300 people in attendance sitting eagerly in stadium seating, like fans at a football game, ready to cheer for the quarterback as he walks on the field. The dull roar of conversation fills the Jeanne Y. Curtis Performance Hall in the Tsotsis Family Academic Center as students check in with their professors to ensure they get their extra credit and old friends reunite to share in their even older friend’s glory. The projector screen displays an old picture of a young man with two ice cream cones and a little girl clinging to his leg.
Silence overtakes the room as Professor David Thoreen, head of the English Department, steps in front of the podium on stage. On behalf of HumanArts at Assumption College, the Office of Academic Affairs, and the English Department, Thoreen thanks the audience for attending An Evening of Poetry and Prose.
This poetry and prose reading, which took place on Thursday, October 19, 2017, was a special event not just for Assumption College, but for the two presenters, as well. For the first time in his long career, English Professor and award-winning poet John Hodgen had the opportunity to read poetry with his daughter, fellow English Professor and award-winning fiction writer Christie Hodgen.
John Hodgen’s good friend and colleague at Assumption College, Professor Thoreen, knew of Christie’s success as a novelist, including her recent publication in Ploughshares and her 2003 appearance in The Georgia Review.
“I suggested the possibility of inviting Christie to come to Assumption for a few days as a Visiting Writer, meet with a couple of classes and then give a reading to the open public,” Thoreen said. “And I suggested that John should share the stage with her.”
Christie accepted the invitation to visit Assumption, and the excuse to visit her parents, and ventured back to her home state of Massachusetts. Christie currently works at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, where she teaches courses in creative writing at the graduate level. Christie’s publications include her collection of short stories, A Jeweler’s Eye for Flaw (2002), and her two novels, Hello, I Must be Going (2006) and Elegies for the Brokenhearted (2010). Christie has been awarded the Associated Writing Programs Prize for Fiction in 2003, two Pushcart Prizes, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in Literature.
Aside from the reading, Christie was invited to sit in on a few classes at the College, including Creating Writing with her dad, Professor John Hodgen, and Autobiography with Professor Knoles.
“Christie Hodgen is definitely her father’s daughter,” said senior Aerin Toskas, who attended both classes with the guest author. “It was really interesting how she described her writing process to us because that’s the part of being an author that you don’t hear as much about. And I loved finally meeting the person that [Professor] Hodgen has told us so much about.”
Indeed, Professor Hodgen spent the weeks leading up to the reading doing his best to advertise this special event. Too humble to brag about his own successes, which include the Associated Writing Program’s Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, was eager to share with his students the successes of his daughter. He couldn’t help but smile with pride, and it was clear he was looking forward to sharing the stage with her.
Though Professor Hodgen expressed concern that there would not be enough people in attendance to fill the new Curtis Performance Hall, his worry was quickly assuaged as the room filled.
“John Hodgen has quite a following, not only at Assumption but throughout central Massachusetts and beyond,” said Thoreen. “Of the 250-300 people in the audience, I’d estimate that 50 were from off-campus. John’s students came to the reading, as did many other students and faculty from the English Department and other departments. I wouldn’t change a thing about that night.”
Once on stage, Christie read a short fiction piece titled “Three Funerals,” which was published in The Georgia Review in 2003. Christie’s knack for description and her command of voice and tone throughout her reading transformed her fiction into poetry and captivated every member of the audience. She apologized for reading so much, but no one would have argued had she stayed on stage longer.
After Christie’s amazing prose, John Hodgen took the stage, eyes already glistening. When he started reading his poems, the audience joined in with tears flowing steadily, allowing his poetry to consume their souls and control their emotions. At the end, this beloved English professor was met with a standing ovation, one that extended to his daughter’s success, as well.
Members of the Assumption College community were lucky to have the opportunity to hear from two great writers, and their return to the stage would no doubt be met with thunderous applause.
Caitlin Pierson, a senior, studies English and classics. She is a staff writer for Le Provocateur.