then turn to literary modernism, which developed increasing stylistic complexities as writers wrestled with the tumultuous world of the early 20th century. We’ll conclude by examining postcolonial and postmodern efforts to transform the political and artistic conventions of British literature


ENGL 371: Ernest Hemingway – Stephen Hemenway

Image via Pixabay

For more than seven decades, people have asked me if I am the illegitimate son of Ernest Hemingway. No, I am not; we spell our names differently. However, I have come to terms with this mysterious and macho man whose complicated reputation has made his name a household word globally. Since preparing for this course four years ago, I have visited Hemingway haunts in Paris, Petoskey, Pamplona, Key West, Cuba, and Walloon Lake.

In “Ernest Hemingway: Fiction and Film,” I will present several of his short stories and novels and Hollywood versions of them to help you grapple with his “lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame” (New York Times, 1926) and the “technicolor adaptations featuring foreign settings and doomed love, and always at least half an hour too long” (Slate, 2007).

To whom should this course appeal? All English majors will get substantive views of “Lost Generation” themes and techniques that propelled Hemingway to fame and to influencing subsequent authors. Creative Writing students will have chances to study and imitate his hard-boiled and economical realism. Secondary Education students will emerge with lesson plans for teaching such classic high-school texts as A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea. Scientists will cherish his celebration of nature.

Women’s Studies and Psychology majors will meet “the enemy” often depicted as a multi-married misogynist. Midwesterners will love the northern Michigan settings of his Nick Adams stories. Film buffs will crave cinematic interpretations that often transformed Hemingway heroes into Hemingway clones. Travelers and adventure-seekers will want to do spring breaks in Oak Park or Mt. Kilimanjaro. I sincerely hope that Doc Hemenway on Papa Hemingway will appeal to your literary palate.


ENGL 375: Global Shakespeares – Jesus Montaño

Image via Unsplash

This course is about Black Shakespeare, Latinx Shakespeare, Chilean Shakespeare, South African Shakespeare, Bollywood Shakespeare, all the Other Shakespeares. It also is about William Shakespeare. This course asks students to consider why, how, and in what ways we read Shakespeare, we perform Shakespeare, and we teach Shakespeare. This course, in this way, is about the Bard and his times, in as much as the “afterlife” of Shakespeare, that is, Shakespeare in our current moment of racial and decolonial reckoning. Therefore, alongside three Shakespeare plays, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar, the most widely taught plays in high school curricula, we will read several “companion” texts that will direct our attentions to race, ethnicity, gender, ableism, and belonging, texts such as If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. In this course, students will be invited to engage in Global Shakespeares Studies by exploring the Shakespeare of their interest(s) in films, novels, history, and/or performances.
Students in Education, Theatre, and Communication are encouraged to join Literature and Creative Writing students in this important and dynamic class.

Alumni Spotlight: Emily Henry (’12) “Everything Sustainable Takes Time”

Emily Henry (2012) has published six books, and her most recent novel, Beach Read, spent over 12 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. She spoke with the English Department recently and shared her insight on publishing, how failure makes you a better writer, and what her Hope education brought to her career. Check out her insights below!

Emily Henry, 2012 English Dept Alumna

What are you doing now?

I’m currently working on my third novel for adults! My first came out in May (Beach Read) and my second will come out next year. (Between 2016 and 2019, I published a few books for teens.)

How did your Hope English education shape you?

In so many ways. Firstly, on a very practical level, I was able to take a novel writing class at Hope that really prepared me in a way I’m not sure anything else could have. We followed the National Novel Writing Month model—each of us writing 50,000 words within a month, and that kind of unedited fast drafting, followed by slow rewriting afterward, is still how I work today. That class freed me from the kind of perfectionism and fear that makes it hard to finish anything. 

But in a broader sense, I think having a liberal arts education was just good for me as a person and a writer. It taught me curiosity, and made me think a lot about the ways that everything is connected, and that’s what a lot of my work is about now.

Beach Read by Emily Henry (Berkley, 2020), which spent over 12 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers List

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

I can’t imagine anything much more beneficial than studying books and writing. For any job, being able to communicate well—and understand other people—is so helpful. If an English degree is something you’re excited about, I’d definitely recommend it.

