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Associate Professor of Psychology Autumn Hostetter

Associate Professor of Psychology Autumn Hostetter left high school equally interested in the double entendre and the double helix. She loved literature’s exploration of the human condition, and she also loved the precision of science and the scientific method.

It didn’t take long for these seemingly separate strands to intertwine. The epiphany occurred in her freshman-year, first-semester introductory Gen Psych class. “That course revealed for me psychology as the intersection of science and literature,” says Hostetter. “It is a way to study the human condition using the reason of science.”

It wouldn’t be accurate to say she never looked back. After all, she did earn a minor in creative writing along with her major in psychology (at Berry College [Mount Berry, Georgia], a small liberal arts school of some 2,000 students who enjoy the world’s largest contiguous campus [some 27,000 acres—K, by comparison, has 1,450 students on some 66 acres] and who’ve been known to quip the school has a 5-to-1 deer-to-student ratio). As commencement approached, Autumn considered an M.F.A. (as next step to a dual career of writer/writing teacher) or a Ph.D. (as a pathway to becoming a professor of psychology).

Psychology—the double helix of science and literature—carried the day. Autumn completed her Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and began her teaching career at K shortly after. “I always wanted to teach at a small liberal arts college,” she says. Not surprising, perhaps; nor is her academic and research interests: the psychology of language and communication.

What’s the best song ever recorded?
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens.

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
“The Ugly Duckling.” The idea that what you are now doesn’t determine what you will be in the future has always appealed to me.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“There are people here who will be very excited to see you.”

What’s your favorite word?
Crock-ah-doddle. My two-year-old son Oliver’s pronunciation of “crocodile.” I like his better.

What’s your least favorite word?
Tepid

What turns you on?
Sunsets

What turns you off?
Guns

What sound do you love?
Silence

What sound do you hate?
Oliver whining

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Being a writer, or something perhaps in advertising, which combines writing and psychology.

What profession would you not like to participate in?
Being on an assembly line, anything monotonous where you don’t use your mind.

What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
Probably that first college psychology class, discovering that the subject carried the DNA of both literature and science. The professor, by the way, was a truly gifted teacher, one of the happiest, most optimistic persons I’ve ever encountered.

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?
Amelia Earhart, mostly to learn what happened.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?
When I was 10 my family took a two-week road trip west, driving from Georgia [Autumn grew up in Augusta] to Los Angeles, stopping at landmarks like the Grand Canyon. But mostly, I sat in the back seat reading Babysitter’s Club books that I’d already read.

What is your favorite curse word?
[The word] “badwords” [exclaimed with no pause between the parts]

What is your favorite hobby?
Baking. I love to make desserts.

What is your favorite comedy movie?
Earth Girls Are Easy, a film from the late 1980s starring Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, and Jim Carey. My grandfather makes a cameo appearance in one scene!

What local, regional, national, or world event affected you most?
Probably the September 11 terrorist attacks.

If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?
The question’s udderly ridiculous.

Dan Slattery ’79

Dan  is a painter who specializes in watercolors. The former president of the Northern Indiana Artists, Inc. , had an exhibit in his hometown (Mount Morris, Michigan), his first one there. Dan is a graduate of Mount Morris High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and earned a law degree from University of Michigan. He worked as an attorney for 18 years. Dan also teaches watercolor workshops with a focus on landscapes and seascapes. He also has worked in acrylic, oils, pen and ink, pastels, and ink washes.

David Kessler ’70

avidKesslerDavid is the subject of an article that supports one’s faith in human kindness. “A recipe for life: Bake. Swim. Give.” (Gretchen Kell, Berkeley News, 29 January 2016) describes David’s morning routine, centered around his morning swim for exercise. Or, is that actually true? Perhaps the swim is centered around the homemade sandwiches (with homemade bread baked three times a week, circa 5 a.m.) that David makes (sometimes up to 24 in number) to share with student lifeguards and fellow early morning swimmers. His actions are about much more than giving food–it’s a matter of touching lives and braiding different lives into shared stories. Several of those stories are mentioned in the article. One of his poolside beneficiaries calls David “the closest thing to a grandparent at Cal. He genuinely cares.” And another friend says, ““Who would do that? Nobody does something for nothing anymore. I thought there must be an angle, an ulterior motive. But it isn’t anything other than what we should all do. He’s making people’s lives better each day. He is being an example for others in a quiet, understated, unique and gracious way. And he doesn’t ask for a favor in return.” This is one article you definitely want to read. David makes K proud!

