microphone and computer screen

Grinnell College Authors and Artists

Grinnell College Authors and Artists with palette and pencil

“Authors and Artists” features interviews delving into the creative processes and latest work of alumni, faculty, and staff from Grinnell College, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the world, renowned for its commitment to social responsibility.

  • Joe Mileti

    Aug. 15, 2022

    Modern Mathematical Logic

    Marshal Poe ’84 had the pleasure of talking to Joe Mileti, associate professor of mathematics at Grinnell College. Even if you are not “into” math, you will enjoy this conversation. Poe and Mileti talked about how math is not what you think it is. It’s not just memorizing formulas and grinding. It’s about thinking and, like all thinking, it involves abstraction, logic, using analogies and metaphors, and a bunch of imagination. They also talked about how math is about talking to other mathematicians and doing a kind of ”brainstorming.”

    Mileti's new book is Modern Mathematical Logic (Cambridge UP, 2022).

  • Jin Feng

    Aug. 1, 2022

    Tasting Paradise on Earth: Jiangnan Foodways

    Marshall Poe talks to Jin Feng of Grinnell College about her fascinating book Tasting Paradise on Earth: Jiangnan Foodways (U Washington Press, 2019).

    Preparing and consuming food is an integral part of identity formation, which in contemporary China embodies tension between fast-forward modernization and cultural nostalgia. Jin Feng’s wide-ranging exploration of cities in the Lower Yangzi Delta — or Jiangnan, a region known for its paradisiacal beauty and abundant resources — illustrates how people preserve culinary inheritance while also revamping it for the new millennium.

    Throughout Chinese history, food nostalgia has generated cultural currency for individuals. Feng examines literary treatments of Jiangnan foodways from late imperial and twentieth-century China, highlighting the role played by gender and tracing the contemporary metamorphosis of this cultural landscape, with its new platforms for food culture, such as television and the internet. As communities in Jiangnan refashion their regional heritage, culinary arts shine as markers of ethnic and social distinction.

  • Tony Perman

    July 15, 2022

    Signs of the Spirit: Music and the Experience of Meaning in Ndau Ceremonial Life

    In 2005, Tony Perman, associate professor of music, attended a ceremony alongside the living and the dead. His visit to a Zimbabwe farm brought him into contact with the madhlozi, outsider spirits that Ndau people rely upon for guidance, protection, and their collective prosperity.

    Perman’s encounters with the spirits, the mediums who bring them back, and the accompanying rituals form the heart of his ethnographic account of how the Ndau experience ceremonial musicking. As Perman witnessed other ceremonies, he discovered that music and dancing shape the emotional lives of Ndau individuals by inviting them to experience life’s milestones or cope with its misfortunes as a group. Signs of the Spirit: Music and the Experience of Meaning in Ndau Ceremonial Life (U Illinois Press, 2020) explores the historical, spiritual, and social roots of ceremonial action and details how that action influences the Ndau’s collective approach to their future. The result is a vivid ethnomusicological journey that delves into the immediacy of musical experience and the forces that transform ceremonial performance into emotions and community.

  • Charvann Bailey

    July 1, 2022

    From Biological Bench Science to Teaching at Grinnell College: A Chat with Charvann Bailey

    Marshall Poe ’84 chatted with Charvann Bailey, assistant professor of biology at Grinnell College. They discussed her route to a doctorate in biology, the struggles of post-docing and bench science, and her decision to teach at a liberal arts college. And they talked about her work trying to find new therapies to treat lung cancer. 

  • Charlotte Christensen

    June 15, 2022

    All About Dwarf Galaxies: A Conversation with Astronomer Charlotte Christensen

    Marshall Poe ’84 talks to astronomer Charlotte Christensen, associate professor of physics. She studies (among other things) dwarf galaxies. 

    Dwarf galaxies, galaxies with masses about 10% that of the Milky Way or smaller, such as the Magellanic Clouds, are perfect laboratories for studying galaxy evolution. The small gravitational potentials of dwarf galaxies make them uniquely sensitive environments for understanding the physics of galaxy formation, including the processes that drive gas accretion, gas loss, and star formation. Dwarf satellites of the Milky Way or similar nearby galaxies may help constrain these processes, but only if the effect of the large halo environment the dwarf galaxies exist in can be well understood. 

  • Danielle Lussier

    June 2, 2022

    Religion and Politics in Muslim Societies

    Mohammed Ayoob and Danielle N. Lussier

    Analysts and pundits from across the American political spectrum describe Islamic fundamentalism as one of the greatest threats to modern, Western-style democracy. Yet very few non-Muslims would be able to venture an accurate definition of political Islam. Fully revised and updated, Mohammed Ayoob and Danielle N. Lussier's The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in Muslim Societies (U Michigan Press, 2020) thoroughly analyzes the many facets of this political ideology and shows its impact on global relations.

