Thompson Lecture Spotlights ‘Jesus and John Wayne’ Author

Thompson Lecture Speaker Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Best-selling author and Calvin University Professor
Kristin Kobes Du Mez will speak Tuesday, May 10,
at Kalamazoo College’s Thompson Lecture.

The public is invited to hear from a New York Times best-selling author and professor of history and gender studies at Calvin University at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the religion department’s annual Thompson Lecture at Kalamazoo College. 

Kristin Kobes Du Mez will speak about her latest book, Jesus and John Wayne and the White Evangelical Reckoning in the Olmsted Room at Mandelle Hall. The book is an account of the past 75 years of white evangelicalism, which shows how American evangelicals have worked to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism. The talk will further explore the recent history of evangelicalism and politics, and examine divisions within the evangelical movement while reflecting on what it could mean for the future. 

Du Mez earned a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame and her research focuses on the intersection of gender, religion and politics. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, Religion News Service, and Christianity Today. She has been interviewed on NPR, CBS and the BBC among other outlets.  

The Paul Lamont Thompson Memorial Lecture was established by a gift from the sons and daughters-in-law of Paul Lamont and Ruth Peel Thompson. Serving as president from 1938 to 1949, Thompson played a crucial role in K’s development during the Depression and World War II by emphasizing high academic standards and selectivity in the student body, enhancing the reputation of the College as a quality institution of the liberal arts. He also founded the College’s annual fund and pension plan, ensuring K’s financial integrity.  

For more on the lecture and its history, visit the religion department’s website

Lecture to Address Ancient India’s Mahabharata

Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai to Discuss the Mahabharata
Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai

Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai will represent Kalamazoo College at 9 a.m. Eastern time Sunday in a YouTube lecture titled “The Multiplicity of the Mahabharata Tradition” that she will present through Karwaan: The Heritage Exploration Initiative.

The initiative is an independent, student-led initiative based in India, which aims to revive the love for India’s heritage and history and inspire young minds. Throughout the pandemic, it has organized scholarly online lectures on Indian history, culture, art, literature, film and religion. 

The ancient Sanskrit Mahabharata (c. 300 BCE–300 CE) is a massive epic poem 15 times the length of the Bible that focuses on the war over the Bharata kingdom between two sets of paternal cousins in the royal Kuru family, the five Pandavas and the 100 Kauravas. Pillai said the Mahabharata has been presented as poems, dramas, ballads, novels, short stories, comic books, television shows, feature films, children’s fantasy series, podcasts, YouTube videos, social media posts and more.   

Pillai’s talk Sunday will illustrate the rich multiplicity of the Mahabharata tradition through the close examination of 12 renderings of a single Mahabharata episode that was created over a span of at least 2,000 years. She will focus on the most disturbing and popular scenes in the Mahabharata tradition, the attempted disrobing of Draupadi, the shared wife of the Pandavas, and the heroine of the epic.  

In May 2021, Pillai co-edited a volume with Nell Shapiro Hawley of Harvard University titled Many Mahabharatas, which was published by State University of New York Press. Some of the Mahabharatas she will discuss Sunday will be prominently featured in her current book project which is tentatively titled Krishna at Court: Devotion, Patronage and the Mahabharata in Premodern South Asia.

The talk will be available free of charge to the public at the Karwaan initiative’s YouTube channel.  

Kalamazoo College Welcomes New Faculty Members

Kalamazoo College is pleased to welcome the following faculty members to campus this fall:

Assistant Professor of Spanish Tris Faulkner

Assistant Professor of Spanish Tris Faulkner
Assistant Professor of Spanish Tris Faulkner

Tris Faulkner, who is originally from Jamaica, lived in Chile for about two years, working as a translator and interpreter at a prominent law firm before earning a Ph.D. in Spanish linguistics from Georgetown University. She also has professional experience as a translator and interpreter at the Embassy of Venezuela, and in similar roles at a legal firm and a business school in North Carolina.

Faulkner has lived in Spain and visited various Spanish-speaking countries, experiences which have helped her to observe the diversity that characterizes the Spanish language. Her research investigates the semantics and pragmatics of variation in verbal mood, tense, and aspect, as related to the Romance language family, English, and Jamaican Creole.

