Jack Ridl, professor emeritus of English at Hope College, has been presented a Community Literacy Award in the area of Talent.
The award was one of four announced at the Community Literacy Summit organized by the Community Literacy Initiative (CLI) and held on Monday, Sept. 29, at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. The initiative also presented Innovation, Inclusion and Volunteer of the Year awards.
Ridl, who is an award-winning poet, taught at Hope from 1971 until retiring in 2006. Throughout his time at the college and in the years since, he has been devoted to the literacy of poetry and how such literacy can make a difference to those who discover what poetry really is.
The award from CLI is the second time this year that Ridl has been honored for his dedication and service. This past spring, he was appointed honorary chancellor for the Poetry Society of Michigan in recognition of the high quality and beauty of his poetry and his participation in and support of the society. He was nominated unanimously by the society’s board, which also expressed its appreciation for his advocacy of poetry and Michigan poets and his generous work as a mentor and teacher.
The CLI is a literacy coalition that seeks to empower community leaders, parents and residents to improve literacy for all ages in West Michigan. The Community Literacy Awards honor individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to increasing literacy in West Michigan. The awards also encourage the continuing development of innovative methods for combating low literacy and the wide dissemination of the most effective practices. They are intended to draw public attention to the continuing need for literacy services and to increase awareness of the importance of literacy. By recognizing current achievements, the awards seek to inspire organizations, foundations, and other private sector groups to become involved in improving low literacy.
The Talent Award is given to an individual that has made outstanding contributions in increasing literacy levels and has demonstrated exceptional and sustained depth and breadth in his/her commitment to the advancement of literacy. The individual must meet the highest standards in his/her literary contribution to the field (i.e., poetry, essays, articles, stories, storytelling, etc.). This award may be given to any individual living and working in West Michigan.
The Poetry Society of Michigan encourages and celebrates poetry groups across Michigan. A member of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, the society provides workshops, contests and opportunities to be published in two annual editions of the group’s literary journal, “Peninsula Poets.” The society also holds two statewide meetings each year.
In addition to teaching, Ridl’s tenure at Hope included establishing in 1982, with his wife Julie, the college’s Visiting Writers Series, through which writers give a public reading of their work in addition to engaging with the campus community in other ways, such as speaking to classes or participating in question-and-answer sessions. The college renamed the series in his honor in the fall of 2006.
In retirement, his activities have included developing poetry-writing workshops that have been attended by hundreds of adults ranging in age from 18 to 93; bringing poetry to conferences for the mentally ill; and creating a program on DVD in which someone reads a poem while another who is hearing-impaired stands beside and signs the poem. He is also on the board of CavanKerry Press, a non-profit press devoted to bringing poetry to those who are disabled, undergoing serious treatment for illness or simply having minor surgery, and which provides poetry anthologies for hospital patients.
Ridl is the author or editor of several collections of poetry, and has also published more than 300 poems in journals and has work included in numerous anthologies. In addition, he has read his work and led workshops at colleges, universities, art colonies and other venues around the country.
He has received multiple honors for his collections. His most recent, “Practicing to Walk Like a Heron,” received Gold recognition for poetry in the 2013 IndieFab Awards competition sponsored by “Foreword Reviews” magazine and this summer was named an “Editor’s Pick” by the quarterly poetry journal “Rattle.” The anthology “Poetry in Michigan/Michigan in Poetry,” which he co-edited with award-winning poet Dr. William Olsen of the Western Michigan University English faculty, was named a 2014 Michigan Notable Book. His 2009 collection “Losing Season” was named the 2009 “Sports Education Book of the Year” by the Institute for International Sport at the University of Rhode Island. The Society of Midland Authors named his collection “Broken Symmetry” one of the two best volumes of poetry published in 2006. 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. Through the years, a number of his poems have been featured on “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor.
Ridl’s 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, he is co-author, with Hope colleague Peter Schakel, of two textbooks, “Approaching Poetry: Perspectives and Responses” and “Approaching Literature.” They also co-edited two anthologies.
Ridl also received recognition both at Hope and beyond as a master teacher. 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.
More than 85 of Ridl’s students are now published authors themselves.