Dear readers and writers,
Another year has come to an end, and we’re feeling nostalgic and thankful, per usual. We’re so honored to curate this community of literary minds—each of you dedicate many minutes and hours to this project every year, and we’re consistently humbled that you do so.
At this year end, it’s prime time for “best of” lists. We do best ofs a little differently each year here on the post—sometimes writers choose, sometimes we pick one piece from each month, and sometimes we reveal the year’s most popular top posts by page view. But this year, it’s the editors’ turn! Each of us have chosen a few favorite posts and a handful of honorable mentions. Read on to see what you might have missed this year on the post calvin!
Still Hungry | Bart Tocci
We don’t engage with this topic often because there’s so much self-deception about it. Bart’s indirect approach in this piece works well, and, as I often do, I empathize with everything he writes. Also, this piece combines Bart’s funny writing with his serious writing—and manages to do both well.
All the Things We Don’t Know | Katerina Parsons
This is Honduras made personal. Katerina gives us in-depth reporting on location, and it’s important information that I didn’t find in my other normal news routines. Pieces like this elevate the post calvin.
I Took a Cedar-Strip Canoe Down the Most Dangerous River in Michigan | Nick Meekhof
Classic adventure writing. Fun. Memorable. Humble. Pure Michigan/Nick (really, can we separate the two?).
Josh’s honorable mentions
The Tax Bill Of the Rich, By the Rich, and For the Rich | Andrew Orlebeke
Well-sourced, in-depth, and merciless. This is hard-hitting and aggressive.
The Floppiness of Students | Elaine Schnabel
Classic Elaine writing—direct, very present, and with a form that’s just experimental enough to make things interesting and new, without getting self-indulgent or opaque. I also loved the topic.
Communion Crusts and Tea Sandwiches | Paula Manni
Lovely, peaceful, and warm. It inspires feelings and questions, and it finds and celebrates goodness. And beautiful writing—it’s interesting all the way down to individual sentences.
26 | Caroline Higgins
Accessible enough for me to enjoy on the first read-through. Filled with beautiful images. Caroline often captures the feeling of nostalgia-for-the-now, and this is one of the best instances of that. Great last stanza.
Umeboshi No Tsukurikata, or How to Make Red Fermented Plums | India Daniels
India’s first piece with the post calvin, one saturated with a gentleness for the world I find unforgettable. It’s not a bold think piece or personally revelatory, but the simple prose is so elegant that I can’t help but carefully read every word. It reads like a scene from a Miyazaki movie, and I find wonder in unexpected places where my own eyes would otherwise glaze over. Lovely.
15 Things I Learned From My Father | Caroline Higgins
Caroline has a way of writing down a person so their breath warms the page. She’s written several portraits over the years that I continue to come back to. Even though I have a distaste for listicles, it’s easy to make an exception for this one, which elegantly portrays her father. Sweet, loving, insightful, full of small details with big meaning… I want to meet the man and talk about guitar solos. The featured image of a young Caroline with her mustachioed dad solidifies this piece as an all-time classic.
Boersma Girls Backpack: An Experiment in Photojournalism | Lauren (Boersma) Harris
An ultra-charming expression of familial love that needs no overarching message to prove its point. I’m entranced by the worn-out pictures and their accompanying explanations, written in classic Lauren hyperbole. It makes me nostalgic for a trip I wasn’t even on, proving that slideshows can entertain viewers as much as the creators—a rare feat, but pulled off here with panache.
Will’s honorable mentions
The Death of What You Thought Was Your Soul | Josh deLacy
I knew from the first sentence this would be my favorite Josh piece of all time. I’ve never read anything like it, and I’m not sure I ever will again. The alter-ego he employs is true to who Josh is, and also completely, utterly batshit. Reading it feels much like what I imagined writing it would: cathartic. The prose is so tense it snaps—a satisfying release.
Why I Don’t Write Poems | Abby Zwart
Classic Abby. I’m left wondering what other wonderful things she hides from the world. After an infectious love letter to poetry, she closes with her own poem, and it slays. Evocative, distilled, full of memorable imagery and one hell of a closing line, it’s so well crafted that it demands a book of more Abby Zwart poetry to encase it.
A Brand New Bag | Jack Van Allsburg
I love theme months, and Jack’s reflection on a brown leather bag during November’s “firsts” is a great example of why. I’m a lover of things—both the physicality of the items themselves and the symbolism they carry for us—and Jack captures both of those with intricate descriptions while also touching on perennial post calvin themes: transitions, careers, and growing up. All that combined with a killer last sentence made this one of my favorite pieces of the year.
