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The Scarlet & Black

Mando Lecture focuses on journalism and capturing experiences that show love for curiosity


Gabe Loewenson

Stephen Kuusisto answered reader questions about his memoir Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey, on Tuesday, April 10. Photo by Mahira Faran.

On Tuesday, April 10, Grinnell College hosted two guests, Stephen Kuusisto and Tessa Cheek ’12, for the second annual Armando Montaño ’12 Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Armando Alters Montaño Writers@Grinnell Endowment Fund. Montaño, a journalist and alumnus of the College, tragically died while working for the Associated Press in Mexico City. The fund in his name carries on his legacy. Cheek was a personal friend of Montaño and now works as a freelance reporter and fiction writer in Colorado. The invited author, Kuusisto, is a renowned blind author who also serves as a professor at the school of Education at Syracuse University. Kuusisto writes largely about society’s perception of disability and his experiences as a disabled person. 

Professor Ralph Savarese, English, one of the lecture’s organizers, remembers Montaño as “very full of life, very engaged, and it seemed like everybody knew him, and really knew him. …  It was a stunning blow, and we just had another stunning blow ten days ago [with the death of Jack Gustafson ’20]. And I think that’s one of the nice things about this community, that it tries to honor the memory of people who have been taken too early, in ways that are meaningful, beyond just having a memorial service.”

The fund for the lecture was established by a donation from Montaño’s parents, Diane Alters ’71 and Mario Montaño, as well as contributions from some of the peoples whose lives were touched by Mando. These include a generous donation from Jeremy Mindich, who agreed to grant $25,000 if the College could raise $25,000 to match it — which it did.  Montaño’s parents intend to bequeath the fund with a larger amount of money when they pass on. The College currently draws around four percent annually from the fund, which is roughly equivalent to the interest obtained from investing it. 

Kuusisto and Savarese had collaborated in the past on poetry and on research in disability studies. “So Ralph knew he was a very good engaging speaker, and he was also the kind of writer we’re trying to honor with this series,” said Professor Dean Bakopoulos, English, who also worked to organize the event. “He balances that line between humor and honesty, between death and irony.”

Bakopoulos also coordinated to bring Cheek to campus. Cheek spoke with Kuusisto at a roundtable discussion about writing and journalism, and attended an English class during her visit. 

“[T]oday, I just did a little roundtable with Stephen, and talked about writing life post grad, and MFAs [master of fine arts programs], places to go, and also ways to create a writing life for yourself outside of the structures of the university, of the college environment,” Cheek said. “But mostly I’m here to honor Mando’s memory, and to  kind of live it, and to keep his memory alive here, because so much of what I believe is really powerful and important about Grinnell was kind of in and of him, so it’s a real honor to be here.”

At 8 p.m., Kuusisto read excerpts from his new book, “Have Dog Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey,” an account of his experience with his first guide dog, the Labrador Corky. During the reading, Kuusisto read aloud about the process of developing a relationship with the dog, his first time traveling in the city with the dog and ultimately, Corky’s death. Kuusisto also touches on other themes in the book, such as his experiences growing up legally blind and his relationship with his parents. Following the reading, he answered questions from the audience, and then signed copies of the book.

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