Dan Blustein ’06

Dan is the subject of “Member Spotlight” for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The article (by Laura Petersen) is titled “Dan Blustein journeys from marine biology to Hollywood and back again,” and it’s a good read, chronicling his interesting forays in the saga explicit in the title–though “back again” might more accurately refer to “marine robotics” rather than marine biology. Of particular note is the reference to Dan’s opportunities in K’s externship program. Those two experiences, one with octopi at the Seattle Aquarium and the other job-shadowing a physician, helped clarify what he wanted to do. Of course the article showcases that Dan’s path has been more spiral than straight line. How cool (and liberal arts!) is that.

Jean Folz Riser ’41

Jean died peacefully in her home with family present on the night of July 20, 2015. Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Jean earned her B.A. from K in biology. Later, while attending the University of Michigan’s summer graduate biology program at Douglas Lake, she met Nathan (Pete) Riser, her future husband. After completing her M.A. (zoology) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she studied and became a certified medical technologist at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo. During World War II she worked in a pathology lab near Lansing, Michigan. Her enthusiasm for that work was evident in her stories and detailed knowledge of pathogens. Before moving to Damariscotta, Maine, Jean spent more than 50 years in the Boston area, as a hospital pathology lab volunteer, a college anatomy instructor, a Girl Scout troop leader, a conservation advocate and a docent at the Peabody-Essex Museum of Salem, Mass. She was a lifelong learner, an avid naturalist, birder, photographer and hiker. Past 90, she was still able to walk two miles and to enjoy identifying fauna and flora. Jean was a world traveler, who took great pleasure in attending international scientific meetings with her husband. She also enjoyed living in New Brunswick and in New Zealand during sabbatical years, as well as participating in an East African ornithological safari and a South Seas sailing adventure. Throughout her life Jean maintained detailed records of natural history, family health, travel and other events of interest. In addition, she possessed encyclopedic knowledge on a great variety of topics from Asian art to Wagnerian opera to European history to scientific discoveries. Her daughter once said, “She was Google before Google.” Several of Jean’s relatives have K connections. Her mother Ruth Desenberg Folz attended K for a year. Jean’s first cousin, Samuel Folz, was a member of the class of 1947. And Jean’s daughter Claire graduated in 1967. Jean was predeceased by her husband and is survived by her three children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

How to Grow a Poet

Back when she was a third-grader in Marshall, Michigan, Kate Belew ’15 certainly wasn’t going to argue with Conrad Hilberry, professor emeritus of English and founder of Kalamazoo College’s creative writing program. If he told her she was a great poet—and he did—then she would prove him right—and she has.

Kate Belew and Jane Huffman

Kate Belew ’15 and Jane Huffman ’15

Jane Huffman ’15 had been writing stories all her life; by the time she was in high school in Livonia, Michigan, she’d learned enough about poetry to have her work published in an anthology. When it was time to choose a college, Huffman applied to only one: Kalamazoo College. “I saw Kalamazoo as a mecca for writers,” she says.

Of course Belew’s and Huffman’s orbits would coincide at K, and it was only natural that it would happen in one of the classes they both took from Diane Seuss ’78, writer in residence and assistant professor of English. Under Seuss’s mentorship, the two English majors (Huffman also has a major in Theatre Arts) have learned how they can turn their passion for words into their life’s calling, and both have done an extraordinary—although radically contrasting—job of laying that foundation.

Belew’s K roots run deep. Her dad, Kevin Belew ’85, had taken classes from Hilberry, and her mom, Patricia Franke Williams ’85, is also an alum. Yet another K grad, a class mom, was the one who had issued the invitation to Hilberry to visit with Kate Belew’s third-grade class.

