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Armando Montaño '12 Memorial Lecture - Stephen Kuusisto

The second annual Armando Montaño ’12 Memorial Lecture will be given by Stephen Kuusisto on Tuesday, April 10 as part of the Writers@Grinnell series. The lecture honors 2012 Grinnell graduate and journalist Armando “Mando” Alters Montaño. The event which is free and open to the public, will begin at 8 p.m. in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, Room 101.

In addition, Kuusisto will be joined by journalist/alum Tessa Cheek ’12 for a Roundtable, which will be a craft discussion on creative nonfiction at 4:15 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 101.

Stephen Kuusisto currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, a Fulbright Scholar, and the author of several memoirs and poetry collections, including the memoir Planet of the Blind, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. With his new memoir, Have Dog, Will Travel, Kuusisto — who was born legally blind — tells the story of working with his first guide dog, a yellow Labrador named Corky, and the incredible adventure that began when new doors were suddenly opened to him, thanks to this second pair of eyes.

Tessa Cheek is a writer, reporter and candlestick maker living in Ridgway, Colorado. She holds a master's of fine arts from Hollins University, where she served as a teaching fellow, graduate assistant, and assistant poetry editor of The Hollins Critic. She copy edits for the Groundhog Poetry Press and performs social media for political literary magazine Scoundrel Time. She’s reported from Colorado’s Capitol and served as news editor for a small-town paper. In 2017, Tessa’s novel-in-progress won the Melanie Hook Rice Award in the Novel and her short story, “The Devil’s Terrible Nearness,” was nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and a Pushcart Prize.

Armando Montaño ’12

The Armando Alters Montaño ’12 Writers@Grinnell Endowment Fund has been established by the parents of Armando “Mando” Montaño ’12, 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.

Armando Montano image   Armando Alters Montano image


Writers@Grinnell welcomes Marlon James

Award winning Jamaican author, Marlon James, will read from his work and discuss writing on Thursday, April 5, 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 the Joe Rosenfield '25 Center. 

In addition, James will lead a roundtable discussion, which is free and open to the public, at 4:15 p.m. in Rosenfield Center, Room 101.

Marlon James won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for A Brief History of Seven Killings, making him the first Jamaican author to take home the U.K.’s most prestigious literary award. In the work, James combines masterful storytelling with brilliant skill at characterization and an eye for detail to forge a bold novel of dazzling ambition and scope. He explores Jamaican history through the perspectives of multiple narrators and genres: the political thriller, the oral biography, and the classic whodunit confront the untold history of Jamaica in the 1970's, with excursions to the assassination attempt on reggae musician Bob Marley, as well as the country's own clandestine battles during the cold war. James cites influences as diverse as Greek tragedy, William Faulkner, the LA crime novelist James Ellroy, Shakespeare, Batman and the X-Men. Writing for The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani said of A Brief History of Seven Killings, “It’s epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex. It’s also raw, dense, violent, scalding, darkly comic, exhilarating and exhausting—a testament to Mr. James’s vaulting ambition and prodigious talent.” In addition to the Man Booker Prize, A Brief History of Seven Killings won the American Book Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the Minnesota Book Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. James is in the process of adapting the work into an HBO television series.

Marlon James’ first novel, John Crow's Devil, tells the story of a biblical struggle in a remote Jamaican village in the 1950s. Though rejected 70 times before being accepted for publication, John Crow's Devil went on to become a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, as well as a New York Times Editor's Choice. His second novel, The Book of Night Women, is about a slave women's revolt on a Jamaican plantation in the early 19th century. The work won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Minnesota Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction, as well as an NAACP Image Award. James’ short fiction and nonfiction have been anthologized in Bronx Noir, The Book of Men: Eighty Writers on How to Be a Man and elsewhere, and have appeared in Esquire, Granta, Harper’s, The Caribbean Review of Books and other publications. His widely read essay, “From Jamaica to Minnesota to Myself,” appeared in the New York Times Magazine. In early 2016 his viral video Are you racist? ‘No’ isn’t a good enough answer received millions of hits. He is currently working on the Dark Star Trilogy a fantasy series set in African legend (Riverhead, 2018).

Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1970. He graduated from the University of the West Indies in 1991 with a degree in language and literature, and from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania in 2006 with a master's degree in creative writing. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and teaches English and creative writing at Macalester College. 

In his presentations, James addresses topics related to writing and the writing process, as well as issues pertaining to the history of the Caribbean, race and gender in the US and UK, and youth subcultures as expressed in literature and music such as hip-hop and reggae.

Writers@Grinnell - Interview with Roxane Gay

Best selling author and cultural icon, Roxane Gay, will be having a conversation and answering questions during a one-hour interview with Assistant Professor, Alissa Nutting on Friday, April 6 at noon in the Harris Cinema Center, as part of the Writers@Grinnell series at Grinnell College. The event is free and open to the public.

Roxane Gay is an author and cultural critic whose writing is unmatched and widely revered. Her work garners international acclaim for its reflective, no-holds-barred exploration of feminism and social criticism. With a deft eye on modern culture, she brilliantly critiques its ebb and flow with both wit and ferocity.

Words like “courage,” “humor,” and “smart” are frequently deployed when describing Roxane. Her collection of essays, Bad Feminist, is universally considered the quintessential exploration of modern feminism. NPR named it one of the best books of the year and Salon declared the book “trailblazing.” Her powerful debut novel, An Untamed State, was long listed for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. In 2017, Roxane released her highly anticipated memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, as well as a collection of short stories titled Difficult Women.

