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June (Wilmsen) Severance ’45

June has published, at age 90, From the Inside: A Look at Nursing Homes and Their Patients in Today’s Elder Care System. The book provides her insider look at the day-to-day happenings of  nursing homes both as a resident and a friend to residents.  Central to those observations is her unique mix of humor, introspection, and occasional depression as she faced the work of getting well and coping with pain.

During the last decade June spent nine months in three different nursing homes in Montana and the Midwest. “People need to know what it’s like to be in a nursing home,” she said.

Though it occurred decades ago, her father’s nursing home stay in New York  remains seared into her memory, and was the impetus for the book.   “I was so furious,” she remembers.  “It was so negative.  To be in a nursing home is to truly be someone different.”  But, over the years, she says, she learned that “Nursing homes are NOT the worst thing in the world.  I came to scorn and stayed to praise,” she concludes.

June enrolled in Kalamazoo College at the age of 16.  She majored in English and theatre. The latter may not be surprising, given the fact that she had been a child performer at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. During her student days at K, a weekly campus segment she did on the local radio station eventually became a full-time job with CBS-WKZO in Kalamazoo. She worked on a feature called “News of Women Today,” which carried stories on women’s responses to World War II throughout the world and the effect the war had on women’s status and work.

June and her husband, Wayne, have lived near Whitehall, Montana for 20 years.  They spent most of their marriage in East Aurora, N.Y., where Wayne worked for Fisher-Price.  June earned her M.A.  at Syracuse University and taught there. She also directed plays at both the Buffalo and the East Aurora theaters. And she performed her own material in a series of one-woman shows. She and Wayne eventually moved west to be closer to their two sons and five grandchildren. She helped establish a theatre group in Whitehall. For four years, “Jefferson Valley Presents” staged an outdoor dinner theatre production on the Lewis and Clark expedition. June wrote the script, performed, and helped with the costuming.

Corey Marks ’92

Corey is a professor and director of creative writing for the department of English at the University of North Texas. He is a prizewinning author of two volumes of poetry, Renunciation and, more recently, The Radio Tree. Corey is also a poetry editor at the American Literary Review and a judge for the University of North Texas Rilke Prize, which recognizes mid-career poets. An article on Corey that mentions his roots in rural Michigan and at Kalamazoo College appeared in the NTDaily.com.

In Print

In Pursuit of Birds: A Foray with Field Glasses and Sketchbook
by Ladislav Hanka ’75

ankaBLLadislav Hanka ’75 is no ordinary bird watcher. His ventures through former Soviet military zones in Eastern Europe pursuing birds sometimes led to his arrest. Some of his bird watching tales are sobering, others are hilarious. Those stories, and Lad’s visual art, are collected in his newest book: In Pursuit of Birds: A Foray with Field Glasses and Sketchbook. Lad earned his B.A. at K in biology. He holds a master’s degree in zoology (Colorado State University) and an M.F.A. in printmaking (Western Michigan University). In his new book, Lad has collected nearly 200 drawings and etchings created in 35 years of printmaking. His drawings are based on field studies and on specimens preserved for study in museums. With his own artistic renditions of raptors, warblers, sparrows, nuthatches, juncos, woodpeckers, flickers, owls, vultures and many other birds, Lad shares his love of them in line and in story. In his stories he expresses a respect for the bird as a bird, not as a symbol or metaphor, but for itself. He shares his philosophy of life: to move gently across the earth without disturbing its rhythms but becoming one with those rhythms, including those of birds. During a trip to Tibet, Lad discovered the practice there of “sky-burials.” “This is a way that people in a land that is frozen solid for much of the year and lacking in wood deal with their dead,” he explained. “Corpses that have accumulated through the winter are assembled in spring, when a trained priesthood administers last rights. They flense the cadavers of meat and crush the bones to meal. Vultures, habituated to the practice, home in from miles. The practice, known as jhator, literally means ‘giving alms to the birds.’”