At K, Belew has combined her passions for language (she and Huffman co-edit K’s literary journal, The Cauldron) and for dance (she also co-directs Frelon, the student-run dance company). As a first-year student, she received the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute for Environmental Education’s Nature in Words fellowship. Participating in the Great Lakes Colleges Association New York Arts Program during her sophomore year, she says, opened up her writing horizons and helped her envision her future as a writer. The culture shock of living in New York that term was huge: “I couldn’t even grocery shop for the first few days,” Belew recalls. “But writing was a way to understand what was happening to me.” Four days after returning to Michigan from New York, she left for her study abroad program in Spain, and the personal development and life experiences from that time gave her still more inspiration. Her Senior Individualized Project (SIP) is a collection of poems centered on the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca and is based on her experiences in Madrid.

Back on the K campus, Belew honed her skills with experiences at literary magazines and workshops. Along with Huffman, she served an internship at Sundress Publications (a national press), and she assisted Hilberry in planning a children’s poetry workshop in Kalamazoo. She has had work published in a long list of journals and reviews.

Likewise, Huffman’s K years have been spectacular. She’s studied at the Frost Place Advanced Poetry Seminar in Franconia, New Hampshire; the O’Neill Theater Center’s Critic’s Institute in Waterford, Connecticut; the Medieval and Renaissance Conference at Albion College; and the Newberry Library in Chicago, to name just a few. She has had dozens of poems published in anthologies and reviews; she’s won a number of awards and honors—not just for her poetry, but also for her work in theater. As dance is a second passion for Kate Belew, theater is for Jane Huffman. “I’m obsessed with language,” Huffman says, “and theater lets us make words visual and spatial. It’s the stage of the poet.”

For the next phase in her academic and literary life, poetry will take the forefront, because Huffman has been accepted into the prestigious University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, the top-ranked creative writing program in the world. Accepting her into its MFA program, the Iowa committee told Huffman they consider their candidates to be “the future of American literature.”

“To make it in poetry you have to be tough.”

Kate Belew and Jane Huffman are very different, in both their writing styles and their career goals. Huffman describes herself as a formalist, “drawn toward form and narrative.” Belew’s work, in Seuss’s words, is “nebulous, like grabbing air.” As Huffman is launching her graduate work at Iowa and hopes someday to get a Ph.D. (“I’m an academic person”), Belew wants to spend a few years in the workplace before she considers graduate school. She’ll choose a big city (“I could never go to Iowa,” she laughs), and hopes to teach poetry to children. Living up to the descriptor “nebulous,” used by Seuss to describe her poetry, Belew says, “My life is going to zigzag a lot.”

Both Belew and Huffman say that poetry influences the way they think. Writing a poem, says Huffman, makes the writer approach every word with precision and thoughtfulness; it lets them dig deep into a small area. Belew says that her poems are like a snapshot of one moment of her life. “They allow me to focus and to voice things I couldn’t articulate otherwise.”

What is it about Kalamazoo College that has given Belew and Huffman such a boost at such an early stage in their literary careers? Huffman knows a lot of words, but she can answer that question with just one of them: “everything.” “Everything I’ve done at K,” she says, “has helped me develop what I need to go out into the world as a writer.”

Seuss says she tries to instill some specific lessons into students in her writing classes, including:

•    Read all the time. She asks all her students to keep up with contemporary poetry.
•    Send out your work. Be prepared for rejection, cope with it when it comes, then send the piece out again. To make it in poetry, she advises, you have to be tough.
•    Be brave. Contact people you admire and ask them questions.
•    Sustain and help each other. Belew has learned, she says, “If somebody lifts you up, you lift the next person up.” To grow the community even further, they point out, K writing students have recently opened the Kalamazoo Poetry Collective to Western Michigan University students and other members of the Kalamazoo community.
•    Don’t take yourself so seriously that you’re not willing to take risks. In Huffman’s words: “My biggest lesson was to be fearless.”