In addition to her Ph.D., Faulkner has master’s degrees from Georgetown (M.Sc. in Spanish linguistics) and Wake Forest University (M.A. in interpreting and translation studies), and a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University (B.A. in Spanish language and literature and international studies). She will teach seminars in Spanish linguistics, as well as various other courses in the upcoming academic year.

Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai

Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai
Assistant Professor of Religion Sohini Pillai

Sohini Pillai will teach courses this academic year on religious traditions in South Asia. She is a comparatist of South Asian religious literature and her area of specialization is the Mahabharata and Ramayana epic narrative traditions with a focus on retellings created in Hindi and Tamil.

Pillai is the co-editor of Many Mahabharatas (State University of New York Press, 2021), an introduction to diverse retellings of the Mahabharata tradition in the forms of classical dramas, premodern vernacular poems, regional performance traditions, commentaries, graphic novels, political essays, novels, and contemporary theater productions. She’s also a member of the Steering Committee for the Hinduism Unit at the American Academy of Religion.

Pillai has a Ph.D. in South and Southeast Asian studies from the University of California, Berkeley; a master’s degree in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies from Columbia University; and a bachelor’s degree in South Asia studies and theatre studies from Wellesley College.

Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas

Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas
Assistant Professor of Theatre Quincy Thomas

Quincy Thomas earned his Ph.D. in theatre and his performance studies certification from Bowling Green State University. His research centers on subjects including counter-storytelling, Black performativity in American culture, representations of the marginalized in popular culture, comedic and solo performance and performative writing. At K, he will teach directing, theatre history and playwriting, with further prior experience teaching theatre, performance studies and film.

His courses are informed on issues of cultural marginalization and misrepresentation in the arts, specifically of racial and ethnic minorities, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. His work has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals, including the International Review of Qualitative Research and Puppetry International, and presented at national conferences, including the Mid-America Theatre Conference, the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, and the Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association (MAPACA). He currently serves as president of MAPACA. His most recent directorial offering was Robert Patrick’s Play-by-Play: A Spectacle of Ourselves: A Verse Farce in Two Acts. Thomas also has a background in acting. Some of his favorite roles played include Christopher in Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange, Albert in Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, and most recently the role of Actor in Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit; Red Rabbit.

Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie

Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie
Assistant Professor of Economics Darshana Udayanganie

Darshana Udayanganie earned her Ph.D., with specializations in environmental economics and college teaching, and a master’s degree in economics from the University of New Hampshire. She also has a master’s degree in resource economics and policy from the University of Maine and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. Before joining K in 2017 as a visiting assistant professor, she taught at Central Michigan University from 2014 to 2017, Merrimack College in 2013 and 2014, and the University of New Hampshire’s global student success program from 2011 to 2014.

Her current research focuses on urban economics and environmental economics. She also has published book chapters on economic growth in relation to military expenditure and international trade.

Assistant Professor of Japanese Brian White

Brian White will teach courses in Japanese language, literature and culture at K.  He specializes in contemporary (post-1945) Japanese popular culture and media studies.

He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, where he wrote a dissertation on 1960s Japanese sci-fi literature and film, asking specifically, “What can a genre do?” He will delve into that history when he teaches a course in the winter term this year on Japanese science fiction and media history.

White earned a bachelor’s degree in East Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Across his undergraduate and graduate careers, he has spent a total of two and a half years living in Japan, primarily in Tokyo, Yokohama and Kyoto. 

Assistant Professor of Chinese Yanshuo Zhang

Yanshuo Zhang’s research addresses multiethnic Chinese identities in literary and visual cultures produced in China and the U.S. Her research on multiethnic Chinese cultural productions helps diversify scholarly understanding of and teaching about modern Chinese national culture.

She was a lecturer in Stanford University’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) from 2018 through 2020, where she designed classes on cross-cultural explorations of diversity, particularly in Asia and the U.S. She also has been a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Catherine University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Visiting Assistant Professor Vijayan Sundararaj

Vijayan Sundararaj leads a biology course this term in ecology and conservation. He has prior education experience as a lecturer, teaching assistant and topic lecturer between Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Canada, and Texas A&M University-Kingsville. His teaching interests include evolutionary ecology concepts, animal behavior, foraging behavior, predator-prey interactions, conservation biology, wildlife ecology, waterfowl ecology, mammalogy, spatial ecology, and introductory geographic information systems.

