Located at the corner of McNichols Road and Wyoming, Marygrove College has been the setting for literary works as well as host to and educator of creative writers. The College was founded by the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Sisters, and the Detroit campus officially opened in 1927 for the education and development of young women into socially conscious participants in a complex society; in 1971 the College went coed. The system of education that the first president, Dr. George Derry, and the IHM Sisters devised came from a theory of education based on empowerment through the liberal arts. Literary studies were always dominant among those arts, especially in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s when over 50% of the student population majored in English. Since then the Tudor Gothic buildings and wooded campus have become a part of Detroit's literary scene.
William Kienzle uses Marygrove as the setting of his 1990 mystery novel Masquerade. The campus is the location for a "Seminar workshop on the role of Religion in Murder Mysteries." It soon becomes the scene of a murder where Kienzle's Father Robert Koesler, who has done intermittent work for the Homicide Division of the Detroit Police Department, becomes key to unraveling the mystery. The College is variously portrayed as a liberal institution (Father Tracy finds the inclusion of publisher and televangelist Klaus Krieg on the workshop agenda "odd, even for a relevant place like Marygrove") to a school that was sheltered from the reality of its urban locale ("The city might burn down around it, but Marygrove traditionally was spared this sort of notoriety"). Kienzle portrays all the workshop participants-rabbis, priests, nuns, and televangelists-comfortably drinking martinis and Jack Daniels in what is now the President's Dining Room. Kienzle moves the reader easily around the campus with some literary license-relocating the chapel from the Liberal Arts Building to the first floor of the Madame Cadillac Building-but preserves the charm of the 50 acre wooded oasis that is Marygrove College.
Across the parking lot from the College sits Bates Academy, formerly Immaculata High School also founded by the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters. Poet Lawrence Joseph remembers the high school in "In This Time." The poem's speaker captures adolescent feelings and experiences:
In the Jesuit School the middle voice of the optative mood, cassocks, wooden kneelers, pages of cosines, syllogisms. In the imagination the blue cotton skirt at Immaculata High School lifted with both hands. (21)
The all-female Immaculata had a relationship with the all-male University of Detroit High School ("the Jesuit School") which included student sock hops. At senior prom time many Immaculata girls would be seen on the arms of U of D boys. The stern, disciplined atmosphere dominating each of these Catholic high schools all but guaranteed that the blue cotton skirt Joseph refers to could usually be lifted only in the imagination of an adolescent boy.
In the early 1970s, Marygrove transformed its traditional auditorium space into a theater modeled after the Minneapolis Guthrie and the Stratford, Ontario, theaters, to accommodate the University of Detroit Theatre Company. The opening performance was Shakespeare's Tempest and starred Shepherd Strudwick. For several years the Company performed a host of contemporary and classical plays, including Child's Play, Waiting for Godot, Romeo and Juliet, and Streetcar Named Desire. In 2002, the Theatre, after a complete renovation, reopened its doors to the world of performing arts.
Among Marygrove alumni who have gone on to become part of the literary world are poet, fiction and nonfiction author Jean Kearns Miller (Women from another Planet?), poet Eleanor Fitzgibbons, IHM (At Creation's Door), children's book author Janice Beare Jones (Secrets of a Summer Spy), and poets Michael Martin, LaTonya Baldwin, and Joan Hooks Polk.
Since 1989, the College has hosted the annual Contemporary American Authors Series, bringing to Detroit audiences playwrights (Pearl Cleage), poets (Cornelius Eady, Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton, Toi Derricotte, and Sherley Ann Williams), fiction writers (Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Ernest J. Gaines, Virginia Hamilton, John Edgar Wideman, Paule Marshall, Merle Collins, Octavia Butler, and Gloria Naylor), and essayists (Mary Helen Washington). The 2005 guest will be Pulitzer Prize winning fiction writer Edward P. Jones. The campus has also played host to G.K. Chesterton, Galway Kinnell, John Gardner, Seamus Heaney, Dudley Randall (who taught creative writing at Marygrove in 1980 and 1981), Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Levine, Lawrence Joseph, Jim Daniels, Joan Blos, Alvin Aubert, Terry Blackhawk, Melba Joyce Boyd, Gary Gildner, and Sonia Sanchez.
Marygrove College has been an occasional publisher of literary and historical works. In 1993 the Marygove College Press issued the newly illustrated 10th edition of G.K. Chesterton's 1911 The Ballad of the White Horse, edited by Sr. Bernadette Sheridan, IHM, in 1928. Sheridan argues that the poem presents "the struggle between Christianity and heathenism in the heroic days of King Alfred, and at the same time touches contemporary issues of the twentieth century" (ix). The College also collaborated in publishing Father Clem Kern, Conscience of Detroit by Genevieve M. Casey.
In 2001, Marygrove began publishing the Maxis Review under the editorial direction of Donald Levin, Associate Professor of English and himself a published poet and fiction writer. Levin describes the Maxis as "both broad and deep, representing an impressive array of subjects, forms, and experiences. Within [its] pages you will find works ranging from established authors to those newcomers to what Fay Weldon called the City of Invention" (4). The College annually publishes this journal that invites submissions of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, photography, and artworks. In addition to publishing works written by students, the review includes works by noted writers such as Jim Daniels, Michael Ladanyi, Terry Lowenstein, and Terry Blackhawk.
From the authors who employ the College and its environs as setting and memory to those who walked its halls as students, faculty, and guest artists, Marygrove has both entered and welcomed the literary world.
Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at Marygrove College, Patricia Pichurski graduated from Immaculata High School and received her undergraduate degree from Marygrove in 1973. She is a native Detroiter who went on to get her Ph.D. from the University of Detroit/Mercy in 1982.
Photos by Dirk Bakker and Wayne State University.
Casey, Genevieve M. Father Clem Kern, Conscience of Detroit. Detroit: Marygrove, 1989.
Chesterton, G.K. The Ballad of the White Horse. Ed. Bernadette Sheridan, IHM. Detroit: Marygrove, 1993.
Joseph, Lawrence. Curriculum Vitae. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1988.
Kienzle, William X. Masquerade. New York: Andrews and McMeel, 1990.
Levin, Donald. Editor's Note. Maxis Review, 1.2 (Spring 2002): 4.