Huffman and Belew agree that one of the major contributions K has made to their writing lives is community. “As a writer,” Huffman says, “it’s easy to isolate yourself. At the beginning, it’s just you and the page. But Di [Seuss] has helped us turn this thing we love into something we can do as a career.” Seuss agrees. “All of us have hermit tendencies, but writers need to make connections with other writers.”

Seuss says she’s been impressed by the class of 2015. “This senior class is amazing,” she says. Then, nodding toward Kate Belew and Jane Huffman, she adds, “and these are two of the amazingest.”

Gooooaaaaaalllllllllll!

Two quick stories about our 18th president-elect—one about soccer; the other, students.

First. For 30 years Jorge G. Gonzalez has attended every quadrennial World Cup soccer championship since 1986 except one: the 1990 tournament in Italy.

“Mexico wasn’t playing,” Gonzalez explains. “And a World Cup without Mexico is like a wedding without a couple,” he smiles, “still a great party but with the heart of the matter absent.”

Second. Gonzalez will begin his duties as President of Kalamazoo College on July 1. Until then he serves in the administration of Occidental College (Los Angeles, Calif.) as dean of the college and vice president for academic affairs. He wasn’t always an administrator. For 21 years–“the time of my life!”–he taught economics at Trinity University. He was a gifted professor, in part because he was so creative when it came to combining classroom learning with outside-the-classroom opportunities (often in different countries) where students could apply the learning. His students loved him. And now, former students, when they find themselves in L.A. for any reason, often reach out to connect with him.

“My secretary knows to always find time on my schedule for these students,” says Gonzalez, “a lunch perhaps or dinner with my family. Always! We both know that afterwards I’ll be happy and enthusiastic for at least a month!”

Love binds these two anecdotes—passion for soccer and passion for the outcomes of a particular kind of education we know as the K-Plan.

Example of the former: the London Olympics (2012) Men’s Soccer Tournament. After Mexico knocks out Japan in Wednesday’s semifinal to earn the right to face tournament-favorite Brazil in Saturday’s gold medal match, Gonzalez, having just watched the semifinal on television in Los Angeles, realizes he simply must be in Wembley Stadium in person on Saturday. No question! Also, no ticket for the match, no ticket for the plane, no reservation for a hotel in a very crowded city.

No problem.

Because within 24 hours, by some combination of dream, boldness and sheer luck, Gonzalez is indeed in London with all three. And on Saturday he’s in Wembley Stadium, midfield, 30 rows up. “The seat was so perfect,” he marvels. “I suspect it was some corporate sponsor’s whose representative couldn’t attend at the last minute.”

Mexico claims the gold medal in a 2-1 thriller; Gonzalez was there! and tears come unbidden whenever he recalls the memory. So, a great ending to a great adventure most thought Gonzalez crazy to begin? Yes, but the ending’s hardly the heart of the story. After all, things could have turned out differently in any number of ways.

The heart of the story is the boldness, the sharing of the adventure (he took along friends and family via social media) and the way that all the stars aligned to support his dream of being there. Sounds like the kind of undertaking only an undergrad who studied abroad his junior year (like Gonzalez did) would be likely to begin.

Gonzalez shared that story (and other outcomes of his study abroad, as well as more experiences of the last three decades, including his marriage to K alumna Suzie (Martin) Gonzalez ’83, that, unbeknownst to him, have prepared him for this presidency) in his first meeting with the Kalamazoo College community last month. Fluent in three languages (Spanish, English, and soccer, if one considers the sport a worldwide “language” with the capability of connecting people across differences) our 18th president-elect quoted a poet who wrote in a fourth: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe–“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. / Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

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Board Chair Charlotte Hall ’66 welcomes Jorge Gonzalez, K’s 18th president.

“I can imagine a Kalamazoo College even stronger than it is,” he says in that speech. “And it is an amazing place right now. [President] Eileen [Wilson-Oyelaran] has left it in a remarkable place. And I can imagine it even stronger. So I can’t wait until July 1 when I can work with all of you to make K a better place.”