Sundararaj received a bachelor’s degree with a specialty in zoology from Gujarat University in India before earning a master’s degree in ecology from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel; a geographic information systems applications specialist graduate certificate from Sir Sandford Fleming College in Canada and a doctorate in forest sciences and wildlife ecology from Lakehead University.

Visiting Assistant Professor Eunice Uhm

Eunice Uhm specializes in modern and contemporary art, with a transnational focus on the United States and East Asia. Her work examines the conditions of migration and the diasporic aesthetic subjectivities in the works of contemporary Japanese and South Korean art from the 1960s to the present. She has previously taught courses on modern and contemporary art, East Asian art, and Asian American studies at Ohio State University. She has organized panels and presented her work on Asian American art at national conferences such as CAA. She is an active member of numerous grassroots community organizations for Asian Americans and immigrant rights, and she is involved in immigrant rights campaigns such as Love has no borders: A call for justice in our immigration system. Her essay, “Constructing Asian American Political and Aesthetic Subjectivities: Contradictions in the Works of Ruth Asawa,” is forthcoming (Verge: Studies in Global Asias, University of Minnesota Press).

Uhm received a master’s degree and a doctorate in the history of art from the Ohio State University. At K, she teaches courses on Asian and Asian American art, art and race, and transnationalism.

Visiting Assistant Professor Fungisai Musoni

Fungisai Musoni has joined the history department where she will teach courses in African civilizations, decolonization in West and Southern Africa, and U.S.-Africa relations since World War II.

Musoni has prior teaching experience in African literature, American politics and global issues, and social studies between the Ohio State University, Georgia State University, Gwinnett County Schools in Atlanta and the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education and Culture.

She fluently reads, writes and speaks the African languages of Shona and Manyika. Her education includes a bachelor’s degree in economic history and Shona from the University of Zimbabwe, Harare; master’s degrees in political science and history from Georgia State University and Mercer University respectively; and a doctorate in African American and African Studies from the Ohio State University.

Visiting Assistant Professor Badru-Deen Barry

Badru-Deen Barry teaches Introductory chemistry and biochemistry at K this fall.

His education includes a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone, master’s degrees in chemistry from Northeast Normal University in China and Michigan State University, and a doctorate in chemistry from Michigan State.

He previously served Michigan State and Northeast Normal as a graduate research assistant, Société Générale de Surveillance in Freetown, Sierra Leone, as port supervisor and chemist, and Fourah Bay College as a laboratory and teaching assistant.

Visiting Assistant Professor Mikela Zhezha-Thaumanavar

Mikela Zhezha-Thaumanavar is teaching courses in Spanish this fall as well as a course in foreign language teaching methods. In addition, she serves as the coordinator for the Spanish Teaching Assistants at K. She received her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate in Spanish linguistics from Western Michigan University.

She has previously taught courses in Spanish at Western Michigan University, Davenport University, and Kalamazoo Community College. She also served WMU as a guest professor, teaching in the institution’s Summer Translation Program. She previously has worked in translation and speaks Albanian and Italian in addition to English and Spanish.

Visiting Assistant Professor Jennifer Mills

Jennifer Mills is leading courses including seminars in psychology and health psychology this term. Mills holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, master’s degrees from Georgia College and State University and Western Michigan University, and a doctorate from WMU.

She is working on an executive master’s in public health at Emory University with an emphasis in prevention science. For the past 10 years, Mills has owned and operated MindBodyWell, a private counseling practice that focuses on science-based approaches to stress, depression and anxiety. 

Mills is an active member of the Institute for Public Scholarship, a local, anti-racist organization that works on issues of place and belonging. Her research interests focus on preventing and mitigating the impact of early childhood adversity on health. 

Visiting Assistant Professor Robert Mowry

Robert Mowry is teaching two sections of Introduction to Society and Culture offered by the Department of Anthropology and Sociology. His additional teaching interests include quantitative methods, disaster, the intersection of politics and the environment, and ways of seeing and knowing.

Mowry comes to Kalamazoo College from the University of Notre Dame, where he recently earned his Ph.D. in sociology. Previously, he earned master’s degrees from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Sheffield, and a B.A. from Earlham College.

As a teacher-scholar of disaster and politics, Mowry employs multiple methods to study the processes and outcomes of globally diverse, high-stakes political arenas—from post-disaster contentious politics in the U.S. and Japan to the gendered dynamics of protest participation in Europe. A related stream of research looks at how cultural processes of learning, memory, and thinking spur spontaneous laughter outbursts during Supreme Court oral arguments. His work has been published in Sociological Theory.

