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Writers@Grinnell Events

Writers@Grinnell brings to campus writers of all kinds: poets, novelists, memoirists, essayists, radio essayists, columnists, graphic memoirists, playwrights, and short story writers.

“Interacting with writers, hearing them not only read from their work but also talk about their achievements and struggles, helps us to see that literature is a living tradition,” says Ralph Savarese, professor of English and director of the program. “Writers@Grinnell works its magic in the way that the College does generally: by allowing students to discover and cultivate a passionate commitment to engaged living. Students learn that carefully and beautifully crafted words matter.”

The program is not designed just for student writers. “The program serves interdisciplinary learning by showcasing writers who take up matters of politics or history or science, for example — the latter is a loose but common thread in the work of a number of this year's visitors," Savarese says.

Fall Schedule of Events

All events are free and open to the public.

Faculty Writers

Readings: 8 p.m., Sept. 12, Rosenfield Center Room 101

English department faculty writers who will read include Dean Bakopoulos, George Barlow, Mike Cavanagh, Hai-Dang Phan, Ralph Savarese, and Paula Smith.

Joy Castro

Roundtable: 4:15 p.m., Sept. 19, Rosenfield Center Room 209
Reading: 8 p.m., Sept. 19, Rosenfield Center Room 101

Joy Castro is the author of a memoir, The Truth Book, a collection of essays, Island of Bones, and two literary thrillers, Hell or High Water and Nearer Home. She is also the editor of an anthology of essays, Family Troubles: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family.

Earlier in the day, Castro will conduct a roundtable on “Literary Crimes: The Art of the Thriller.”

Nathan Hoks and Roger Reeves

Readings: 8 p.m., Oct. 2, Bucskbaum Center Faulconer Gallery

Nathan Hoks is the author of two books of poems, The Narrow Circle and Reveilles. Poet Roger Reeves’ first book, King Me, appeared in 2013.

Camille Dungy

Reading: 8 p.m., Nov. 7, Bucksbaum Center Faulconer Gallery

In conjunction with the Wonder of Words Festival in Des Moines, W@G will host a reading by poet Camille Dungy.  Dungy is the author of three books of poems, most recently Smith Blue, and the editor of an anthology, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry.

Julie Kane

Roundtable: 4:15 p.m., Nov. 14, Rosenfield Center Room 209
Reading: 8 p.m., Nov. 14, Rosenfield Center Room 101

Julie Kane, former Poet Laureate of Louisiana, is the author of three books of poems and co-author of a Vietnam memoir.

Kane also writes about the neuroscience of literary reading and writing, which will be the topic of her roundtable.

The Grinnell Review

Reading: 8 p.m., Dec. 12, Rosenfield Center Room 101

The Grinnell Review is the College's mainstream journal of art and literature, published each semester.

Spring Schedule

The spring semester will feature readings by:

  • Eduardo Corral, the first Latino recipient of the Yale Younger Poets Prize;
  • MacArthur Award winner Richard Kenney;
  • New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert;
  • Best American essayist and short story writer Elizabeth Graver; and
  • National Book Critics Circle Award winner Edwidge Danticat.

From Pushkin to Pussy Riot

Todd Armstrong (Russian) is offering a broad-ranging introduction to modern Russian culture in his course From Pushkin to Pussy Riot.

Students are focusing on the thorny relationship between the artist and the state, drawing on a range of literary texts, music, art, film, and popular culture.

The course is designed for students interested in the major issues in development of Russian culture from 1800, with some attention to earlier periods.

Singh wins Anne Hanson ’86 Summer Study Award

The Anne Hanson ’86 Award recipient this year is Vinita Singh ’14. She traveled to St. Petersburg to study at the Smolny Institute under the Bard Smolny Study Abroad Program. Удачи!

This endowed scholarship was established in 1989 in memory of Anne K. Hanson ’86 by her friends and family. Hanson was a Russian studies major who went on the Grinnell College Interim Tour of the USSR during her senior year.

Rocky’s Light(en)ing


Benjamin Doehr ’15 spent his summer lighting up Frank N. Furter, Magenta, Brad, and Janet.

Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance Justin Thomas is a professional lighting and scenic designer. This summer, he was contracted by the Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C. to design the lighting for their production of The Rocky Horror Show, and invited Doehr to participate through a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP).