Off the X
by Mark McDonald ’73

cDonaldBLNear the climax of Off The X, Mark McDonald’s brutal, bleak yet highly readable book about violence and its costs, Colonel Magazine, the commander of a secret prison (and classified mission) near the present-day Iraqi-Jordanian border delivers to the the main character, Micah Ford, a forceful lecture on justification:

“There’s no why here. This drone stuff is the kind of ethically ambiguous shit that happens on a battlefield. Things go asymmetric and it just happens. We’ve all wrestled with it on this mission. You make policy in black and white, but you fight the battles in gray.”

How much cover should that gray give? is one of the key questions this book raises. Among that gray’s fruits: death, torture and the “this-drone-stuff” secret mission itself. The book, which McDonald, a prize-winning journalist, calls a “meld of fiction an journalism,” introduces those themes early and often. Chapter one opens in Arlington National Cemetery, at the double funeral of Micah’s father and fiancé, casualties of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. Chapter two reveals the background of his fiancé’s father, who served as an interrogator/torturer in the Shah of Iran’s Savak. Torture, its cover-up and the widening gyre of its degradation are a motif throughout the story. A more minor motif is the business and profit of war. Micah’s father is a former war hero and defense industry contractor.

The “gray” begets a lot of bloodshed and suffering, offered in sometimes excruciating detail. The author and some of his characters are erudite and literate. The journey in this book recalls Dante’s Inferno and Jerzy Kozinki’s The Painted Bird (another blend of fiction and fact, for which it has long been controversial to some). Level seven in Inferno is the circle for the violent:

“’When the violent soul
Uproots itself and leaves a corpse, Minos
Sends it to Level Seven. Protocol
Decrees that it not mitigate its loss
By choosing where if falls into the wood.
It falls where thrown by chance, and then, a grain
Of grief, it sprouts. Then, where a sapling stood,
There’s suddenly a savage tree, whose pain,
When harpies come to eat its leaves, must fine
A vocal outlet. Like the rest, one day
We’ll go to fetch the flesh we left behind,
But it will never clothe us in the way
It did, for Justice would be undermined
If one who robs himself should own once more
The thing he stole. So we will drag them here,
Those bodies, and the thing he was before
On each tree in this wood will hang, so near
Yet so far from its murderous soul.’”

In the end, two of the characters attempt and manage a deception to set at least one thing right, which saves a single life (or a few)—a person perhaps, or even likely, innocent of that for which he was incarcerated but nonetheless irreparably damaged. And even this needfully secret act of conscience comes at great risk to career, and maybe more. It’s a bleak vision, and an important book.

And McDonald writes very well. A description of a military hospital ward:

“Some of the men go on and on about how they got wounded, trying out different versions, getting their delivery down, getting their stories straight for the folks back home. The smaller the wound, the bigger the story. Hurt guys wash in, healed guys wash out, and everybody speaks some version of MIL–military idiot language, not unlike the dopey chatter of a second baseman to his pitcher. MIL-speak adjectives are essentially these: unbelievable, awesome and fuckin’. And then you had your three go-to adverbs: absolutely, totally and fuckin’.

“What did they talk about? Sports, sex, money, music, Obama, vee-hicles, the way things were so political back home, how their entire fucked-up lives were going to be different when they got back. Wives. Old girlfriends. Jobs. Booze. Changing their MOS. Their dicks. (Oh, they talked a lot about their dicks.) How fucked up their officers were. They dreamed up Top 10 lists. They played Who’d You Rather? The usual. It was the American id, unsheathed.”