K’s amazing because of the K-Plan, according to Gonzalez, which embodies a particular kind of education about which he is every bit as passionate as he is about soccer. The responsibility of a college is to graduate students who are ready for the world. And today, Gonzalez says, that world is being re-shaped by four major forces–technological change more rapid than ever before, growing international interdependence, diversity, and urbanization. The combination of the liberal arts and experiential opportunities to apply the liberal arts is the most effective education for today’s world because of the outcomes that combination yields.

Gonzalez describes the feeling of peace and belonging that a soccer fan experiences in an empty stadium, almost the way one might feel in a church, synagogue, or mosque. Someone passionate about education would feel the same in an imaginary and immaterial work of architecture shaped from the outcomes of the K-Plan. “That ’cathedral’ would include the ability to think analytically and critically,” said Gonzalez. “Outcomes include creativity and the capability to solve problems by drawing upon a variety of perspectives through the prism of different disciplines. And the ability to communicate effectively in writing and in speech, and to interact with people from many different backgrounds, which is both the workplace and the world.”

For 30 years Jorge G. Gonzalez has dedicated his life’s work to that kind of an undergraduate education that results in those outcomes. No wonder he finds time for any of his former students. No wonder they seek him out. And no wonder he’s joyful for at least a month after every meeting with them. After all, more effectively than any other educational option, the liberal arts enrich a life.

(The cover story of the Spring issue of LuxEsto, which publishes the first week of April, is an in-depth feature of our 18th president.)

Uncommon Reading

Before first-year students even arrive at Kalamazoo College they are shaping their class into a cohesive educational community. By way of K’s Summer Common Reading program, now in its 15th year, incoming first-years read the same book at the same time, connecting not only with their classmates through this common-but-uncommon experience but also with the many faculty and staff and the significant number of current students who also read the book and together share their insights afterwards.

Summer Common Reading author Vaddey Ratner at Stetson Chapel

The 2013 Summer Common Reading author Vaddey Ratner greets a Stetson Chapel audience with the namaskara, a Buddhist hand gesture that evokes utmost respect and adoration for the divine in everyone.

“It gives the students something to talk about, something besides ‘where are you from?’” says Dean of the First Year and Advising Zaide Pixley. “It’s all part of the teaching moment.”

Pixley helped launch and expand the Summer Common Reading program in 1999 and subsequent years.  “I love to read,” Pixley says. “And I wanted to give students a way to enter the world of ideas.” In 2000, with the support of the Provost’s office and Student Development, the program became official.

“The first book we chose was Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver,” says Pixley. “But we didn’t ask the author to come to campus. We soon decided that should be one of the criteria—that the author be here for orientation, meet with the students, and later, if possible, return for that class’s commencement.”

The book of choice in 2000 was Independence Day by Richard Ford, an author whom then-Provost Greg Mahler knew personally and had invited to attend. Writer-in-residence Diane Seuss, Professor of English Andy Mozina, Mahler, and Pixley were the original members of the committee that chose the books and organized the events. Membership on the committee has changed over time. Associate Professor of English Marin Heinritz was a member for many years and was responsible for bringing to campus journalist David Finkel, the program’s first nonfiction writer. Neither she, Seuss, nor Mozina are active members of the committee today, but Pixley’s presence has been a constant.

Is the reading experience relevant, even (or especially) when a book’s protagonist differs significantly from the predominantly 18-year-old readers?

“Oh my,” Seuss chortles, recalling the first-year students meeting the Ford. “A student asked Richard Ford how he expected young people to relate to his middle-aged, white male real estate agent protagonist. His answer: ‘Are you a Danish prince? If not, then don’t read Hamlet!’”

Mozina nods. “I’ve seen great discussions happen. I often see the energy grow during the course of the author’s time on campus, with students saying that now they understand and like the book a lot better than they thought they would, or did initially. By the time some authors left, the students seemed ready to adopt them.”

As the criteria for the book choice developed, Pixley made one point immoveable.

“The author must come to campus,” she says. “We look for someone who makes a good guest, who is an engaging speaker and enjoys interacting with students. That’s what makes our summer reading program different than the programs at many other schools—the presence of the author.”