Visiting Assistant Professor Jennifer Perry

Jennifer Perry leads courses at K including General Psychology, Sensation and Perception, and Psychopharmacology in the Department of Psychology. Her credentials include a Bachelor of Arts from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Perry’s research includes studies on the ethics of laboratory animal research and the role of impulsive behavior in drug abuse.

Professor Joins Other Religion Scholars to Extol Research

Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada religion scholars Sacred Writes
Sacred Writes, a network of religion scholars committed to helping a broad global audience understand the significance of their work, has selected Kalamazoo College Assistant Professor of Religion Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada to be one of 24 scholars from around the world receiving a Public Scholarship on Religion for 2021.

When religion scholars share information about their research outside their academies, they help the general public understand matters of the sacred and the importance of religion and religious diversity in contemporary life.

Enter Kalamazoo College Assistant Professor Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada. Sacred Writes, a network of religion scholars committed to helping a broad global audience understand the significance of their work, has selected Maldonado-Estrada to be one of 24 scholars from around the world receiving a Public Scholarship on Religion for 2021.

With the scholarship, Maldonado-Estrada will receive a $1,000 stipend to participate in real-time collaborative sessions and multimedia training with other scholars from May 1 to August 31. Since 2018, similar cooperative work has helped 41 scholars of religion place 140 print, audio and video pieces with 52 media outlets including the Washington Post, PRI’s The World and CBS Religion since 2018.

“I am deeply committed to making my scholarship accessible and interesting to a broad array of readers,” Maldonado-Estrada said. “From writing about religion and tattoos to gender and gentrification, it excites me to tell stories about the ways religion is embedded in the everyday lives of individuals, communities, and cities. I am excited to be a part of a vibrant group of scholars, where we can hype each other up, learn new genres of writing, and craft and celebrate good work about religion.”

Sacred Writes also has chosen Maldonado-Estrada to write articles about architecture and sacred space, subjects important in her classes at K. The articles will appear in DigBoston, an alternative weekly newspaper.

“At K, I teach a class called Urban Religion where we learn how to be ethnographers and observers of space and social life,” she said. “Together we explore how religious communities shape the urban environment and how the city shapes the feel, look and experience of religion right back. I am so excited to write about architecture, development, and sacred space in this collaboration with DigBoston. These are the topics that really brought me to the study of religion back when I was an undergrad at a liberal arts college.”

In addition to Urban Religion, Maldonado-Estrada teaches classes at K on religion and masculinity, Catholics in the Americas and the religions of Latin America. She is an ethnographer, and her research focuses on material culture, contemporary Catholicism, and gender and embodiment.

Elsewhere, Maldonado-Estrada is a co-chair of the Men and Masculinities Unit at the American Academy of Religion and is an editor of Material Religion: The Journal of Art, Objects, and Belief. She was chosen for the 2020-2022 cohort of Young Scholars in American Religion at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture. She received her doctorate in religion from Princeton University and her bachelor’s degree in sociology and religion from Vassar College.

“I look forward to finding exciting ways to meld my teaching and research and to bringing what I learn from this partnership back to the classroom at K,” she said.

Armstrong Lecture Spotlights Pakistani Entertainer

Armstrong Lecture Poster of Speaker and Entertainer
Amanullah De Sondy, a senior lecturer at University College Cork in Ireland, will provide the 2021 Armstrong Lecture.

A global expert in contemporary Islam will speak at a Kalamazoo College Religion Department virtual event about a prolific figure in Pakistani music whose voice empowered queer identities.

Amanullah De Sondy, a senior lecturer at University College Cork in Ireland and an affiliate of the University of Glasgow’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies, will provide the 2021 Armstrong Lecture at 5 p.m. Tuesday, February 23. His talk, titled “Music, Empowerment and Queer Pakistani Identities: The Case of Madam Noor Jehan 1926-2000,” will discuss the flamboyant Noor Jehan, an entertainer known lovingly to many as Madam ji.

Noor Jehan’s success came from her entertaining acts of disruption which spoke to parts of society that were suffering at the margins. From difficult marriages to challenging the Pakistani army, Noor Jehan was known for her wit and strength. De Sondy will explore her anarchistic style and show how she disrupted neat structures in society as she remained rooted in Islamic traditions.