And one more: an army medical officer recalls a meeting with a soldier whose wounds she’d previously treated:

“’So I ran into him a couple days later at Home Depot,’ she said. ’I needed some paint and I was checking out the color samples. Fan decks, they call them. You know, 10,000 freakin’ colors. Anyway, this guy was in the aisle just staring at this color sample in his hand, staring down at one of those little cards, and he was bawling and starting to hyperventilate. He went to his knees and his whole body was shaking. It was a real panic attack. I reminded him who I was and that he should take really deep breaths and that I would stay with him. He looked right at me–but it was more like he was looking through me–and he said he had killed a kid in Ramadi, shot the kid in the face, and this was the color of the little boy’s brains. That card, he was saying, it was the same color, and it had brought everything right back to him. ’I did terrible things,’ he said. I stayed with him for a couple minutes and he collected himself. I never saw him again. The card said ’Dutch Boy B13-2, Family Tree.’ That was the name of the color. I’ll never forget that. Some wounds, I think, are never going to heal. Maybe some of them aren’t meant to heal.’”

At the end of the book come the “Acknowledgements.” Usually this reader ignores such sections, but in this case, the “Acknowledgements” are worth a careful reading.

The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic
by Ginger Strand ’87

trandBLSay Vonnegut and most everyone fills in the blank: Kurt. But there was another Vonnegut, and when Bernard built silver-iodide generators and seeded clouds to create rain, he was the brother the government began watching. If the military could control the weather, well, that could be the next super weapon.

In her new book, The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic, author Ginger Strand ’87 explores the relationship between the two brothers and how each struggled with matters of morals and ethics involving their work.

Bernard Vonnegut was a leading scientist in a research lab at General Electric in mid-1950’s Schenectady, New York. His younger brother, Kurt, worked in GE’s public relations department, often writing press releases about the scientific discoveries Bernard had made in the lab. When one of Bernard’s discoveries had the potential to change weather, the military took notice. The Army oversaw Bernard’s work, calling it Project Cirrus, and the brothers shared perspectives on science being used to harm rather than benefit humankind. For Kurt, these were the themes that worked their way into his many novels.

“That, for me, was the interesting story that emerged in my research,” Strand says. “During their time working together at GE, they began to exchange ideas and talk about the ethical dilemmas Bernard as a scientist was facing. This was the era after the development of the nuclear bomb. There was a lot of talk about scientists and their responsibility for the use of their inventions.”

When Kurt Vonnegut wrote about what he saw going on at GE, his work was classified as science fiction. Strand says he found that baffling. To his understanding, he was writing social satire.

“During the day, Kurt would write peppy press releases about GE, but at night and on weekends, he would go home and write short stories,” Strand says.

Success, whether wanted or in some respects unwanted, came to Bernard for his work in the laboratory, but for Kurt, in literature, it did not come easily. He collected hundreds of rejection letters. He struggled to learn to write well. He often felt himself in the shadow of his brother’s genius, although neither brother let that get in the way of their close relationship. Eventually, Kurt would produce 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, five non-fiction books, and become known as a literary icon.
Ginger Strand is the author of three previous books, including Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate. She has written for a wide variety of publications, including Harper’s Magazine, This Land, The Believer, Tin House, The New York Times, and Orion, where she is a contributing editor.

De Zwaan: The True Story of America’s Authentic Dutch Windmill 
by Alisa Crawford ’91

rawfordBLMove over, Chaucer! Kalamazoo College has its own “The Miller’s Tale,” that of Alisa Crawford ’91, who recently won the state history award from the Historical Society of Michigan for her book De Zwaan: The True Story of America’s Authentic Dutch Windmill. Alisa is the resident miller at the De Zwaan windmill, which is located in Holland, Michigan. Achieving qualifications for that job was no “run of the mill” effort; nor was piecing together the origins and history of the mill she operates and loves. After many years learning to speak Dutch, study, apprenticeship and testing, Alisa became a Dutch-certified miller. Then after more testing, she was admitted to an elite Dutch guild of professional grain millers. Through that process, she came to know a number of mill historians in The Netherlands. Together they dug through dusty archives there, interviewed people connected to the De Zwaan mill, and crawled through the windmill searching for archaeological clues.

