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“I never had just one thing that I was pursuing. I wanted to keep exploring and keep doing what I was naturally interested in doing. Every opportunity I’ve had just combined all those passions.”

These words of wisdom reveal the key to Adam Kempenaar ’97’s success. In a world where many limit themselves to the pursuit of just one interest, Kempenaar has proved that it is truly possible to have it all.

As one of the founders and hosts of the popular movie review podcast Filmspotting, Kempenaar understands what it’s like to revive a dream dusty from lack of use. Although he was busy with a family and a full-time career, Kempenaar and his friend, Sam Hallgren, decided to resuscitate their old love of discussing movies by starting a podcast in which they would review and critique films in 30-minute segments.

Within just months of launching the show in 2005, Filmspotting’s audience had climbed from 1,000 listeners to over 10,000. Now, 10 years and 550 episodes later, Filmspotting has continued to thrill and excite both its viewers and its hosts.

Spawning a Radio Show

The success of Filmspotting led to a monthly radio show on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, echoing Kempenaar’s fascination with radio during his time at Grinnell, where he ran two radio shows on KDIC campus radio.

Filmspotting attracted the attention of the head of the film program at a continuing education school. Before Kempenaar knew it, yet another dream was coming to fruition — a chance to teach film classes at the University of Chicago’s Graham School.

“At Grinnell, I was an English major and I always wanted to teach. I realized that I wasn’t cut out to be an English professor, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t teach in some capacity. This was something I really wanted to do and it seemed like a dream opportunity.”

The Regular Job

Added to the lengthy list of Kempenaar’s occupations is his full-time career as senior director of new media and creative services for the Chicago Blackhawks. “I had a friend at Grinnell who would always come to our dorm room and play hockey video games. All the time it was hockey, hockey, hockey,” says Kempenaar. “And now he sees pictures of me on Facebook holding the Stanley Cup! It’s crazy that, 20 years later, here I am doing that for a living.”

Kempenaar has achieved what many college graduates have come to view as a foolish ideal — the aspiration to live all your passions, and make a living while doing it. By choosing to follow all the threads that tugged at his curiosity, Kempenaar has woven a web of interconnected triumphs, fueled by his persistent desire to always keep learning. By not fixating on a single goal, he has been able to expand his ability to wear many hats.

“Whether it’s podcasting or whether it’s the Blackhawks, I have always been prepared to do what I want to do simply because I’ve followed whatever I’ve been interested in,” Kempenaar says.

“I’m really lucky that I get to mix all my passions. I love sports, I love film, I love teaching, and I do all of them!”


Bakopoulos Receives 2016 Creative Writing Fellowship

Dean BakopoulosIn the first grant announcement of its 50th anniversary year, the National Endowment for the Arts has awarded individual creative writing fellowships of $25,000 each to 37 fiction and creative nonfiction writers including Dean Bakopoulos, writer-in-residence at Grinnell College.  

Since its establishment in 1965, the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion in grants in every state and U.S. jurisdiction, the only arts funder in the nation to do so.

The NEA selected Bakopoulos from among 1,763 eligible applicants evaluated by 23 readers and panelists. This is his second NEA fellowship, a rare accomplishment.

Through its creative writing fellowships program, the NEA gives writers the time and space to create, revise, conduct research, and connect with readers. Fellows must wait 10 years before applying for a second fellowship. Bakopoulos won an award for fiction in 2006; the 2016 award is for creative nonfiction.

"Since its inception, the creative writing fellowship program has awarded more than $45 million to a diverse group of more than 3,000 writers, many of them emerging writers at the start of their careers," said NEA Director of Literature Amy Stolls. "These 37 extraordinary new fellows, including Dean Bakopoulos, provide more evidence of the NEA’s track record of discovering and supporting excellent writers."

"I’m so grateful to the NEA for recognizing my work for a second time," Bakopoulos said. "This is an important boost for me on many levels, not just financially, but also emotionally. I’m finishing a difficult and somewhat perplexing book, and this fellowship has given me the courage to keep working, to finish the manuscript I was very close to throwing away.

"The nonfiction manuscript, titled 'Undoings,' is a book-length meditation on the way things fall apart, and how we, as individuals, as families, as artists, often become undone by our own obsessions and our own pasts. I wrestle with many demons and blessings in that book: marriage, divorce and parenthood; my own family's history as war refugees and the long shadows cast by war trauma; as well as everything from country music to fast food to the role of religion in clinical depression. Right now, it's a mess of a book, and this fellowship gives me the time to give it the focus it needs." 

Bakopoulos, who teaches fiction and creative nonfiction courses at Grinnell, is the author of three novels — Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon, My American Unhappiness, and Summerlong. The film version of his first novel, co-written by Bakopoulos, wraps shooting this month and stars James Franco, Rashida Jones, and Jeffrey Wahlberg. The film version of Summerlong, also adapted by Bakopoulos, is in the works. In addition to his two NEA awards, Bakopoulos is the recipient of a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship.