An economics and chemistry double major with a concentration in policy studies, Doehr may seem an odd choice for a theatre design project.  He’s not.  Doehr has been working in technical theatre since he was in the ninth grade.

Thomas says, “Ben came to Grinnell with a lot of lighting experience, and this project gave Ben the opportunity to experience the production process at one of the country’s strongest regional theatres. Ben has been involved in every bit of the process from script analysis, visual and contextual research, conceptual framework, turning the conceptual ideas into architectural implementation drawings, hanging and focusing the lighting instruments, and programming the light board. He also wrote about 20% of the light looks.”

Doehr says, “There’s that classic trope, ‘An actor without tech is naked in the dark and no one can hear him on stage.’ Part of our job is to help make their world.”

“My favorite part is the 110 hours plus we worked during tech week,” says Doehr. “It’s when we put the actors together with all the design elements to see what works and what doesn’t. It gives you the chance to say, ‘how do we make this look good? How do we sculpt it? How do we shape it? How do we make this more evocative — or more provocative, as the show is Rocky Horror.”

The Rocky Horror Show had some interesting challenges, says Doehr. The minimal set, inspired by works by Christo, relied heavily on lighting for mood.  It was two stories high, wrapped in white plastic, and contained a large second story platform.   Doehr and Thomas spent a great deal of time planning and then reinventing how to get light underneath the platform while also toning the walls so they could reflect the world of Dr. Frank N. Furter’s laboratory without pulling focus away from the action on stage.

Doehr plans to present to the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) at their conference in March.

Almost Everyone is Afraid of Writing

Staring out at an assembly of bright-faced Grinnellians, Verlyn Klinkenborg announced: “The way you’ve been taught writing is wrong.” A few people flinched.

“Forget about the rules and the writing myths,” he continued. “All you can do is jump in and start thrashing around.”

He gave the room a reassuring smile: “Don’t worry, you’ll learn what you need to know.”

A nonfiction writer and member of The New York Times editorial board, Klinkenborg was one of seven authors who spoke on campus this semester as part of the English department’s Writers@Grinnell series. This spring, visiting authors used their unique styles to examine a diverse set of themes, engaging with ideas about feminism, race and miscegenation, genocide, and environmentalism.

Introduced as “the nation’s official lightning rod,” U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey explored her own identity as a biracial woman before turning her eye on colonial Casta paintings, depictions that tried to classify mixed-race children. “The boy is a palimpsest of paint — layer of color,” Trethewey read liltingly. “History rendering him that right shade of in-between.”

While Randa Jarrar’s humorous fiction got young writers laughing and Andrew Sean Greer’s fiction brought students into a world hued by magic, The Nation’s Katha Pollitt got Grinnellians thinking, asking in her lecture on feminism, “Have we achieved it? Are men and women equal yet?!”

Environmental activist and writer Rick Bass emphasized words in the service of a message. Walking the trails at Conard Environmental Research Area, Bass discussed the importance of understanding a place for its unique ecology, culture, and beauty — and the extreme importance of maintaining natural landscapes against the human threat.

In her new book about the Cambodian genocide during the Vietnam War, Madeleine Thien also touched upon human destruction. “Where is the self buried?” Thien asked as she investigated the tales of survivors and refugees, focusing on the dynamics of identity. “Is any part of us incorruptible, the absolute center of who we are?”

For young writers, the Writers@Grinnell series is a window into the possible — a moment in which to see what can be done with language, what diverse styles and themes can be explored, what singular characters can be elucidated.

“Almost everyone is afraid of writing,” Klinkenborg told his audience. Afraid to fail, afraid to break the rules, afraid to write the wrong thing. To this, Klinkenborg had only one thing to say: “Don’t be.”


Joining a Music Department ensemble is an enjoyable, hands-on way of exploring music you might not encounter in any other way, guided by faculty who are experts in the field. It can provide you with an experience that is intellectually stimulating, aesthetically rewarding, and fun to do with your friends.

Mission & Goals of Religious Studies

When you study the world's religious traditions, you learn about the histories, literatures, practices and beliefs that have shaped human societies. You study rituals and festivals that organize perceptions of time and place, disciplines that develop modes of attention,  and ideas of holiness, justice, love, and beauty through which human beings have expressed their highest ideals. You develop tools to understand the complex ways that people across history and around the world oppose oppression, justify violence, understand their bodies, and give meaning to their lives.