  • Elizabeth Rodrigues

    May 17, 2022

    Collecting Lives: Critical Data Narrative as Modernist Aesthetic in Early Twentieth-Century US Literatures

    On a near-daily basis, data is being used to narrate our lives. Categorizing algorithms drawn from amassed personal data to assign narrative destinies to individuals at crucial junctures, simultaneously predicting and shaping the paths of our lives. Data is commonly assumed to bring us closer to objectivity, but the narrative paths these algorithms assign seem, more often than not, to replicate biases about who an individual is and could become.

    While the social effects of such algorithmic logics seem new and newly urgent to consider, Elizabeth Rodrigues book Collecting Lives: Critical Data Narrative as Modernist Aesthetic in Early Twentieth-Century US Literatures (U Michigan Press, 2022) looks to the late 19th and early 20th century U.S. to provide an instructive prehistory to the underlying question of the relationship between data, life, and narrative. Rodrigues contextualizes the application of data collection to human selfhood in order to uncover a modernist aesthetic of data that offers an alternative to the algorithmic logic pervading our sense of data’s revelatory potential. Examining the work of W. E. B. Du Bois, Henry Adams, Gertrude Stein, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Rodrigues asks how each of these authors draw from their work in sociology, history, psychology, and journalism to formulate a critical data aesthetic as they attempt to answer questions of identity around race, gender, and nation both in their research and their life writing. These data-driven modernists not only tell different life stories with data, they tell life stories differently because of data.

    Collecting Lives open access

  • Michael Mackenzie

    May 3, 2022

    Otto Dix and the First World War: Grotesque Humor, Camaraderie and Remembrance

    Otto Dix fought in the First World War for the better part of four years before becoming one of the most important artists of the Weimar era. Marked by the experience, he made monumental, difficult and powerful works about it. Whereas Dix has often been presented as a lone voice of reason and opposition in Germany between the wars, this book locates his work squarely in the mainstream of Weimar society.

    Informed by recent studies of collective remembrance, of camaraderie, and of the popular, working-class socialist groups that commemorated the war, Michael Mackenzie's book Otto Dix and the First World War: Grotesque Humor, Camaraderie and Remembrance (Peter Lang, 2019) takes Dix’s very public, monumental works out of the isolation of the artist's studio and returns them to a context of public memorials, mass media depictions, and the communal search for meaning in the war. The author argues that Dix sought to establish a community of veterans through depictions of the war experience that used the soldier's humorous, grotesque language of the trenches and that deliberately excluded women and other non-combatants. His depictions were preoccupied with heteronormativity in the context of intimate touch and tenderness between soldiers at the front and with sexual potency in the face of debilitating wounds suffered by others in the war.

  • Autumn Wilke

    Apr 15, 2022

    A Conversation with Autumn Wilke about Disability in Higher Education

    Marshall Poe ’84 talked to Autumn Wilke of Grinnell College about her book (co-authored with Nancy J. Evans, Ellen M. Broido, and Kirsten R. Brown) Disability in Higher Education: A Social Justice Approach (Jossey-Bass, 2017).

    Disability in Higher Education examines how disability is conceptualized in higher education and ways in which students, faculty, and staff with disabilities are viewed and served on college campuses. Drawing on multiple theoretical frameworks, research, and experience creating inclusive campuses, this text offers a new framework for understanding disability using a social justice lens. Many institutions focus solely on legal access and accommodation, enabling a system of exclusion and oppression. However, using principles of universal design, social justice, and other inclusive practices, campus environments can be transformed into more inclusive and equitable settings for all constituents.

    The authors consider the experiences of students, faculty, and staff with disabilities and offer strategies for addressing ableism within a variety of settings, including classrooms, residence halls, admissions and orientation, student organizations, career development, and counseling. They also expand traditional student affairs understandings of disability issues by including chapters on technology, law, theory, and disability services. Using social justice principles, the discussion spans the entire college experience of individuals with disabilities and avoids any single-issue focus such as physical accessibility or classroom accommodations.

    The book will help readers:

    • consider issues in addition to access and accommodation
    • use principles of universal design to benefit students and employees in academic, cocurricular, and employment settings
    • understand how disability interacts with multiple aspects of identity and experience

    Despite their best intentions, college personnel frequently approach disability from the singular perspective of access to the exclusion of other important issues. This book provides strategies for addressing ableism in the assumptions, policies and practices, organizational structures, attitudes, and physical structures of higher education.

