Event: JRVWS Authors, Karen Russell and Nate Marshall

I am thrilled to say that Karen Russell and Nate Marshall will be arriving on campus this Thursday, March 1 to participate in the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series. They will host a Q&A at 3:30pm in the Fried-Hemenway auditorium and read from their work at 7:00pm in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts. It’s an especially exciting thought for me as I prepare to welcome an author whom I have loved for years, as well as another whose work I just recently encountered with immediate respect. For those of you who haven’t heard of either of them, let me tell you a bit about my experiences with their works.

When I was seventeen, I read Karen Russell’s short story “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.” It was a story that nipped at my mind for months to follow. Needless to say, I was excited when I found out that she’d be visiting Hope College. She was one of those pivotal writers that first spurred me on when I started exploring the world of contemporary literature. Her words bent my expectations of narration and plot and she introduced me to a new form of literature: magical realism.

Karen Russell

As I read her book Vampires in the Lemon Grove this summer, I found myself once again in the grip of Russell’s words. Her stories were infectious, permeating my thoughts long after I finished the collection. I often caught myself attempting to explain her bizarre plotlines to my friends, and I soon realized that her flare for magical realism had begun to creep into my own poetry. I do not offer my recommendation for Karen Russell’s work lightly; in fact, I must warn that her work stole my attention and snatched my thoughts in a way that stretched beyond mere entertainment. Russell sneakily inserts cultural reflections into her stories. Her latest novel Swamplandia! encouraged me to meditate on juxtapositions between family and individuality, selfishness and ambition, and faith and naivety. Be warned that Karen Russell will leave you with a busy imagination and a sensitive conscience.

Our other visiting writer Nate Marshall taps into the classic theme of home in his latest book of poetry. It seems most authors have spent a season exploring their childhood through writing. This makes sense, as our upbringings often shape how we view the world, but Nate Marshall’s book of poetry Wild Hundreds strides beyond an ordinary reflection on home. University of Pittsburgh Press is right to describe his work as “a love song to Chicago.”

Nate Marshall

Marshall brightens his poems with strikingly original material as he writes about Harold’s Chicken Shack in a series of three poems. The pieces work together in a beautiful exploration of strength, spirituality, and identity. In another poem, entitled “Palindrome,” he vivifies the age-old subject of romance as he tells a love story in reverse. Marshall’s words invited me into his nostalgia with an even balance of sweetness and grit. The material provided me with something to digest rather than simply taste, and he awakened within me an appreciation for streets I hadn’t walked, foods I hadn’t tasted, and churches I hadn’t attended. Marshall dropped me into blends of love and hate and left me in a perfect balance of peace and conviction. In his own words, Nate Marshall brought me on a journey through “a pool of grief puddling, / a stare into the barrel, / a push into open air,” yet as Marshall concludes, “ours is a love song.” He manages to string all the complexities of his upbringing together into a serenade for the streets where he grew up, and I am so thankful that he allowed me as a reader to listen to it.

I hope you all join me on March 1 at Nate Marshall’s and Karen Russell’s Q&A at 3:30pm in the Fried-Hemenway auditorium and their reading at 7:00pm at Jack Miller.

For more information feel free to visit the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series website.

EVENT: JRVWS Author, Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal

The second event of this year’s Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series is almost here! This Thursday, October 19, JRVWS will host multi-genre writer Paisley Rekdal. Rekdal is the author of two books of essays and five books of poetry and has had work featured in a number of noteworthy journals. Rekdal’s visit will include a question and answer session at 3:30pm in the Fried-Hemenway Auditorium of Martha Miller as well as a reading at 7:00pm in the John and Dede Howard Recital Hall of Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts.

In Paisley Rekdal’s most recent book of poetry, Imaginary Vessels, she explores feminism, violence, identity, and themes of containment, inviting readers to reflect on their own place in the world. When I first read Rekdal’s poetry, I was struck by her images, which are at once vibrant, graceful, and captivating: her “palace animals’ teeth” or the “fine chinks of spine/ unlocking perfectly/ from each other.” Rekdal’s poems range from traditional forms and rhyme schemes, to more genre-defying, narrative pieces. Nevertheless, each poem demonstrates an unmissable and intuitive understanding of shape and craft.

Rekdal’s work in other genres is no less compelling. In her latest non-fiction book, The Broken Country, Rekdal continues to explore violence, but also looks at cultural trauma and the specific experiences of Vietnamese immigrants.  Rekdal’s carefully chosen words were deeply moving and informative to me, though I had little previous exposure to her topics.  She gives a personal and human face to the trauma experienced as a result of war and immigration. Weaving personal reflections with the careful analysis of other stories and events, Rekdal’s prose provides a unique understanding of violence and immigrant identity.

Don’t miss your chance to connect with Rekdal this Thursday and hear her words come alive. In the mean time, you can also get your own copy of her books at the Hope College Bookstore or be thinking of questions to ask her at the Q&A.

This is also a good time to remind the Hope College community and the Holland community at large of the invaluable opportunity offered by JRVWS:  the chance to talk with and hear from publishing writers. Be sure to come out to this event and contact the director of the series, Susanna Childress, for more ways to get involved.

Dr. Susanna Childress enjoying JRVWS.

For more details about the event, check out the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series Website

— Grace Hulderman, JRVWS Student Intern