“At the time of its purchase,” notes Alisa, “authorities in The Netherlands thought it had been built in 1761 in the Zaan region in North Holland to make hemp rope, but then clues began trickling in that made that impossible.” Without giving away the end of the book, Alisa says of the mill that now stands on Windmill Island in Holland: “De Zwaan began its career far from North Holland and does not have a ‘purebred pedigree’, as originally presumed.” She indicates that it was assembled from the parts of several mills much later than 1761. However, that lineage, she writes in the book, “is what makes De Zwaan unequivocally authentic. Windmills were and continue to be working machines. When they break, they are repaired. When they become outmoded, they are re-purposed. When the parts wear out, they are replaced.”

Alisa received the award at the State History conference held in Saginaw. In her acceptance speech she noted, “I like to say I’m a miller by trade, an historian by degree, and now an author by award, and I thank the Historical Society of Michigan for that honor.” Her book is available on Windmill Island in Holland, at local retailers and online at In-Depth Editions.

Contrary Motion
by Andrew Mozina

ontrary Motion coverOn a musical instrument, contrary motion refers to a melodic motion in which one series of notes rises in pitch while opposing notes descend. In his debut novel, Contrary Motion, English professor Andy Mozina moves his 38-year-old character, Matthew Grzbc, in opposite directions in most every aspect of his life.

As a harpist living in Chicago, Matthew hopes to land a chair position in a symphony orchestra—but his every day has him playing on demand to dying patients at a hospice and to the sounds of chewing at hotel brunches. As a just-divorced man, he dates a woman with whom he suffers erectile dysfunction—even while he can’t stop lusting for his ex-wife who is about to become engaged to another man. He’s a devoted and attentive father to his six-year-old daughter—but the girl teeters on the verge of a breakdown after witnessing her father “in flagrante delicto” with her mother while Mom’s boyfriend is out of the house. Adding drama, Matthew’s father suffers a fatal heart attack while listening to a relaxing meditation CD—leaving his son questioning his sanity as well as his mortality.

When a longed-for audition for a harpist in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra opens career possibilities for Matthew (if only his harp would stop buzzing and twanging), he is pulled once again in opposing directions. To audition or not to audition? And, should he be offered the chair, to move or not to move away from his girlfriend, his ex-wife, his daughter, his life in Chicago?

Matthew’s saving grace, the glue to keep his life from splitting down the middle with all that contrary motion, is his sense of humor. It’s hard not to root for the guy between chuckles. He is as perfectly imperfect as are we all on those days when we take an honest look in the mirror. He is riddled with anxiety when most of his fears are never realized. By end of novel, all that anxiety becomes a tad exhausting—get it right, Matt! Do it, dude!—and then he does that, too, hitting the perfect note, humanly well.

Andy Mozina has taught English at Kalamazoo College since 1999. He is the author of the short story collections, The Women Were Leaving the Men, which won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, and Quality Snacks, a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Prize. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, and he has received special citations in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and New Stories from the Midwest. Mozina is also the author of a book of literary criticism called Joseph Conrad and the Art of Sacrifice.

Henry Yaple ’63

Henry recently completed a 30-year labor of love: a bibliography listing the thousands of works printed by a celebrated religious commune formerly located in Benton Harbor, Michigan. In the early 20th century the Israelite House of David (founded by Benjamin and Mary Purnell) was known for its semi-professional baseball team, whose players sported long locks, flowing beards, and major league talent. The Benton Harbor House of David was later re-organized by Mary Purnell as Mary’s City of David.

Yaple earned his bachelor’s degree in English from K and a Master of Library Sciences degree from Western Michigan University. He began his professional life as a librarian and bibliographer at Michigan State University. He retired as Librarian Emeritus from Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington) and did much of his compilation work during retirement.

According to Sue Moore, who wrote a story about Yaple that appeared in South County News, “The idea for researching and compiling a bibliography stemmed from his studies as a librarian. The sect headed by Benjamin and Mary Purnell, who had only an eighth grade education, realized that it could attract converts with written material outlining its beliefs. They didn’t attribute or date most of their works but published thousands of titles. The published works helped to attract large numbers of men and women to become members, some from as far away as Australia.