  • Kelly Herold holding a copy of Growing Out of Communism

    Apr. 1, 2022

    Growing Out of Communism: Russian Literature for Children and Teens, 1991-2017

    Andrea Lanoux, Kelly Herold, and Olga Bukhina

    Growing Out of Communism: Russian Literature for Children and Teens, 1991-2017 (Brill, 2021) explores the rise of a new body of literature for children and teens following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent transformation of the publishing industry. Lanoux, Herold, and Bukhina first consider the Soviet foundations of the new literature, then chart the influx of translated literature into Russia in the 1990s. In tracing the development of new literature that reflects the lived experiences of contemporary children and teens, the book examines changes to literary institutions, dominant genres, and archetypal heroes. Also discussed are the informal networks and online reader responses that reflect the views of child and teen readers.

  • Eiren Shea

    Mar 25, 2022

    Mongol Court Dress, Identity Formation, and Global Exchange

    The Mongol period (1206–1368) marked a major turning point of exchange — culturally, politically, and artistically — across Eurasia. The wide-ranging international exchange that occurred during the Mongol period is most apparent visually through the inclusion of Mongol motifs in textile, paintings, ceramics, and metalwork, among other media.

    In Mongol Court Dress, Identity Formation, and Global Exchange (Routledge, 2020), Eiren Shea investigates how a group of newly-confederated tribes from the steppe conquered the most sophisticated societies in existence in less than a century, creating a courtly idiom that permanently changed the aesthetics of China and whose echoes were felt across Central Asia, the Middle East, and even Europe. 

    Eiren Shea is an assistant professor of art history at Grinnell College.

  • Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant

    Mar 15, 2022

    To Live More Abundantly: Black Collegiate Women, Howard University, and the Audacity of Dean Lucy Diggs Slowe

    Marshall Poe ’84 talked to Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant about her book To Live More Abundantly: Black Collegiate Women, Howard University, and the Audacity of Dean Lucy Diggs Slowe (University of Georgia Press, 2022).

    How have Black women fostered belonging in higher education institutions that have persisted in marginalizing them? Focusing on the career of Lucy Diggs Slowe, the first trained African American student affairs professional in the United States, this book examines how her philosophy of “living more abundantly” envisioned educational access and institutionalized campus thriving for Black college women.

    Born in 1883, Slowe was orphaned at a young age, raised by a paternal aunt, and earned a scholarship to attend Howard University in 1904. As an undergraduate, she helped found Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first African American sorority in the United States, and served as its first president. After graduating valedictorian of her 1908 class, she excelled as a secondary school teacher and administrator and became a national tennis champion. In 1922, she returned to her alma mater as its first full-time dean of women.

    Over her 15-year tenure at Howard University, Slowe empowered early 20th-century Black college women to invest in their individual growth, engage in community building, and pursue leadership opportunities. To foster Black women's higher education success, Slowe organized both the National Association of College Women and the National Association of Women’s Deans and Advisers of Colored Schools. As she established long-standing traditions and affirming practices to encourage Black women’s involvement in the extracurricular life of their campuses, Slowe’s deaning philosophy of “living more abundantly” represents an important Black feminist approach to inclusion in higher education.

  • Sequoia Nagamatsu

    March 1, 2022

    How High We Go in the Dark

    Marshall Poe ’84 talks to Sequoia Nagamatsu ’04 about his novel How High We Go in the Dark (William Morrow, 2022).

    In 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika Crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.

    Once unleashed, the Arctic plague will reshape life on Earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy. In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects — a pig— develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.

    From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resilience of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe.

  • William “Bill” Ferguson

    Feb. 15, 2022

    The Political Economy of Collective Action, Inequality, and Development

    The Political Economy of Collective Action, Inequality, and Development (Stanford UP, 2020) examines how a society that is trapped in stagnation might initiate and sustain economic and political development. In this context, progress requires the reform of existing arrangements, along with the complementary evolution of informal institutions. It involves enhancing state capacity, balancing broad avenues for political input, and limiting concentrated private and public power. This juggling act can only be accomplished by resolving collective-action problems (CAPs), which arise when individuals pursue interests that generate undesirable outcomes for society at large. Merging and extending key perspectives on CAPs, inequality, and development, this book constructs a flexible framework to investigate these complex issues. By probing four basic hypotheses related to knowledge production, distribution, power, and innovation, William D. Ferguson offers an analytical foundation for comparing and evaluating approaches to development policy. Navigating the theoretical terrain that lies between simplistic hierarchies of causality and idiosyncratic case studies, this book promises an analytical lens for examining the interactions between inequality and development. Scholars and researchers across economic development and political economy will find it to be a highly useful guide.

