The Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series had its first event for the 2019 season the week before fall break, and it has had lasting effects on the writing community on campus. I, along with many others, was extremely touched by this event, which explored beauty, trauma and the links that tie them together.
This event was the Fourteenth Annual Tom Andrews Memorial Reading, dedicated to Tom Andrews, a Hope alumnus who passed away at forty years old. Since then, the Memorial Reading has featured writers who have a connection to the school. This most recent event hosted previous Hope Professor Heather Sellers and previous Hope student Mira Bartók. “The Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series has a special way of bringing together Hope’s literary community both at the events and behind the scenes,” says Claire Buck (’22), Editor-in-Chief of The Anchor and a current JRVWS intern. “Students engaged the writers with thoughtful questions during the Q&A, and the evening reading was standing room only in the Jack Miller Recital Hall. At lunch and dinner, volunteers had a chance to discuss their reading and writing with one another and with the authors.” The event was an immersive experience for any student interested in English, writing or the storytelling tradition. Sellers and Bartók proved to be the perfect authors for the occasion, instilling their knowledge and experience in anyone with a question.
Their personal stories also tied them together and contributed to the unique, poignant feel to the evening. Buck explains: “The two writers each have a neurological issue that affects their perception of the world: Sellers has prosopagnosia, a condition that prevents her from reliably recalling and recognizing faces, and Bartok experienced a traumatic brain injury in a car accident that left lingering impacts on her memory and sensory processing.” Both writers were introduced by JRVWS volunteers who had read their work. Student Natalie Weg (’21), who introduced Sellers, says, “It was such a great experience. I enjoyed spending the afternoon talking with Dr. Sellers about her journey as a writer. I appreciated her honesty and her openness about the difficulties in her life that made her into the inspiring author she is today.” Sellers discussed surviving her upbringing while also living with prosopagnosia. She spoke with a unique voice and perspective, and her reading was interspersed with bouts of laughter and periods of solemn reserve. Emily Zolman (’20) introduced Mira Bartók. “It’s definitely amazing if you can go to one of the lunches or dinners with them. It’s very intimate, and you’ll also have great interactions with other students and faculty,” she says. “It was pretty inspiring for me as someone who loves to just create to be in a space with two people who were able to make a career out of it.” Bartók’s reading, performed in an endearing British accent, spoke of a world of small yet brave creatures overcoming struggles many are familiar with. “The Wonderling” is a middlegrade book that—if Bartók’s live reading is any indication—will be a memorable experience for any child.
The writings they shared during the live reading beautifully captured both of their own dark struggles in a humane, genuine light. Sellers read an essay in which she described how she rose above her difficulties on the pedals of a bike. Bartók read from her book, “The Wonderling,” a fantasy story about a one-eared fox who finds meaning in his life while suffering through loneliness and abandonment, as well as a short story in which she rewrites tragic history. Both Sellers and Bartók put their hearts and souls into their art. It was evident from the moment their words fell over the hushed audience, the moment they ushered us into a world not our own. “Sellers’ and Bartok’s visit left me with a fresh reminder of why writing matters.” Buck reflects. “Even in the darkest, most bewildering places, great writing has the power to orient us, to give us glimpses of hope, and to draw insight and order out of confusion and pain.” One more JRVWS event remains this semester. Julia Alvarez, writer of the bestselling “In the Time of the Butterflies,” will come to Hope on November 12, in collaboration with The Big Read Lakeshore.
The Q&A will be at 11 a.m. in the Concert Hall of the Jack Miller Center for Musical Arts, and the live reading will take place at 7 p.m. in the same location. Be sure to attend this much-anticipated event, for anyone regardless of major can enjoy the magic of a well-told story