The Armstrong Lectures are made possible by the Homer J. Armstrong Endowment in Religion, established in 1969 in honor of the Rev. Homer J. Armstrong, a longtime trustee of Kalamazoo College. To attend the free event Tuesday, register through the Religion Department website.

Religion Chair’s Book Offers ‘Glimmers of Hope’ for LGBTQ Mormons

Religion Department Chairman's Book Tabernacles of Clay
Kalamazoo College Religion Department Chair Taylor Petrey wrote Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism as a history of gender identity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Religion Department Chair Taylor Petrey
Religion Department Chair Taylor Petrey has authored his second book, Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism.

An often-forgotten member of the religious right and its views on gender identity are the subjects of a historical book released this month by Kalamazoo College Religion Department Chair Taylor Petrey.

Petrey said the post-World War II views of Evangelicals and conservative Catholics are well-documented, as they traditionally reflect political opposition to feminism, same-sex relationships and trans identities. But what about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as Mormons? That record has been incomplete if not completely non-existent until the release of Petrey’s book Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism, published by the University of North Carolina Press.

“I’m trying to situate Latter-day Saints in a broader conversation about the nature of gender and sexuality,” Petrey said. “I’m showing what’s most surprising is that even conservative religious groups think not that gender and sexuality are fixed and predetermined or divinely ordained categories, but rather they rely on social constructions of gender to make sense of conservative teachings.”

The LDS Church’s leadership and older generations of church members have steadfastly maintained conservative views related to gender identity despite experiencing some discrimination themselves from other denominations.

“Latter-day Saints have often felt that sting of being excluded from the broader culture of Christianity,” Petrey said. “But one of the strategies they’ve used to integrate themselves into the broader culture of Christianity has been to adopt these conservative values and create social and political alliances with the religious right. That made a lot of sense after World War II. It created a kind of alliance or shared identity to say, ‘We’re Christians just like you.’”

However, younger generations of Latter-day Saints in congregations nationwide have commonly aligned themselves with more progressive views.

“At a local level, you might find a diverse range of views on these topics with a generational divide,” Petrey said. “Younger members tend to be much more liberal. They might not be as liberal as generational peers, but much more than their own older generations.”

The book doesn’t push for change toward more progressive views as a result of this trend. Yet the historical record shows how the church’s teachings have shifted somewhat, prompting some optimistic outlooks for Mormons in the LGBTQ community, for example.

“The popular story that most people know or believe is that the church has never changed its teachings,” Petrey said. “It’s a common way that many churches express themselves. ‘We’ve always taught this.’ What the book shows, actually, is the church has changed its teachings quite a bit in the last 70 years. And for many people, that gives some glimmers of hope that it may continue to change.”

Petrey’s first book, Resurrecting Parts: Early Christians on Desire, Reproduction and Sexual Difference, was released in 2015. He also edited Re-Making the World Christianity and Categories: Essays in Honor of Karen L. King in 2019 and the just-published co-edited volume The Routledge Handbook on Mormonism and Gender in 2020. In 2018, Petrey was prominently interviewed in Church and State, a documentary about the toppling of Utah’s gay marriage ban, and he currently is the editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Plus, his latest work, available online and at bookstores, has generated public enthusiasm since the first advance copies were distributed about six weeks ago and Petrey is looking forward to receiving more feedback.

“I have been overwhelmed by the positive response,” Petrey said. “Immediately, the most eager readers were other Latter-day Saints, especially gay Latter-day Saints, and I’ve been incredibly happy with the first reviews that have come out online and the buzz about the book so far.”

“Silent Sky” Features Women Reaching for the Stars

Silent Sky at Festival Playhouse
Milan Levy ’23 (from left), Sophie Hill ’20 and Aly Homminga ’20 portray astronomers Williamina Fleming, Annie Cannon and Henrietta Leavitt in the Festival Playhouse production of Silent Sky.

Watch a trailer of Silent Sky on YouTube

Much like an astronomer who draws constellation patterns, Aly Homminga ’20 is connecting the dots.

Homminga serves as both the dramaturg and lead actor for the Kalamazoo College Festival Playhouse production of Silent Sky. As the dramaturg, Homminga researches topics and time periods addressed in the play to assist Director Ren Berthel in teaching the actors about their characters and the play’s settings. As the lead actor, she connects those ideas to her portrayal of real-life astronomer Henrietta Leavitt.

