In Holland, Michigan, arriving on a delayed flight and whisked from the airport to the reading hosted by Hope College, I found myself on stage in a renovated movie theater. Every seat appeared to have been taken. A student jazz group was warming up the crowd. I was overcome with paranoia; everyone would steal away when the poet rose and approached the podium. I was wrong. It was a memorable evening.
--Maxine Kumin, "Audience," in The Eye of the Poet

Farewell to Carla Vissers

Every director puts his or her stamp on the Visiting Writers Series, but Carla Vissers did so in a literal—and graphic way. Under Carla’s four-year directorship, the name of the series changed to honor its founder: The Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series of Hope College. The new name demanded a new logo, and Carla organized the graphic design students in the Art Department to come up with several options, and the handsome design of this webpage is the result. Besides the webpage, the logo graces VWS brochures and posters and T-shirts and tote bags. Tote bags!

Carla’s leadership continued the best of VWS traditions but introduced other innovations as well. The first VWS event of Carla’s reign continued the tradition of including the best local talent, and Jack Ridl’s reading in September 2006 packed 1000 people into Dimnent Chapel. That reading also inaugurated the Tom Andrews series, a new annual event within VWS that honors the memory of one of Hope’s most distinguished poets. Jack was Tom’s first important poetry teacher, and Tom flourished at Hope before moving on to Oberlin, University of Virginia, and the world.

Carla also continued the tradition of bringing the most prominent American writers to our campus for a couple of days of class visits, meals with students, Q & A sessions, and, of course, the showcase reading at the Knickerbocker Theatre. (With the writer’s name in lights on the marquee, there was always a photo-op, the writer usually a little shy about asking, but unwilling to pass up a chance for a photo under the marquee. Where else does that happen?) During Carla’s leadership, VWS welcomed writers like Joan Silber, Cornelius Eady, Francine Prose, Terence Hays, and George Saunders—all best sellers, prize winners, and top-shelf talents.

And the tradition of including the emerging talents continued. All of the GLCA New Writers Award winners were on our program—fresh voices in poetry, fiction, and memoir. We continue to hear from these readers that Hope is a high point on their GLCA travels—bigger crowds, better organization, a warmer welcome. Even a jazz band to welcome the crowd! (They especially like the marquee.)

But Carla also liked to push the boundaries of the series as well. Several events tested the lines between traditional poetry and performance art. Spoken word artists, story-tellers with guitarists, and others encouraged us to explore boundary lands. And Carla always insisted that the quality of the writing was what mattered, not suitability to less important local considerations. The VWS remained a showcase for the best national talent at a time when pressures increased to conceive of Hope as something other than a national liberal arts college.

Carla brought us 24 memorable nights of contemporary literature during her four-year tenure as Director of the Visiting Writers Series. For several thousand Hope students, these evenings were the first time they were in the company of a living writer, the first time they had the chance to put a face and a life and literary work together into a package. For several hundred Hope writing students, these 24 events provided opportunities to know and be known by professional writers and potential graduate school mentors, and to talk shop over coffee or lunch or brunch. As always, these students had the honor of introducing the writer—after reading extensively in the writer’s work and crafting an introduction that met the standards of the VWS staff. And for the lovers of good writing all across West Michigan, Carla’s 24 VWS events introduced us to writers we might not otherwise have known or never thought we’d have the chance to meet. On all of these evenings, we gathered in the Knick to enjoy that pure pleasure of good stories and strong poems from the voice of the writer.

Thanks, Carla, for keeping what’s good and for imprinting the series with your character and creativity.

All Visiting Writers Series readings are free and open to the public.
Readings are held at the Knickerbocker Theatre, 86 East 8th Street, downtown Holland, unless otherwise noted.

Jazz begins at 6:30 p.m.; reading begins at 7:00 p.m.

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