I Found Michigan’s Abandoned Dinosaur Park | Cassie Westrate
Another theme month product (July’s “stunt journalism”), this piece just makes me laugh. Though she’s also great at deep, soul-searching pieces, I love Cassie’s humorous side. This walk through an abandoned theme park was exactly what I was hoping for from the theme, and Cassie’s dry humor and general goofiness make this something I giggle at every time. So glad she found the T-Rex. I was on the edge of my seat.
The Literal German Word | Andrew Knot
Among many things, one thing I appreciate about the post calvin is that I get insight into other cultures. Sometimes the culture is video gamers, sometimes it’s young parents, and sometimes it’s another country. Andrew has been writing from Germany for most of his post calvin tenure, and I always look forward to learning more quirks of the culture from an almost-native. This explanation of unwritten rules in Germany was enlightening and fascinating. Reading about a society so different than our own makes me alternatingly proud and sheepish to be an American. Such is life.
Abby’s honorable mentions
Proving Sylvia Plath Wrong | Carolyn Muyskens
Figs | Gabe Gunnink
Figs, Deferred | India Daniels
Sometimes themes form on the blog when writers start responding to each others’ posts. We’ve come to refer to them as “organic themes,” and we love them. A great one from this year is the Sylvia Plath + figs + what do we do with our lives + cooking theme created by Carolyn, Gabe, and India. It’s an honorable mention here because I loved it and, honestly, wanted to join in but could never write what I meant to say. I took a class on Plath this summer, re-fell in love with The Bell Jar, and taught it to sixty-seven eleventh and twelfth graders this semester. My students and I had a lot of thoughts about it, but these three covered them pretty well. Plath’s metaphor about choices is so applicable to our twentysomething lives, and Carolyn, Gabe, and India each took that different places. When we started the post calvin, we wanted to form a community of writers; organic themes like this do that.
Wrinkles | Will Montei
I have a lot of favorite things about the post calvin, but one of them is just getting to know writers’ voices. By the time I’ve read someone for a whole year, I feel like I know them intimately. I’ve been reading Will’s writing since college, so after almost five years, I really think I can say “Wrinkles” is classic Will. What really makes the piece tick, and what Will is consistently good at, is the transfer of emotion. When Will feels something, I feel it too. It’s not just the idea of sadness or warmth or ache or goofiness anymore—it’s the real thing.
First Person | Jenna Griffin
Jenna’s writing has depth and elegance, always grounded in rich, well-chosen detail. This piece manages to pull off the use of the second person in an essay that sneaks up to a startling insight about the first person, that is, what it means to be a person. (Second choice for Jenna: “Works of Light”)
5 Get-To-Know-You Games That Almost Made Me Drop Out of Calvin | Carolyn Muyskens
This could have been a silly send-up of silly old college orientation. Instead, it’s a heartbreaking recollection and a challenging reflection on the current vogue for vulnerability. I shared this one with the Calvin Student Life folk, and it caused them to ponder seriously. I merely pointed to the title in my English 101 class this semester, and it immediately caused a ruckus. They all wanted to talk about orientation. Carolyn has evidently hit a nerve. (Second choice for Carolyn: “Pentecostal Weather”)
The Weight of Nothing | Cassie Westrate
Cassie makes melancholy into art, and this is one of her best. This lyric essay grows organically, developing a set of related motifs and images like stars in a constellation. (Second choice for Cassie: “Enough/Not Enough”)
I’ll Make a Man Out of Me | Gabe Gunnink
Gabe has fantastic range, and this one exhibits his ability to conjure both snorts and existential sadness. This was one of the more creative, ambitious, and thought-provoking of our “stunt month” entries. (Second choice for Gabe: “OCD DCO OCD DCO”)
Things Keep Happening | Katerina Parsons
Katerina tells stories so well. Her spare style allows every detail to hit hard. This was a double-visioned look at the U.S. election from a Honduran angle, using an experimental essay style. It manages to capture the feeling of helplessness so many of us felt and still feel. Also, it was the first essay for the “happening” theme, and it set a high bar.
Deb’s honorable mentions
As We Go On We Remember | Mary Margaret Healy
It’s hard to write about graduations. Choosing the right details is the trick. This is a good example of the vignette technique.
A Love Letter to My English Major | Alissa Anderson
Why 2017 Wasn’t As Bad As You Think | Andrew Orlebeke
I love Andrew’s call-a-spade-a-spade style. I’ve been grateful for all his hard-headed analysis this year, and I’m grateful for this piece coming from his perspective.
Confidence in the Flesh | Caitlin Gent
You go, girl!
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.