De Graaf Lecture Series

The De Graaf lecture was established in 1988 in honor of Dr. Clarence De Graaf, who was a legendary presence in the history of Hope’s English department.

We thank his daughter Ruth De Graaf Dirkse and his son-in-law Lamont Dirkse, and the rest of Dr. De Graaf’s family, for this gift. Over the years the De Graaf lecture has brought us a procession of luminaries. It was initiated by Thomas Werge of Notre Dame, who had been one of Dr. De Graaf’s students; since then we have been privileged to hear from such admired scholars as Lawrence Buell, V. A. Kolve, Jane Tompkins, Suresh Canagarajah, Anne Curzan and Syl Cheney-Coker.


Syl Cheney Coker

2014: Syl Cheney-Coker
"The Writer's Other Self: Responsibility in an Age of Anxiety"

Ann Curzan

2013: Anne Curzan, University of Michigan
"Local Language Choices, Broader Social Change"

Suresh Canagarajah

2013: Suresh Canagarajah, Pennsylvania State University
"English Studies as Creole Scholarship: A Postcolonial Perspective"

David S. Reynolds

2012: David S. Reynolds, CUNY Graduate Center
"Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America"

Margaret Ann Doody

2011: Margaret Anne Doody, University of Notre Dame
"Fiction and People: Making Up and Hanging Out with Characters"

Ken Price

2010: Ken Price, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
"Walt Whitman in the Digital Age"

Stephen Sumida

2009: Stephen Sumida, University of Washington
"The Many-Mouthed Bird of Asian American Literature in the Early Twenty-First Century"

Terry Eagleton

2008: Terry Eagleton, University of Manchester
"The Death of Criticism?"

Ed Folsom

2005: Ed Folsom, University of Iowa
"Walt Whitman's 1855 Leaves of Grass: What It Hides, What It Reveals"

Tom Shippey

2004: Tom Shippey, St. Louis University
"From Page to Screen: Problems Tolkien Set for Jackson"

Jane Tompkins

2003: Jane Tompkins, University of Illinois at Chicago
"School as School: Professional Life as an Opportunity for Personal Growth"

V. A. Kolve

2002: V. A. Kolve, University of California, Los Angeles
"God-denying Fools: Imagining Atheism in Medieval Religious Art"

Lawrence Buell

2000: Lawrence Buell, Harvard University
"The Misery of Beasts and Humans: Environmental Justice in Literature and Society"

Elizabeth Cross

1998: Elizabeth Cross, University of Michigan
"Why I Like Serialism, or The Investigative Poetics of a Medieval, Early American and Late 20th Century Writer"

Peter Hawkins

1994: Peter S. Hawkins, Yale Divinity School
"Naming Names: The Art of Memory and the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt"

Thomas Werge

1991: Thomas Werge, University of Notre Dame
"America as Mystical Body: Slavery and Redemption in Lincoln, Stowe and Twain"


Dr. De Graaf taught at Hope for 44 years, from 1928 to 1972; for 25 of those years he served the department as chair. The son of Dutch immigrants, he grew up in Grand Rapids, where his father ran a small grocery business on Leonard Street and delivered his wares by horse and wagon. But the family believed in education, and Clarence was able to graduate from Calvin College and later to receive his doctorate from the University of Michigan. As a professor and even as department chair he insisted on teaching the full range of courses, from freshman composition on up — but his real love was the poetry of Milton. Indeed, we are told that when a future son-in-law politely asked Dr. De Graaf for the hand of his daughter Ruth in marriage, the good professor pointed out that the young man had never taken a course from him, a delinquency to be made up without delay; and it was thus, like Jacob laboring for Rachel, that Lamont Dirkse spent an entire semester reading Paradise Lost.

Dr. De Graaf loved his work at Hope and turned down more than one offer to teach elsewhere. Over the years, he was a major figure in shaping the department: He presided over the enormous influx of ex-G.I.s in 1946, and he was responsible for the hiring of professors whose names are now similarly legendary: Henry ten Hoor, John Hollenbach, Jim Prins. As a teacher he was demanding but fair, and he was generous enough to overlook a few absences when the perch were biting. He was learned, kindly and gratified by his students’ achievements. But there were many things students did not know about Dr. De Graaf. That he was an avid fisherman and hunter, for example. That he enjoyed boating and owned a Chris Craft. That in winter he liked to skate on Lake Macatawa. That he raised dahlias. That he worked tirelessly for his church on Fourteenth Street and also held season tickets for the Grand Rapids Symphony. That he read the Banner and other church papers but also devoured The Atlantic Monthly.

Clarence De Graaf was the best of the old tradition: steadfast, hard-working, free from malice and not given to self-dramatization. As former colleague Dirk Jellema put it, Clarence De Graaf “was a graceful and a gracious and a courtly man. His acute sense of human limitations was balanced by his good humor about human foibles.” It is right that we honor his memory.