As far as advice, I’d say try everything you’re curious about. Give yourself a chance to figure out what you might love, things you wouldn’t have even considered. And don’t be a snob. There is no one right way to write or right thing to write about. Read widely. Write widely. Try it all.

If you could teach any English class, what would be the title?

I used to think I wanted to teach, and now I really, really don’t. So if I was going to, I would use my class as an excuse to trick people into reading romance novels because there is so much to learn about writing from a really great romance novel and there is so little credit and respect given to the genre. It would just be a glorified book club, and I’d call it Everybody’s Hot because I think people would sign up for that. 

Favorite book read recently or in college?

Some recent favorites are Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, Kerry Kletter’s East Coast Girls and Brittany Cavallaro’s Muse, which comes out in February.

Emily Henry, 2012 English Dept Alumna

Anything else to add (writing process, advice, managing expectations for success, etc.)?

My standard advice for anyone pursuing publishing is to fail hard and fast. Failure and rejection are essential parts of the job, and if publishing your work is important to you, your best bet is to not let fear of that failure slow you down too much. As far as managing expectations: building a career as an author is a slow, steady thing, and that’s okay. Even when you think someone was an overnight success, that’s almost never the case. Everything sustainable takes time!

Get To Know Your English Professors: Round 2!

Here is the second round of #GetToKnowYourProfs! We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about our faculty!


Michael Brooks

How long have you been at Hope? I graduated from Hope in 2013 and began teaching here last autumn (2019).

Favorite Subject to teach? My favorite class to teach is Outdoor Writing, an ENGL 113 class thematically centered around how people and places shape one another.

Favorite Movie? I enjoy the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Favorite Book? That’s a tie between John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and David James Duncan’s The Brothers K.

Favorite Hobbies? I enjoy rock-climbing, hiking, and anything else I can do outdoors. I also make music in my spare time. You can check some of it out on my YouTube channel.


Ernest Cole

How long have you been at Hope? 12 years.

Favorite Subject to teach? Global literature, especially Postcolonial literature

Favorite Movie? Cry Freedom & Sarafina (Can’t decide between the two)

Favorite Book? Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Favorite Hobbies? Watching the English Premier League.


Susanne Davis

How long have you been at Hope? Just over 1 year.

Favorite Subject to teach? Creative Writing, fiction of all stripes.

Favorite Movie? Second Hand Lions. I watch it once a year with my family and we eat hot fudge sundaes for our meal as we watch!

Favorite Book? I love so many books I can’t choose.

Favorite Hobbies? I have been told by my family I need more hobbies to help me take a break from working. I love to run, I love to make chocolate chip cookies for my students, (I made so many for my kids they won’t touch them now), I love dancing, and let’s see– is laughing a hobby? I love to laugh. And I love sailing!


Curtis Gruenler

How long have you been at Hope? Since fall 1997.

Favorite Subject to teach? This is tough, but I especially enjoy the literary theory course because students bring up such a wide variety of texts for us to look at through different theoretical lenses. It always expands my lists of books to read, films and TV shows to watch, music to hear….

Favorite Movie? I’m a big fan of Wings of Desire by director Wim Wenders, which I just noticed is currently streaming on Amazon.

Favorite Book? The Lord of the Rings

Favorite Hobbies? Playing frisbee, preferably at the beach; board games; growing perennials; walking, preferably among trees; cycling. And of course reading and writing: it’s an occupational hazard for an English professor that work and hobby tend to blend into each other.


Alex Mouw

How long have you been at Hope? I graduated from Hope in 2014, returned to teach for the 2017-18 academic year, and now I’m teaching a section of English 113. It’s good to be back again (again)!

Favorite Subject to teach? I love teaching in the cultural heritage program. The blend of subjects and students’ interests makes it a unique challenge and a uniquely rewarding liberal arts experience.

Favorite Movie? Pan’s Labyrinth.

Favorite Book? Collected Poems of Marianne Moore. She’s my hero.

Favorite Hobbies? I like to run, and my wife and I have been successfully growing a few herbs on our porch in Saint Louis. It’s not a lot to brag about, but we take what we can in the pandemic, right? These days our dog is our biggest hobby—she wishes she could have the house to herself again.