Committee members meet to discuss new and upcoming authors that fit the bill.

“New book and author choices are challenging,” Pixley admits. “We have no flexibility on dates. They have to be here when the first-year students come in. We look for books that have been nominated for prizes, books that are being talked about. Although she isn’t on the committee this year, Di [Seuss] is very plugged in, she has 2,000 Facebook friends and they are almost all writers. An A list and a B list begins to take shape, and we get student peer leaders involved, too.”

Committee members read lots of books and talk about authors who might be an appropriate and feasible guest. Criteria include the content of the book, of course, the way in which it can represent a boundary-crossing for the students, and an author who is willing to be here and participate in person. “We all keep our eyes out for ‘the next big one,’” said former committee member Seuss, “often finding the perfect fit with a younger author on the rise, like Chimamanda Adichie, who visited us with her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, and has since won the Orange Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and a MacArthur Fellowship.”

Gail Griffin, professor emeritus of English, has been involved with the program since its inception. She adds: “We’ve often joked about it: either the day before or the day after an author visits, she or he will get a MacArthur award/Pulitzer Prize/National Book Award nomination. The track record is quite amazing; it defies logic.”

2014 Summer Common Reading author NoViolet Bulawayo signs books

The 2014 Summer Common Reading author NoViolet Bulawayo signs books after her Thursday evening reading. More than 300 students waited in line to speak with Bulawayo, and she signed everyone’s book.

“It has to be good literature,” Pixley states. “We look for something that is engaging to young people and doesn’t come with 400 pages of footnotes. Coming of age themes are good, and we want a book that is intercultural in some way, and that doesn’t have to mean that the book has to be about different countries. Detroit can have a different culture from Kalamazoo, too. We look for books that can foster intercultural understanding.”

The book choice of summer 2014 covers that cultural boundary, in fact. Incoming members of the class of 2018 read We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. The 2013 debut novel depicts the impossible situation of the person in exile, in this case a child leaving a beloved homeland beset with political turmoil and violence, poverty, starvation, and illness. As she grows to adulthood in a new place she realizes that she is caught between two cultures without being home in either. Bulawayo won the 2014 PEN-Hemingway Award, the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing, and the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2014. The novel was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize.

Anna Gough ’15 is a first-year experience coordinator along with Bryan Olert ’15. Both experienced the value of bonding over a book that often pushed their comfort zones.

“I still think about the book we read when I was a freshman,” Gough says. “In 2011, it was The Good Soldiers by David Finkel. I would never have picked it up on my own.”

“It’s really the whole idea of liberal arts,” Olert, a history major, adds. “The Summer Common Reading program challenges you to read outside of your field, all over the field.”

Now seniors, Gough and Olert helped plan all of this year’s first-year events, and both consider the reading program their favorite.

“As an English major, it was fun to organize something I enjoyed so much in earlier years,” says Gough. “I felt like I was a part of creating the future for the new students.”

“And it’s great job experience in event planning, networking, organizing,” Olert adds.

Beginning to end, the Summer Common Reading program has drawn together not only freshmen, but the entire campus, as older students find themselves picking up the chosen book as well, wanting in on the hot topic of the campus. Faculty and staff are involved, too, teaching to the book or participating as discussion group leaders.

“The program asks a lot of faculty,” Pixley admits. “Yet K faculty members are always game. I’ve been asked—how do I get people to read the book and lead discussion groups? People here are willing to step out, willing to try new things.”

“We prepare the peer leaders and discussion leaders, write a lesson plan, host the guest, and do all of the often complex negotiations with agents and publishers to bring the next writer to campus,” Seuss says.

“I can tell you that very few people comprehend the work involved,” says Griffin. “In choosing the book, in negotiating with the writer to come to Kalamazoo, in organizing the visit and the sub-components of the visit, in turning around the students’ submitted questions and consolidating them for the author, in shepherding the author around. That detailed, thoughtful, exhausting work is what has made the program go.”

While the committee does prepare a lesson plan and suggested questions for the discussion group leaders, Pixley says that “everyone is free to improvise as they see fit.”