The NEA’s creative writing fellowships program is arguably the most egalitarian grant program in its field. Applications are free and open to the public; fellows are selected through an anonymous review process in which the sole criterion is artistic excellence. The judging panel varies year to year and is always diverse with regard to geography, ethnicity, gender, age, and life experience.

Since 1990, 81 of the 138 American recipients of the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Fiction were previous NEA creative writing fellows.

To join the Twitter conversation about this announcement, please use #NEAFall15.

Writers@Grinnell: Jeffrey Harrison

Jeffrey Harrison Award-winning poet Jeffrey Harrison will read from his work and discuss writing on Thursday, Nov. 19, as part of the Writers@Grinnell series at Grinnell College. The event, which is free and open to the public, will start at 8 p.m. in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

In addition, Harrison will lead a roundtable discussion, which is free and open to the public, at 4:15 p.m. Nov. 19 in Rosenfield Center, Room 209.

Harrison is the author of five full-length books of poetry, including The Singing Underneath, selected by James Merrill for the National Poetry Series and Into Daylight, winner of the 2014 Dorset Prize. His poetry also has been featured in popular publications, such as The New Republic, The New Yorker, and The Nation.

Harrison's poetic narratives tackle challenging themes such as intimacy and loss with nuance, clarity and dark humor. His many honors include the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Scholarship, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. 

Harrison has taught at George Washington University, Phillips Academy, the University of Southern Maine and Framingham State University. He lives in Massachusetts with his family.

Writers@Grinnell: Richard Russo

Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Richard Russo, the upcoming author in Writers@Grinnell, will be on campus for two events on Thursday, November 12:

  • Reading at 8 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 101Richard Russo
  • Roundtable at 4:15 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 209

Russo received the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2002 for his novel "Empire Falls," which was later made into an HBO mini-series starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Russo co-authored the script for the miniseries and was nominated for the 2005 Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries.

Russo also co-authored the screen adaption of his acclaimed novel, "Nobody's Fool," starring Paul Newman, with Academy Award-winning screenplay writer Robert Benton. Russo has written several other acclaimed books and screenplays, including "Mohawk," "Straight Man" and his memoir, "Elsewhere."

Russo has received many honors and fellowships throughout his career, including the 1990 Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts and 2002 Ambassador Book Award for Fiction. A gifted teacher, Russo is retired from Colby College and the Warren Wilson Master of Fine Arts Program for Writers. He lives with his wife in coastal Maine.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Accommodation requests may be made to the event sponsor or Conference Operations and Events.

Social Justice Activated

When Sydney Banach ’18 browsed college websites as a prospective student, Grinnell College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program quickly grabbed her attention.

“I remember reading about it on the website and the program contributed to my decision to apply to Grinnell early decision,” says Banach, who jumped at the chance to work in the justice system as an undergraduate.

At Grinnell, social justice is paired with an abundance of enriching and unique opportunities that allow students to explore issues of social justice up close. In the College’s innovative Liberal Arts in Prison program, student volunteers work as coordinators and tutor incarcerated students.

“This experience has definitely cemented my decision to work with juveniles in the future — whether as a lawyer, psychologist, or in another way,” Banach says.

The second-year student spends four hours a week tutoring youth and another five hours a week coordinating the volunteer program at a juvenile justice facility. Tutoring has broadened student volunteers’ definition of scholarship — incarcerated students are eager students whose lives, like their own, can be transformed by the liberal arts experience.

New Relationships

More than 20 student volunteers travel weekly to the juvenile detention facility to tutor incarcerated students in math and reading. The volunteers build rewarding relationships with students.

“The experience made me understand why people go into education,” says Cody Combs ’15, a volunteer coordinator and math tutor for three years. “To see someone go on to take a GED test and succeed is very gratifying.”

 “It expanded my definition of what a student is,” says Emma Morrissey ’15, a coordinator and writing tutor for the program for three years, who took a course in criminology because of her experiences in the program.

Rewarding Experiences

“I love interacting with the juveniles,” Banach says. “They have a refreshing perspective on life and are always enthusiastic to learn.”

Being able to participate in the program early on in her academic career is allowing Banach to learn about the juvenile justice system from the inside and make a difference in the lives of incarcerated students while still a student herself.  

“It’s extremely rewarding when a tutee gets a problem right or figures out a concept he did not think he could calculate,” she says. “They often surprise themselves which is inspiring.”

Grinnell’s Liberal Arts in Prison program also offers other volunteer programs, like serving as tutors and teaching not-for-credit classes at an adult prison facility. Approximately 50 students per semester volunteer through the program.