Mike Owens

How long have you been at Hope? I’ve been at Hope for just over three years.

Favorite Subject to teach? I really enjoy both of the two major categories of classes that I teach: American literature and composition / business writing.

Favorite Movie? Among my favorites (and I’m showing my age here) are Bonnie and ClydeAnimal HouseApocalypse Now, and Dustin Hoffman’s staged for television version of Death of a Salesman.

Favorite Book? I don’t really have a very favorite, but here are four great ones:  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and White Noise by Don DeLillo.

Favorite Hobbies? Biking, running, day hiking, kayaking


Regan Postma-Montaño

How long have you been at Hope? I began teaching English and Spanish at Hope in the fall of 2015. Before that I directed the Step Up mentoring program housed on campus at Hope!

Favorite Subject to teach? Anything on peace and justice

Favorite Movie? Cinema Libertad (2009, directed by Arturo Menéndez).

Favorite Book? Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (my favorite summer 2020 read)

Favorite Hobbies? Traveling, baking, watching puppy videos on YouTube.


Emily Tucker

How long have you been at Hope? This is my second year.

Favorite Subject to teach? I love to teach 19th-century literature. I especially enjoy British novels and theater from this era, but it’s a fascinating century throughout the world.

Favorite Movie? Toy Story 3

Favorite Book? Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Favorite Hobbies? Singing, walking, learning about the histories of theater and television.


Kathleen Verduin

How long have you been at Hope? I’ve been at Hope since 1978; I came for what was supposed to be a temporary position. But I had also been a Hope student, so it was already a homecoming.

Favorite Subject to teach? American literature I and II.

Favorite Movie? Moby-Dick, of course.

Favorite Book? Well, I love the old black and white Hitchcock movies: Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, but especially the eerie Rebecca, with Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier…the Godfather films are great too.

Favorite Hobbies? Who has time? But I still do needlepoint once in a while…

Get To Know Your Profs: Round 1!

This year, the English Department is sharing fun facts about its faculty. Interested in knowing more about a professor? Want to know what are their favorite courses to teach? This series is for you. We will be posting more later in the semester, but here is the first round-up.

Professor April Best

How long have you been at Hope? This is my first semester and I am thrilled!

Favorite Subject to teach? Contemporary poetry and diaspora literature 

Favorite Movie? Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and anything else with Audrey Hepburn)

Favorite Book? There are so many! A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is a long-standing favorite that has stood the test of time.
Favorite Hobbies? Gardening, hiking, thrifting


Professor Bobby Bolt

How long have you been at Hope? It’s my first semester! I’m new to Michigan and happy to be here.

Favorite subject to teach? Composition

Favorite movie? The Life Aquatic

Favorite book? Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle

Favorite hobbies? Cooking, Hiking, Tennis


Professor Bethany Chambers

How long have you been at Hope? This is my first semester at Hope! I am excited about joining the team.

Favorite subject to teach? I teach English, public speaking, and communications. I enjoy teaching all subjects equally, and it is wonderful to have such  variety.

Favorite movie?  Truthfully? Step Brothers.

Favorite book? SOOO many came to mind, but I have to go with The Handmaid’s Tale

Favorite hobbies? I enjoy biking, walking, reading, going to the beach, listening to EDM, and motorcycling/dirtbiking


Dr. Stephen Hemenway

How long have you been at Hope? 49 years

Favorite subject to teach? World Lit I

Favorite movie? Shawshank Redemption

Favorite book? Ulysses by James Joyce

Favorite hobbies? Travel, cooking, Vienna Summer School



Dr. Lisa McGunigal

How long have you been at Hope? One year. I actually visited Holland six years ago after reading that it was one of Michigan’s best-kept secrets. Very true!

Favorite class to teach: It varies, but I always enjoy introducing students to new books, films, or blogs in all of my classes. I love hearing from my students that they’re sharing what we’ve read or discussed in the classroom with their family and/or friends—continuing those conversations that we’ve begun.

When I’m not in the classroom…: You can find me on the tennis court or basketball court. I also enjoy planning day trips or checking out eclectic museums. The Morse Museum in Winter Park, FL is small in size but houses the largest collection of works by Louis Tiffany—the stained glass exhibits are breathtaking.    