Reading contemporary books rather than classics, Pixley says, is another aspect of the program that differentiates Kalamazoo College from other institutions that have started similar programs.

“The National Association of Scholars singled us out as being subversive in our book choices,” Pixley smiles. Challenging students to think and question, however, is part of the program’s goal.

Says Seuss: “Each book lands differently, and each entering class receives it in its own way. What I love is that the reverberations continue long after the writer has left campus; students live with the book, in one way or another, for the rest of their lives. Students in my first year seminar often refer back to the book or something the author said, and I hear seniors doing the same thing. Maybe the best sign of the program’s success is when we witness students struggling to make connections, to approach and understand differences.”

“Our student body is more diverse than ever,” says Stacy Nowicki, library director at Kalamazoo College’s Upjohn Library and a member of this year’s committee. “We have students from many different areas in the United States and the world and from different socio-economic backgrounds. The Summer Common Reading book helps students learn to interact with someone different than themselves. It gives them entry to each other. This summer’s book is about the immigrant experience, and any student coming to Kalamazoo College may feel like they are immigrating to a new community. Through discussing the book, they can bring up their own issues.”

Nowicki joined the committee this year because of her involvement with the Reading Together program. Reading Together is administered by the Kalamazoo Public Library and has much in common with Kalamazoo College’s program. In both, an entire community reads the same book, joins in discussion, and meets the author.

“Success is [the] struggling to make connections, to approach and understand differences.”

“The important thing is for students to feel connected,” Nowicki says. “It’s a good way for professors and staff to get introduced to the incoming students, too. I’m guessing in that way it helps retention. And the discussion groups help students learn how to express their viewpoints and defend them while listening to the viewpoints of others.”

Griffin adds: “If you lined up all the books that have been chosen, they cover an amazing array of contemporary writers and a mighty inclusive list of perspectives and issues of the sort that we want our newest students to begin thinking about: race, economics, global politics, gender, sexuality, nationality, international issues, American issues, immigration, ‘home’ and leaving home, you name it.”

Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of the 2012 Summer Common Reading book, Once Upon a River, offers her perspective as a participating author. “It was a great honor and a thrill to have all the freshmen and many of the upper class folks read Once Upon a River. Kalamazoo College students are conscientious scholars and careful readers, and they had a lot of smart questions to ask. The world I presented in the book was very different from the world of the students, so it was interesting to see how they grappled to understand the choices my protagonist made, which were often so different from what they would have chosen. As an author it is always great fun to be surrounded by smart people who have read your book.”

Pixley smiles to recall some of the discussion around Campbell’s book. “Oh, I’m still hearing complaints about Margo, Bonnie’s character in the novel. Why did Margo do this, why did Margo choose that. But Margo had different circumstances in her life, and it was a different time. It’s wonderful how invested students can get.”

The interaction between author and students, all agree, can be one of the most rewarding parts of the experience.

“So often their first reactions to the texts have been resistant, defiant, because the committee has rightly selected challenging texts at the forefront of current fiction, and that material is often difficult, not easy reads,” says Griffin. “And then you watch them come to terms with it, chew on it, hear the author, stand in line for hours to meet the author, and suddenly—the book is theirs. I have seen an incoming class become a class over three days because of this program.”

Seuss lists favorite memories of students interacting with authors: “Chang-Rae Lee flying out of New York City and joining us just a few days after September 11, 2001. The students starting a Chimamanda Adichie Adoration Facebook page. Junot Diaz’s sass. Vaddey Ratner talking about her childhood as a captive of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the way she greeted people with the namaskara, her beauty.”

Heinritz most strongly recalls the moments “students got turned on by what they’d read or something the authors said. Often, years later they would bring up something Junot Diaz or David Finkel had said about writing when they were on campus, and it would become part of the fabric of that day’s class discussions.”

