The long gray Michigan winter may have settled over our campus, but four talented and nationally recognized writers are arriving to lift us out of the dullness. Over the next few months, two events will bring our college community together around the power of poetry and story. Get ready to be surprised, moved, bewildered and delighted: the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series is back for the spring. Coming up first on February 4 are Marcelo Hernandez Castillo and Lesley Nneka Arimah, two writers whose work represents a wide span of genres, cultures and experiences. A poet and activist, Castillo was born in Mexico and immigrated to California. In an interview with PBS, he describes that as he navigated the United States as an undocumented person, English fluency and writing became “a way to kind of offset any questions or any suspicions about my documentation status. By way of fear, along came poetry.” The poetry that flowered out of his childhood fear is now critically acclaimed for the way Castillo has been able to capture diverse voices through fragments of striking imagery.
In addition to the numerous awards he has earned for his writing, Castillo has also drawn recognition for his work in eliminating barriers to success for undocumented poets. Having spent her childhood moving back and forth between Nigeria and the United States for her father’s military work, Arimah is also familiar with the feeling of being an outsider in a new country. Talking about this experience to the Star Tribune, Arimah said, “You learn to be an observer. And as somebody who eventually moved into documenting the human experience, being an observer is a useful tool.” Her debut collection of short stories, “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky,” features characters set in a wide variety of places, from Africa to a magical alternative reality to a post-apocalyptic dystopian world. Although her stories cross physical and figurative boundaries, they are unified around Arimah’s powerful ability to portray the tensions and complexities of human relationships. The VWS events will feature a Q&A with the authors at 3:30 p.m. in the Fried-Hemenway auditorium of Martha Miller and a reading at 7 p.m. in the Jack Miller Recital Hall. To learn more about the events and volunteer opportunities, visit he Hope website and find @jrvws on Instagram.