Roxane is a contributing op-ed writer for The New York Times, was the co-editor of PANK, and formerly was the non-fiction editor at The Rumpus. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’s, The Nation and many other publications. She recently became the first black woman to ever write for Marvel, writing a comic series in the Black Panther universe called World of Wakanda. Roxane fronts a small army of avid fans on social media and when she finds the time, she dominates the occasional Scrabble tournament.

Writers@Grinnell: Thisbe Nissen & Jay Baron Nicorvo

Award winning author Thisbe Nissen, and novelist Jay Baron Nicorvo, will read from their work and discuss writing on Tuesday, January 30 as part of the Writers@Grinnell series at Grinnell College. The event, which is free and open to the public, will start at 6 p.m. at the Pioneer Bookshop located at 933 Main Street, Grinnell.

Thisbe Nissen is the author of three novels, Our Lady of the Prairie, Osprey IslandThe Good People of New York, and a story collection, Out of the Girls' Room and into the Night (winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award). She is also the co-author with Erin Ergenbright of The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook, a collection of stories, recipes, and art collages. Her fiction has been published in The Iowa Review, The American Scholar, Seventeen, and The Virginia Quarterly Review, and anthologized in The Iowa Award: The Best Stories 1991-2000 and Best American Mystery Stories. Her nonfiction has appeared in Vogue, Glamour, Preservation, and The Believer, and is featured in several essay anthologies.

 She has been the recipient of fellowships from the James Michener-Copernicus Society, The University of Iowa, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Yaddo, and the MacDowell Colony, and was the 19th Zale Writer-in-Residence at Tulane University. She has taught at Columbia University, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Brandeis University, The New School's Eugene Lang College, and in the low residency MFA program at Pacific University. These days, she teaches undergraduate, masters, and doctorate students at Western Michigan University.

Jay Baron Nicorvo is the author of a novel, The Standard Grand (St. Martin's Press), picked for IndieBound's Indie Next List, Library Journal's Spring 2017 Debut Novels Great First Acts, and named a best book of the year by The Brooklyn Rail. He's published a poetry collection, Deadbeat (Four Way Books, 2012), and his nonfiction can be found in The Baffler, Poets & Writers, and The Iowa Review. He's been an editor at Ploughshares and at PEN America, the literary magazine of the PEN American Center, and was membership director for the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP). 

Alumnus Endows Biology Professorship in Honor of Classmate

John ChambersJohn Chambers ’77

John Chambers ’77 has committed to endow a biology professorship in honor of Doug Johnson ’77 — his friend, classmate, and fellow co-captain of the Grinnell College swimming team.

A native of Rochester, Minn., Johnson majored in biology at Grinnell with the intention of going into the medical field. He was pursuing a graduate degree in human physiology at Wake Forest University in 1981 when he died in a hiking accident in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Douglas D. Johnson ’77 Professor of Biology will support students who, like Johnson did, wish to pursue careers in medical science, medical research, or public health. The faculty member chosen will promote learning in cell and molecular biology through distinguished teaching, published research, and engagement with peers at academic conferences.

“We are honored that John has chosen to create this lasting tribute to his friend,” says Mike Latham, Grinnell College vice president for academic affairs and dean. “It’s a most fitting way to commemorate Doug’s life while strengthening our ability to provide a world-class education in cell and molecular biology. Increased engagement in scientific research will provide our students with a rigorous and compelling experience, which is highly valued in medical and graduate schools.”

Chambers visited Grinnell in October to talk with biology faculty members and attend classes and student research talks. He came away impressed.

“The biology department always has been strong,” he says. “The excellence of the faculty should be recognized. They inspire students like Doug who want a career in health sciences. Ultimately, the success of the Johnson Professor of Biology will be measured by the successes of the students nurtured by the professor.”

The Johnson professorship will be the second endowed chair in the Grinnell College Biology Department. The Waldo S. Walker Chair in Biology is held by Vincent Eckhart.

What makes Grinnell’s biology program distinctive is the integration of research into every level of the curriculum, starting with introductory biology, where students practice the process of science that produces new knowledge, says Ben DeRidder, associate professor and chair of the biology department. Chambers’ gift will present more opportunities for first- and second-year students to gain research experience, giving them preparation for careers that matter.  

“Just getting a foot in the door in a lab with a professor is impactful,” DeRidder says. “Students — like Doug — who aim high will be able to get a good start. It’s a competitive field, so getting early opportunities are important.”

Johnson and Chambers competed on the swim team together under coach Ray Obermiller. They lettered each of the four years, were co-captains the last two, and roomed together on trips to away meets. At times, they competed on the same relay team, such as the 1976 Midwest Conference meet where they set a school record in the 800 freestyle relay. Johnson specialized in the freestyle.

“The swim team was a very close-knit group,” Chambers says. “During swim season, we always had dinner together every night. A number of Doug’s teammates and friends still remember him. I think naming a professorship after him would be something he would have liked.”

Chambers recently retired from his position as managing director of Standard & Poor’s Rating Services. He had served as chairman of the company’s sovereign rating committee since 2005. Chambers earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from Grinnell College and Masters of Arts in English literature from Columbia University.

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