“Dramaturgy is important, especially for Silent Sky as a period piece,” said Homminga, a theatre arts and religion double major from East Lansing. “If a director’s job is about artistic vision, dramaturgy is about facts and the time period of the play. This play goes on an arc of about 15 years, so I have to make sure Henrietta is different at the beginning than at the end. Playing Henrietta has given me a chance to test my skills and create a character who’s real yet flawed and different from me.”

The production is set in the early 1900s, as Leavitt begins working at the Harvard College Observatory, part of Dr. Edward Pickering’s “harem,” as they were known. Leavitt and her female colleagues mapped stars by taking pictures of glass plates and analyzing them, receiving no scientific credit for the discoveries they made along the way. Leavitt’s discoveries related to cepheids, which are stars that brighten and dim, and how they can be used to measure astronomical distances.  Edwin Hubble, the namesake of the Hubble Telescope, confirmed the validity of Leavitt’s discoveries about 20 years later, and her work has been credited with transforming the field of astronomy.

Leavitt’s work with fellow scientists Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming, portrayed in Silent Sky by Sophie Hill ’20 and Milan Levy ’23 respectively, builds a theme of feminism in the play. It’s the second of three plays in the Festival Playhouse’s 56th season following forgotten female figures. Other actors include Rose Hannan ’23, who plays Leavitt’s fictional yet inspirational sister Margaret; and Rigo Quintero ’22 as Peter Shaw, the head astronomer’s apprentice.

“I think this play is unique in the season because much of it is historical,” Homminga said. “It also marks an intersection between theatre, women’s studies and science, when science isn’t talked about or explored a lot in theatre. We want to reach out to science professors and classes, and let them see this as an opportunity to see their history, especially that of women in science.”

Scientific minds are bound to appreciate a set design developed by Wynd Raven, a local artist who was commissioned to paint the Festival Playhouse stage as a nebula, which is a cloud of gas and dust in space sometimes visible in the night sky. In addition, Homminga is creating a lobby display in her dramaturgical role. The display will focus on life at the Harvard observatory and the roles of women at the turn of the century to create an atmosphere in the context of the play that will appeal to scientists and general audiences alike.

Silent Sky will run from Thursday, Feb. 27-Sunday, March 1. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7:30 p.m. The Sunday show will start at 2 p.m. All shows are at the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse Theatre, 129 Thompson St.

Tickets are available through the Playhouse’s online box office. They cost $15 for adults, $10 for seniors 65 and older, and $5 for students. Tickets for Kalamazoo College students are free when they present K-IDs at the door. Faculty and staff may receive up to two tickets free with their IDs. For more information on the play, visit the Playhouse’s website.

Holocaust Survivor to Speak at K

Irene Butter  a Holocaust survivor, author and University of Michigan professor emerita  will visit Kalamazoo College on Monday, May 13.

Holocaust Survivor Irene Butter
Holocaust survivor Irene Butter will visit Kalamazoo College to talk with students at the Book Club Cafe and speak at Stetson Chapel.

Butter will discuss her experiences in two concentration camps, how they changed her life and why it’s important to keep telling stories about the Holocaust in an appearance sponsored by the Jewish Studies Department, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, the Religion Department and Hillel, the organization for Jewish students at K.

Butter’s schedule will include conversations with students over coffee from 1:15 to 3:15 p.m. in the Book Club at Upjohn Library Commons, and her main speaking presentation at 4:30 p.m. in the Olmsted Room at Mandelle Hall, which is open to the entire K community. Her book, Shores Beyond Shores: From Holocaust to Hope, My True Story, will be available for $20 in the Book Club and can be paid for in cash or by check.

Butter was born Irene Hasenberg in 1930 in Berlin, Germany, and grew up as a Jewish child in Nazi-occupied Europe, where she lived with her parents, John and Gertrude; and her brother, Werner. She had friends in common with Anne Frank after moving to Amsterdam in 1937 when her dad accepted a job with American Express. There, her family felt safe from the growing threat of Nazis until Germany invaded in 1940.

Holocaust Survivor Irene Butter and Her Brother as Children
Holocaust survivor Irene Butter and her brother, Werner, as children.

Her grandparents, who were still in Germany, were taken to Theresianstadt concentration camp in 1942 and Butter never saw them again. Her immediate family was rounded up in 1943. She survived Camp Westerbork and Camp Bergen-Belsen before coming to the U.S., arriving in Baltimore in 1945.