She also cites the generosity of the authors. “So many of them agree to offer a craft talk for student writers while they are on campus,” Heinritz says. “David Finkel got real with journalism students about what the profession requires and where it is headed. Bonnie Jo Campbell gave practical advice to aspiring fiction writers.” Finkel even offered to read and critique Heinritz’ writing, “which he did and was very helpful,” she says. “I consider him a friend. I know Di has also developed this kind of relationship with a couple of the authors, especially Chimamanda.”

Pixley nods. She remembers many of those moments, and more. The Summer Common Reading program is her labor of love.

“It’s a thrill,” she says. “To hear an author reading to the students, and the students are so quiet, listening so carefully, that you can hear the pages turn.”

SIDEBAR

Summer Common Reading Program Books

(1999 Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams)

2000 Richard Ford, Independence Day

2001 Chang-rae Lee, A Gesture Life

2002 Ha Jin, Waiting

2003 Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

2004 Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man

2005 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus

2006 Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated

2007 Edward P. Jones, The Known World

2008 Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

2009 Rachel Kushner, Telex From Cuba

2010 Colson Whitehead, Sag Harbor

2011 David Finkel, The Good Soldiers

2012 Bonnie Jo Campbell, Once Upon a River

2013 Vaddey Ratner, In the Shadow of the Banyan

2014 NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

K River Anthology

-Tucky-Derby-Photo

Down the stretch at the K-Tucky Derby

Rose Kennedy and the K-Tucky Derby live on the same Kalamazoo College website—Story Zoo—separated by a decade or so, both upstream and downstream time’s river.

Every homecoming Story Zoo is open on the Quad or in the Upjohn Library recording studio, a chance for alumni, faculty, staff and students to share a K story that matters to them. Perhaps better than any other medium, the stories in aggregate articulate the joy and struggle, the grace and disorder, and the “serious quirky” that makes K what it is.

Some stories will move you, like the paean of David Kessler ’70 (An Arresting Exam) to the courage of former president Weimer K. Hicks. It changed David’s life.

Some are downright poetic, like the extended metaphor (coat-to-cape) of Pam Brown Gavin ’74 (10 Best for the Clueless).

Forgot what it was like the first Saturday in May at Angell Field? Let class-of-1985 friends Elizabeth (Fiore) Vogel and Carolyn Dadabay remind you of K-Tucky Derby. See if you can spot Carolyn in the video.

What punishments and penalties marked your K day or era? In the late 1950s being “campused” was the sentence for “late minutes.” Head Proctor Karen (Lake) DeVos ’59 met some good friends in “lock up.” And big changes were coming (French Influence to K: “Lighten up!”), originating from foreign study in France.

Some stories solve longstanding mysteries. The Student Observation Bureau. Remember? Well, it didn’t last long, but it sure caused quite a stir. Where, exactly, did it originate? Rachel Robinson ’85 finally reveals that secret (S.O.B.–Old Rules, New Prank).

So take some time and time travel—through the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, the aughts, the 10s and more. You’ll discover memories of great professors like Chen and Doc Stowe, Nelda Balch, T.J. Smith, Karyn Boatwright and Mickey McDonald, among others. You’ll recall small but vital details of the elements of the K-Plan: foreign study, career service, civic engagement and the SIP. Great parties (Beach Party) and enduring relationships (A Lifetime of Friendship).

Most stories are one to three minutes. There is one however, that is longer (about seven minutes), and it is worth the time: David Easterbrook’s (class of 1969) moving story about the delivery of a 20-year-old message from a Masai elder to the Kennedy family (When You See Rose Kennedy in the Market). In this day of social media and shortened attention span, please don’t miss the beauty of David’s “longer” lyric.

Whether your K story is the memory of an unforgettable moment, or the trajectory of your career, we want to hear it.  All alumni, students, faculty and staff are invited to contribute to the Story Zoo. Individual or group stories are welcome! Nor must you wait for homecoming or commencement. Feel free to record your own video, upload it to the video-sharing site of your choice (e.g. Vine or YouTube), and send us the URL.

The next campus recording is scheduled for Saturday, October 15, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the fire circle next to Stetson Chapel. All alumni, students, faculty and staff are invited to stop by the Cavern Fire Circle to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and to record your favorite K memory.