Since Jack Ridl, professor emeritus of English, established the Visiting Writers Series at Hope College in 1982, more than 200 writers have come to campus to read from their work.
On Wednesday, Sept. 13, Ridl took the stage as one of those authors, reading and sharing stories for an appreciative audience of approximately 1,000 in Dimnent Memorial Chapel.
He was the inaugural speaker in the series for 2006-07, scheduled in commemoration of his role as its founder and in celebration of his accomplishments as a long-time member of the Hope faculty. Ridl retired at the end of the 2005-06 school year after teaching at Hope since 1971.
Following the reading, department chair Dr. David Klooster announced additional recognition. The series has been named the "Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series of Hope College" in his honor, and additionally an endowment - funded by colleagues and former students--has been established in his name to help underwrite the series in perpetuity. As of the announcement, $58,475 had been contributed to the fund.
The event had originally been scheduled for the Knickerbocker Theatre, the series' usual home, but the organizers decided earlier in the day to shift it to the chapel when it became apparent given advance interest that they could expect an audience far beyond the theatre's capacity.
The reading was the first "Tom Andrews Memorial Reading" in the series. The reading will be an annual part of the series and is made possible by a gift from Ray and Alice Andrews, in memory of their son Tom Andrews. Andrews (1961-2001) graduated from Hope College in 1984 and earned his M.F.A. at the University of Virginia. During his lifetime he published three books of poetry and a memoir, and edited two collections of essays. In 2002, Oberlin College Press published "Random Symmetries: The Collected Poems of Tom Andrews."
It was especially fitting that Ridl give the inaugural reading since he was Andrews' teacher at Hope, and was a mentor and friend throughout his life. During the reading, Ridl read one of Andrews' poems as well as one of his own written as a companion piece to it, and shared memories of Andrews as a student and poet.
Throughout the evening Ridl wove together his poems and stories of growing up and his time at Hope.
Ridl is the author of several collections of poetry, including most recently "Broken Symmetry," published in late March by Wayne State University Press. In 2001 his collection "Against Elegies" was chosen by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins as the winner of the "Letterpress Chapbook Competition" sponsored by the Center for Book Arts of New York City. His other volumes include "The Same Ghost," "Between," "After School," "Poems from 'The Same Ghost' and 'Between'" and "Outside the Center Ring."
In addition to his volumes of poetry, Ridl is co-author, with Hope colleague Peter Schakel, of two textbooks, "Approaching Poetry: Perspectives and Responses" (1996) and "Approaching Literature in the 21st Century: Fiction, Poetry, and Drama" (2004). They also co-edited two anthologies.
In 1996, he was chosen Michigan's "Professor of the Year" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The college's graduating class presented him with the "Hope Outstanding Professor Educator" Award in 1976, and the student body elected him recipient of the "Favorite Faculty/Staff Member" Award in 2003. He was chosen by the graduating seniors to be the Commencement speaker in both 1975 and 1986. Westminster College, from which he holds both his bachelor's and master's degrees, presented him with an "Alumni Citation Award" in September 2005.
He has read his work and led workshops at colleges, universities, art colonies and other venues around the country.