by Keri Haddrill & Claire Buck

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

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

February 4th: Marcelo Hernandez Castillo and Lesley Nneka Arimah

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

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

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

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

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

March 26th: Dawn Davies and Kaveh Akbar

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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