Sydney Banach ’18, undeclared, is from Mechanicsburg, Pa. Cody Combs ’15, a Chinese major, is from Bozeman, Mont. Emma Morrissey ’15, an English major, is from Chatham, N.J.

Parents of Armando Alters Montaño ’12 Establish Fund in his Name

The Armando Alters Montaño ’12 Writers@Grinnell Endowment Fund has been established by the parents of the Grinnell graduate who died in June 2012 while working as an intern with the Associated Press in Mexico City.

Diane Alters ’71 and Mario Montaño have created the fund through a bequest to Grinnell College. The fund will support the Writers@Grinnell program in memory of their son’s dedication to nonfiction and fiction writing, journalism, and the creative process.

“Diane and Mario’s generous gift honors and recognizes Armando’s creative talents, his courage, and his dedication to his craft,” says College President Raynard S. Kington. “Appropriately, it will help other Grinnell students connect their education to their real-life aspirations as effectively and enthusiastically as he did.”

The Armando Alters Montaño ’12 Writers@Grinnell Endowment Fund encourages other students to follow in Montaño’s footsteps as budding writers and journalists. It will support Grinnell students in the following ways:

  • The Mando Montaño ’12 Memorial Reading will be presented by a leading nonfiction writer as an annual feature of Writers@Grinnell.
  • The Mando Montaño ’12 Scarlet & Black Student Newspaper Memorial Fund will provide S&B students with opportunities for alumni mentoring and connections, enriching the learning and professional development of Grinnell’s student journalists.
  • The fund will provide support for student internships in areas related to creative writing, publishing, television, film, and other media.

Armando MontanoIn establishing the fund and its purpose, Montaño’s parents wrote, “His passion, his ability to understand and learn, and his drive to write and report are what we celebrate with this fund.”

“Mando thrived at Grinnell,” Alters says. “He admired and befriended many professors who guided him to think critically, write, and make his way in the world with confidence and compassion. His many friends recalled his intensity, his physical beauty, his smile, his laughter, and his ability to listen carefully to those around him.”

Montaño graduated as a Spanish major with a concentration in Latin American studies. During his time at Grinnell, he wrote and edited for the Scarlet & Black, interned at several newspapers, and took part in The New York Times Student Journalism Institute. His essay about cooking with his father, titled “The Unexpected Lessons of Mexican Food,” was published on Salon.com and in The Norton Field Guide to Writing.

Montaño wrote the short story “Snow Angels” — about his struggles to understand grief and loss — in a fiction seminar taught by Dean Bakopoulos, English department writer-in-residence at Grinnell. Bakopoulos later provided the forward for the story and helped with publication.

“Mando possessed two distinctive gifts essential in the best writers and journalists: thoughtfulness and sensitivity, coupled with a dynamic personality that loved to make connections and ask big questions,” Bakopoulos says.

“How wonderfully fitting it is that a fund bearing his name will focus on connecting Grinnell’s aspiring writers with the literary professionals that will inspire, encourage, and mentor them in the very craft and trade Mando loved so much.”

Shane Jacobson, vice president for development and alumni relations, says, “Armando raised the bar for what students can achieve in an inquiry-led liberal arts environment where students learn to truly link their education with their life goals. We are fortunate to call Armando a Grinnellian, and we are grateful that this gift will help carry forward his love of teaching and learning.”

Montaño grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo. His father is associate professor of anthropology at Colorado College in Colorado Springs; Alters is a lecturer in journalism there.

If you are interested in engaging with the College by making a designated gift to Writers@Grinnell, please use the online form and specify Writers@Grinnell.

Writers@Grinnell - Antonya Nelson

Antonya Nelson, the upcoming author in Writers@Grinnell will be on campus for two eventsAntonya Nelson on Thursday, October 29:

  • Reading at 8 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 101
  • Roundtable at 4:15 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 209

Antonya Nelson is the author of nine books of fiction (three novels and six collections of stories). Nelson's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, Redbook, and in many other magazines, as well as in anthologies such as Prize Stories, the O. Henry Awards, and Best American Short Stories.

Her books have been New York Times Notable Books of 1992, 1996, 1998, and 2000; in 2000 Nelson was also named by The New Yorker as one of the "twenty young fiction writers for the new millennium." She is the recipient of the Rea Award for Short Fiction, a 2000-2001 NEA Grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Nelson also teaches creative writing in the Warren Wilson MFA program.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations.

Writers@Grinnell: Edward Hirsch

Celebrated poet Edward Hirsch ’72 will join Professor of English Ralph Savarese in a conversation about poetry and parenting at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, in the Faulconer Gallery.