  • Barb Trish

    Feb.1, 2022

    Inside the Bubble: Campaigns, Caucuses, and the Future of the Presidential Nomination Process

    Marshall Poe ’84 talked to Barbara Trish, professor of political science at Grinnell College, about her new book (co-authored with William Menner) Inside the Bubble: Campaigns, Caucuses, and the Future of the Presidential Nomination Process (Routledge, 2021). 

    The book is a behind-the-scenes look at the 2020 Democratic nomination process focusing on the Iowa caucuses and the campaign workers who located there. For decades, Iowa held the first contest in the presidential nomination process and individuals interested in campaign work considered it a holy grail. But in 2020, a record number of Democrats seeking to unseat President Trump — and the hundreds of young campaign workers who located to Iowa — created a political event unmatched in scope and scale. Those workers, embedded in the caucus bubble, focused for months on finding supporters for their candidate and ensuring they attended their precinct event — the first step in selecting delegates to the national convention. And then Caucus Day came, and with it a technology-driven fiasco that seemed to foreshadow a year of pandemic and protest. The lessons learned in 2020 underscored the importance of local staff who organize and mobilize supporters for a candidate in whom they believe. And those lessons are applicable to any race of any party in any state. For students of US politics as well as aspiring candidates, political journalists, and campaign professionals, this book captures the drama and human perspective of campaigns and elections in America.

  • Julia Fine

    Jan. 19, 2022

    A Talk with Julia Fine: Author of The Upstairs House

    Marshall Poe ’84 talked to Julia Fine ’10 about her new book The Upstairs House: A Novel (Harper Collins, 2021). The novel is a provocative meditation on new motherhood—Shirley Jackson meets The Awakening—in which a postpartum woman’s psychological unraveling becomes intertwined with the ghostly appearance of children’s book writer Margaret Wise Brown.

    Using Megan's postpartum haunting as a powerful metaphor for a woman's fraught relationship with her body and mind, Julia Fine once again delivers an imaginative and "barely restrained, careful musing on female desire, loneliness, and hereditary inheritances" (Washington Post).

  • Sarah Purcell

    Jan 3, 2022

    Spectacle of Grief: Public Funerals and Memory in the Civil War Era

    Spectacle of Grief: Public Funerals and Memory in the Civil War Era (UNC Press, 2022) examines how the public funerals of major figures from the Civil War era shaped public memories of the war and allowed a diverse set of people to contribute to changing American national identities. These funerals featured lengthy processions that sometimes crossed multiple state lines, burial ceremonies open to the public, and other cultural productions of commemoration such as oration and song. As Sarah J. Purcell reveals, Americans’ participation in these funeral rites led to contemplation and contestation over the political and social meanings of the war and the roles played by the honored dead. Public mourning for military heroes, reformers, and politicians distilled political and social anxieties as the country coped with the aftermath of mass death and casualties.

    Purcell shows how large-scale funerals for figures such as Henry Clay and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson set patterns for mourning culture and Civil War commemoration; after 1865, public funerals for figures such as Robert E. Lee, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, and Winnie Davis elaborated on these patterns and fostered public debate about the meanings of the war, Reconstruction, race, and gender.

  • George Drake

    Dec. 15

    A Talk with George Drake

    Marshall Poe ’84 talked to George Drake, historian, professor emeritus, and president emeritus of Grinnell College. George has written a memoir: Seventy Years in Academe. George brought a wealth of experience to the interview. They talked about a lot of things: why he elected to go to Grinnell, his experience as a Rhodes Scholar, how he got his first academic job, how he became president of Grinnell, the challenges he faced as president, and his rich life after he stepped down as president in 1991. Poe says, ”George was president when I was at Grinnell, so it was an absolute joy for me to talk to him. Enjoy!”

  • Anne Harris in her office

    Dec 1, 2021

    A Conversation with Anne F. Harris, Medieval Art Historian and President of Grinnell College

    Marshall Poe ’84 talked to Anne F. Harris. Anne wears two hats: she's a medieval art historian and president of Grinnell College. They talked about her new book Medieval Art 250-1450: Matter, Making, and Meaning (Oxford University Press, 2021), which she co-authored with Nancy M. Thompson. They also discussed the significance and relevance of Medieval art today, the transition from teaching to administration, what it's like to head a premiere liberal arts college in the age of Covid (and all else), and her vision for Grinnell. 

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