“According to Mary’s City of David web site, the sect published The Star of Bethlehem and by 1910 it was in its third edition, having circulated around the world to the churches and followers of the former six Israelite messengers. Their “Eden Springs Park” was in its second successful season in 1910 and on its way to become America’s premiere pre-Disney theme park. The House of David schools would provide education and recreational activities for its children, who soon developed into legendary barn storming baseball teams, known to Satchel Paige as “Jesus boys”, and traveling jazz bands that would catch the attention of America in sweeping nationwide vaudeville circuit tours throughout the 1920s. By the mid-1920s, and in spite of the worldwide economic depression, the Israelite House of David and Mary’s City of David would come to dominate southwestern Michigan’s economy, tourism and agricultural industries.”

Yaple’s retirement activities are not confined to academics. He is an avid skier, and has also published two works on that avocation. He and his wife, whom he met skiing, live out west in ski country.

Max Cherem ’04, the Marlene Crandell Francis Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Max  is one of four persons in the country honored with the prestigious Humanities Writ Large Visiting Faculty Fellowship for the 2015-16 academic year. He is spending this year as a research resident at Duke University and working in the Kenan Institute for Ethics. His work focuses on human rights, specifically the ethical challenges created by “externalized” state border controls: policies that try to prevent migrant arrival by projecting or outsourcing a nation’s authority over migration beyond its regular territorial borders. He gave an interview at the Kenan Institute explaining his research. Max earned his bachelor’s degree at K in philosophy and studied abroad in Nepal.

Gordon Rodwan ’62

Gordon is the author of Detroit Is: An Essay in Photographs. He will do a book signing as part of “Book Beat” on Sunday, February 28, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The event is free; for more information contact “Book Beat” at 248.968.1190. Gordon is a longtime member of the Photographic Guild of Detroit. He is a frequent judge and photography critic for that organization as well as the Greater Detroit Camera Club Council and the Photographic Society of America. His photos have appeared in numerous publications. At K he was a standout basketball player, and he studied abroad in Bonn, Germany. The longtime Detroit resident (more than 40 years!) earned a M.B.A. from the University of Michigan.

Morowa Yejidé ’92

Autism, incarceration, single parenthood, racism, eating disorders are some of the heavyweight topics Morowa takes on in her award-winning debut novel, Time of the Locust. Former Kalamazoo College employee (and occasional LuxEsto freelance writer) Zinta Aistars interviewed Morowa for “Between the Lines,” a book review radio show of WMUK, Kalamazoo’s local affiliate of NPR. You can listen to the interview here.

Cliff Van Eaton ’72

A book by Cliff has been named a finalist in the 2015 Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize. Manuka: The Biography of an Extraordinary Honey, is the ‘rags-to-riches’ tale of how a piece of scientific serendipity turned an unwanted honey into a ground-breaking medicine. The Royal Society of New Zealand is modeled on the original Royal Society in England, the oldest continuing academy of sciences in the world. An important function of the Society is the sharing of science-based ideas in the overall New Zealand community, and the Book Prize is a way of celebrating the efforts of writers and publishers in that regard. The competition is held every two years, and is open to all books by New Zealand authors that “communicate scientific concepts in an interesting and readable way for a general audience.” The judges noted that “manuka honey is a uniquely New Zealand product, valued here and internationally for its rich taste and therapeutic properties.” They went on to write, “… this delightful and surprising book … tells the captivating story of the science behind the discovery of the antibiotic effects of manuka honey, with a focus on the scientists and beekeepers who have brought this product to the world.” Cliff is a well-known writer on beekeeping subjects and is co-author of two books on bee diseases. For more than 30 years he worked as a beekeeper adviser in New Zealand, and has also assisted beekeepers in countries as diverse as the Solomon Islands, Uruguay, and Vietnam. This is his first foray into popular non-fiction. Manuka: The Biography of an Extraordinary Honey is now on sale in bookstores in New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The book is also available in the United States through Amazon.