Dr. Bill Pannapacker

How long have you been at Hope? I came here directly from graduate school at Harvard in 2000. I never expected to stay so long.

Favorite subject to teach? American literature, especially the romantics: Whitman, Dickinson, Melville, Douglass, Thoreau. Also anything in American cultural studies, such as environmentalism and the presidency

Favorite movie? I like to find anything I have not yet seen on “best movie” lists of all sorts. Lately, I’ve become a specialist on the work of Werner Herzog.

Favorite book? Has to be Leaves of Grass. Moby-Dick is a close second. I listen to about 50 audiobooks each year, usually they are related to current events and politics.

Favorite hobbies? Being active: swimming, walking, biking, basketball, weight training, and–lately–pickleball. I’m getting better at cooking and container gardening.


Dr. Pablo Peschiera

Hope College – Professor Pablo Peschiera

How long have you been at Hope? This is my twelfth year at Hope, but I graduated from Hope in 1993.

Favorite subject to teach? That’s a tough one. I mostly teach creative writing, but I teach other kinds of courses, too. Each offers different rewards. Here are three and why I love teaching them:

  • English 355: Intermediate Creative Writing: Poems—deeply engaged students stretch themselves as poets
  • IDS 100: FYS Phelps Scholars Program—the brilliant, dedicated Phelps Scholars team, and the amazing students
  • English 113: Expository Writing—helping students unlock their potential as writers

Favorite movie? Embrace of the Serpent—this. movie. blew. my. mind.

Favorite book? 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, trans. by Gregory Rabassa.

Favorite hobbies? reading, writing, and translating—lifting weights and lacrosse—cooking.


Stay tuned for the next round!

Alumnus Highlight: “Why Visit America” author Matthew Baker (’09)

English Department alumnus Matthew Baker (2009) is still on a roll. His new story collection, Why Visit America, was named one of Esquire‘s “20 Must-Read Books of Summer 2020” and received a starred review from Booklist, which wrote: “Bold, captivating, and deeply relevant, Baker’s imaginative stories offer approachable, optimistic perspectives on morally ambiguous topics facing Americans, including what it means to be one nation.” Netflix, Apple, and other studios are reportedly vying for film rights.

Baker was featured in the Tom Andrews Memorial Reading of the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series in 2015 and again in 2018. For more about him, see his website and recent interviews in LitPub and Port.

Matthew Baker, 2009 alumnus of the Hope College English Department. Image courtesy of the author.

He shares his thoughts on the Hope College experience and some tips for current English students below:

What are you doing now?

Writing—writing stories, writing novels, writing screenplays—writing basically constantly.

How did your Hope English education shape you?

I’m most grateful for two things: having had the opportunity to volunteer as an editor for Opus, and having had the opportunity to take Modern English Grammar, which at the time was taught by Rhoda Burton. Every writer should take a grammar course and learn how to diagram sentences. I very passionately believe that. You can’t break the rules if you don’t know what the rules are to begin with.

I also did an independent study on graphic novels with Beth Trembley, which had an enormous effect on me as a writer. Curtis Gruenler’s course on the history of the English language was essential. Jack Ridl taught me sage wisdom about poetry. Heather Sellers taught me sage wisdom about fiction. Kathleen Verduin let me sleep in a spare room in her basement one summer when I didn’t have anywhere to live.

Also, Julie Kipp during class once made an offhand remark that films were literature too and that as students of literature all of us had an obligation to study film history (I think she was upset that nobody in the class had ever seen Apocalypse Now) and I actually took that to heart and I did—that summer I rented over a hundred classic films from Van Wylen Library, and I can say that despite being an unofficial assignment, that was probably the most important assignment I was ever given.

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

Read every issue of The Paris Review (which by the way you can read for free at Van Wylen Library) and learn to code.

If you could teach any English class, what would be the title?

Seditious Texts.

Favorite book read recently or in college?

Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus.

Anything else to add? 

There are secret tunnels beneath Lubbers Hall, which are worth exploring if you can find a way in.

Why Visit America by Matthew Baker, on sale now. Image courtesy of the author.

You can find more about Matthew Baker here:

Instagram: @mwektaehtabr

Twitter: @mwektaehtabr