Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Mitali “Friendly” Perkins: Calvin’s first Writer-in-Residence

Ashley Hamons
Perkins will be one of the speakers at the upcoming Festival of Faith and Writing, which will take place at Calvin from Apr. 11-13, 2024, with workshops on Apr. 10.

Mitali Perkins, author of 20 children’s books such as You Bring the Distant Near and Rickshaw Girl is Calvin’s first Distinguished Writer-in-Residence. 

Calvin’s Writer-in-Residence program is designed to give every student the opportunity to work with four different authors throughout their time at Calvin by hiring a professional, full-time writer for the September Intensive each school year. 

These Writers-in-Residence will teach, lecture, and contribute to student-faculty events like leading the English Retreat, said Jennifer Holberg, professor, Chair of the English Department, and Co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing told Chimes. 

Having a Writer-in-Residence is also a part of the Provost’s Diversity Initiative. As the incoming writers have backgrounds across the globe, Calvin is being “very intentional about diverse voices,” Holberg said. These writers, while being diverse, must also be a well-known, respected writer and a person of faith. Perkins meets all three criteria, which led to her being the first Writer-in-Residence. 

Perkins is teaching this year’s section of English 367A: Creative Writing Intensive. “I’m pretty good with character, and I’m pretty good with place, but when it comes to the structure of a plot, I’ve had to really work hard on that,” Perkins said; so while her class is about novel writing, she is guiding students to focus particularly on structure.

Perkins also focuses her class around critically reading classic novels to find moments from which to learn, as well as pieces we can see are harmful given our current culture.“We’re looking for goodness in those books from another era, and how can they inform our lives today,” said Perkins, “but also, what are some of the ways that our culture, our present moment, would look at those classics and say ‘You missed that,’ and see some of the flaws.” 

Perkins teaches Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, but her day to day is much more than just teaching. “I’ve been wined and dined. It’s basically a program to gain ten pounds in a month,” she said. 

Along with enjoying the food, Perkins has really appreciated the company she’s been spending time alongside –– both students and faculty. 

Mitali is a name of Indian origin that means “friendly.” Holberg has experienced how Perkins lives up to her name. “She’s just a wonderful person to encourage, and talk about the writing world, and just get to know her,” Holberg said, “[she is] such a winsome person.”

As the first Writer-in-Residence, Perkins said she is the “guinea pig” for the whole program. But she doesn’t mind. It helps that she’s been given “so much freedom.” 

One aspect of her freedom pertains to housing decisions while staying in Grand Rapids. She is elated to be living in an Airbnb she picked out. “It’s in the neighborhood where I can walk, and open my window and cook — I really love my little apartment,” she told Chimes. It’s a space away from the San Francisco Bay Area that she calls home, and a space even farther away from the Bengali culture of her hometown of Kolkata, India.

Perkins lives her life practicing the art of finding the beauty in small things, which she does through taking life slowly, she said. One practical way she slows herself down is the practice of flâneur. Flâneur is “the idea of just walking a town at a slow pace by yourself, and just randomly taking turns, and not having any set schedule. . . You just wander, and you sort of learn that town with all five of your senses,” Perkins said. “I do this when I travel.” 

Perkins also said that she finds wonder in Jesus. “I always feel like He’s going to show me something new and delightful.”

Perkins’s advice to her students, and all students at Calvin, is to “own the fact that you can teach us something. Even though I’m older than you, I still feel like I’m learning so much.” Do not “be afraid of being in a teaching-mentoring role when someone’s three times your age. Step into it,” she said, because “generations can learn from each other.” She herself is learning from young adults at Calvin.   

Mitali Perkins will be hosting one final public lecture during her stay in Grand Rapids this fall before she returns for Calvin’s Festival Of Faith And Writing in the spring. The talk —  titled “Books as Windows and Mirrors: Rickshaw Girl and Tiger Boy” — will be held on Tuesday, September 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation (1530 Madison Ave SE). The event is supported by the Global Campus’s 49507 Initiative, and there will be a book signing following the lecture.

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