 “‘If the Music is Too Loud You’re Too Old:’ A Conversation with Edward Hirsch ’72 about Poetry, Parenting, Disability, and Grief” will use Hirsch’s most recent publication, “Gabriel,” to open discussion. “Gabriel” is a book-length elegy for Hirsch’s late son. This free public event, which is part of the Writers@Grinnell series, will be streamed live.

Hirsch also will lead an informal roundtable discussion about “Reading as Relationship” at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, in the Joe Rosenfield ‘25 Center Room 209. This event also is open to the public at no charge.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations.

About the Participants

Edward Hirsch

President of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation since 2003, Hirsch has been honored with numerous awards including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Pablo Neruda Presidential Medal of Honor, the Prix de Rome and an Academy of Arts and Letters Award. He was also elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2008.

Hirsch is the author of nine collections of poetry, including a Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award winner, a Lavan Younger Poets Award winner and a National Book Critics Award winner. He has also published five books of prose, including the national bestseller “How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry.”

Ralph Savarese

Savarese, who co-directs the Writers @Grinnell series, is the author of Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption and co-editor of Papa PhD: Essays on Fatherhood by Men in the Academy.

About Writers @Grinnell

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

Believing language to be a dynamic and communal medium, we give its crafted versions the attention they deserve, and we take seriously the importance of diverse perspectives. Through the generous support of an anonymous donor, the program hosts an annual distinguished author reading. Such authors have included Alison Bechdel, Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Edward P. Jones, Adrienne Rich, Marilynne Robinson, and W.S. Merwin. In addition to readings and roundtables, the program funds two six-week short courses taught by writers from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, and it helps students to find internships in writing-related professions.

Writers@Grinnell: Jami Attenberg

Jami AttenbergJami Attenberg, the next author in Writers@Grinnell will be on campus for two events on Tuesday, Sept. 22:

  • Reading at 8 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 101
  • Roundtable at 4:15 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 209

Attenberg has written about sex, technology, design, books, television, and urban life for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, Print, The Hairpin, Vogue, New York, Elle, Real Simple, The Rumpus, and others. She has contributed to numerous anthologies and also wrote Wicked: The Musical: A Pop-up Compendium.

Attenberg believes in the power and importance of independent publishing and self-publication, whether online or in print. She has been published by a number of zines, and her chapbook, Deli Life, was published by Austin upstart So New Media in 2003. She also published a zine series, Instant Love. Her blog, whatever-whenever.net, has been in existence in various forms since 1998.

Her debut collection of stories, Instant Love, was published by Crown/Shaye Areheart Books in 2006. She is also the author of two novels, The Kept Man  and The Melting Season, both published by Riverhead Books. Her third novel, The Middlesteins, was published in October 2012 by Grand Central Publishing. It appeared on The New York Times bestseller list, and was published in England, Taiwan, Russia, Italy, France, Turkey, The Netherlands, Germany, and Israel in 2013. It was also a finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction and the St. Francis College Literary Prize. A fifth book, Saint Mazie, was published in 2015 in the U.S., the UK, Italy, France and Germany. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she fights crime in her spare time.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Rosenfield Center has accessible parking in the lot to the east. Room 101 is equipped with an induction hearing loop system. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations.

Writers@Grinnell: Kiese Laymon

Kiese LaymonKiese Laymon, the second author in this year’s Writers @Grinnell series, will present two events on Thursday, Sept. 17:

  • Roundtable at 4:15 p.m. in Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 209
  • Reading at 8 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 101

Laymon is an African-American southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Miss.

His novel Long Division was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by a number of publications — including Buzzfeed, The Believer, Salon, Guernica, Mosaic Magazine, Chicago Tribune, The Morning News, MSNBC, Library Journal, Contemporary Literature, and the Crunk Feminist Collective — and is currently a finalist for Stanford’s Saroyan international writing award.

Long Division and his collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, are finalists for the Mississippi Award for Arts and Letters in the fiction and nonfiction categories.

Laymon, an associate professor of English at Vassar College, has written essays and stories for numerous publications including Esquire, ESPN, Colorlines, NPR, Gawker, Truthout, Longman’s Hip Hop Reader, The Best American Non-required Reading, Guernica, Mythium, and Politics and Culture. He is working on a new novel, And So On, and a memoir, 309: A Fat Black Memoir.

Both the roundtable and reading are free and open to the public. Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. You can request accommodations from the event sponsor or Conference Operations.

Writers @Grinnell

Writers @Grinnell, the English department’s reading series, brings to campus writers of all kinds: poets, novelists, memoirists, essayists, radio essayists, columnists, graphic memoirists, playwrights, and short story writers. Recent visitors include African-American and Latino writers, international writers, LGBT writers, blind and deaf writers, bi-polar writers, and writers with mobility impairments. An anonymous donor enables the series to host an annual distinguished author reading and an interdisciplinary creative writing event.