Upon arrival, Butter was told not to talk about her experiences, so she focused on high school, graduating from Queens College in New York City, and becoming one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in economics from Duke University. She married Charlie Butter and both became professors at the University of Michigan.

“I didn’t ask to go through the Holocaust,” she says on her website, “but I was saved through the miracles of luck and the love and determination of my Pappi (father). I owe it to him and everybody who suffered to talk about what I learned because suffering never ends, so our work must continue.”

Get Versed in National Poetry Month

If your knowledge of poetry is limited, April is the perfect time to expand your horizons and practice your writing. That’s because it’s National Poetry Month, and Assistant English Professor Oliver Baez Bendorf has creatively developed ways for students to hone their skills and develop their interests in poetry to celebrate.

Kayla Park National Poetry Month
Kayla Park read at the Belladonna* Collaborative Reading last spring. She interned with Belladonna*, an independent feminist avant-garde poetry press, through the New York Arts Program during the winter 2018 term at K.

Among his classes, Baez Bendorf teaches an advanced poetry workshop, which is participating in a 21-day challenge to write every day. Students are assigned poetry-inspired aliases and write about their praxis, or practice, of writing. “Writing about writing” might sound redundant, but its purpose is to help students learn about themselves, their influences and their processes to discover what inspires them.

Audrey Honig ’21, for example, is an English and religion major with a concentration in Jewish studies from Elmhurst, Illinois. She is writing erasure poems under the alias Lyra based on what she sees through social media. Erasure poetry erases words from an existing text in prose or verse and frames the result as a poem. The results can be allowed to stand on their own or arranged into lines or stanzas.

“I thought it would be interesting to bring what normally is a distraction into my writing,” said Honig, of the social media she analyzes. “I thought I wrote a lot before this class started, but I really wasn’t creating much. I was working on my writing, but I was mostly working on the editing process. Now I’m doing something small every day.”

Her biggest takeaway from the course has been how to better give and receive feedback to classmates and other writers.

“As students, we’re used to getting feedback when a professor might say, ‘This is a B,’” she said. “In this class, we’re really thinking about the specifics of what we’re doing as writers, so we can give honest and helpful feedback without tearing anyone down.”

For her 21-day challenge, Kayla Park ’19 selects a book at random off her shelf every day and writes a poem inspired by the last sentence on page 21 in that book.

Audrey Honig Recites During National Poetry Month
Audrey Honig presents during a class at Kalamazoo College’s Humphrey House. Honig is is writing erasure poems under the alias Lyra based on what she sees through social media.

Park, who writes under the alias Pegasus, earned a Heyl Scholarship when she matriculated at K to study within a science major, and she double majors in English and physics. She said she can see how a writing genre such as poetry helps make her a better scientist.

“When you continue doing a lot of work in one field and you get used to a certain mode of thinking, that’s beneficial in making you an expert in your subject, although you can also restrict your thought patterns that way,” she said. “In poetry, I’m expressing knowledge under a set of conventions that is different, but no less valuable than in science. Engaging with different modes of thinking helps me to see connections across disciplines and approach all situations from a broader point of view.”

The creativity poetry stirs for Park complements what she does with two a cappella groups at K, Premium Orange and A Cappella People of Color (ACAPOC), as well as with Frelon, the campus’ student dance company. It also helps her deal with her own perfectionism.

“Sometimes when I sit down to write, regardless of the assignment, I get hung up on making it perfect,” she said. “Forcing myself to write every day is beneficial in letting a little of that perfectionism go. It helps me write more freely and produce something that I can always go back and edit later.”

Baez Bendorf also offers an intermediate poetry workshop. That class this month is memorizing poems such as Truth Serum and 300 Goats by Naomi Shihab Nye and To Myself by Franz Wright with the goal of reciting them in May.

“We approach it as a kind of ultimate close reading of the work, and then aim to know it by heart, hopefully for a lifetime,” Baez Bendorf said.

National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. It since has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers and poets celebrating poetry, according to the American Academy of Poetry.

The organization drew inspiration for National Poetry Month from Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, and it aims to highlight the legacies and ongoing achievements of American poets, encourage the public to read poems, and increase the number of poetry-themed stories in local and national media. Read more about National Poetry Month at the Academy of American Poets’ website.