Thursday, November 16, 2017


by Maggie Liepshutz,
President of the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden Club
Maggie waters the Emily Dickinson roses.
I remember the day that Mrs. McQuillan introduced the Literary Garden to my sophomore Honors American Literature class. There were definitely mixed reactions; some of us were confused, some were open to the idea, and then there were the students who were absolutely obsessed with the idea, one of those students being myself. I also remember Mrs. McQuillan sharing her ideas with the class, but what I remember the most was the passion and enthusiasm that she felt towards this idea of a garden that would both display nature in literature in a new and unique way, but also bring her students closer together not only to this nature, but to each other. These feelings were completely contagious, and soon I started to feel the exact same way.

It's bloody butcher corn time, thanks to the Old Manse!
The garden started to flourish (literally). Ideas sprouted, plants were planted, and the garden was off to an amazing start. Soon after that, the Literary Garden “club” was put into action. I thought it was a great idea, so obviously I decided to join! We spent the first year as an “unofficial club,” which was unfortunate at times, considering we weren’t able to do half of the things the normal clubs were able to do, but the 15 of us had a great time that year nonetheless. I looked forward to going to every meeting just to be the in the presence of Mrs. McQuillan and my fellow classmates who had the same love for the garden as I did. After that year, I knew that the garden was going to become a huge part of my life.

It wasn’t even a question whether or not I was going to join the Literary Garden Club during my senior year. I knew that if I was going to do any extracurricular activities or clubs, I was going to make room to care for the Literary Garden. What I didn’t know was that the club was going to grow significantly. The club that once had only a dozen people each each meeting would soon have over 30 new members. The first meeting we had around 50 students... I was SHOCKED. I  was expecting the same 15 or so students to gather up for the first meeting and it would be like the previous year until we publicized the club more, but man was I wrong! That day was the day I knew that the Literary Garden Club was going to be something more than just 15 students in a room, but a brand new huge family.
The West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden Club, 2017

Allen Ginsberg's Sunflowers

The WBHS Literary Garden Club Exec Board and Committee Chairs
I decided to run to be the president of the Literary Garden Club for a couple of reasons. The garden had grown significantly, and Mrs. McQuillan couldn’t continue to do it all on her own. Plus, I had so many new ideas for the garden, and I really wanted to make an impact on the school. When I was elected to be the president, I really had no idea what to expect. I had never really had any significant leadership roles in a club before, and I knew that the responsibilities would be endless, but I was up for that challenge.

Being president has been everything I have imagined and even more thus far. We threw our first Haunted Literary Garden Haunted House at the end of October, and it was a huge success.

The First Annual Haunted Literary Garden!

I proudly watched members of all grades come together to create something magical.
American authors, living and dead, mingled in the garden for some horror and comedy.
I also watched everyone come together to decorate a window for U-Matter week with less than a two day notice, and everybody had a great time. It has been a terrific start to the year, and every time we all come together it makes me really excited to begin planning more activities and fundraisers for us to do.
Club members wrote inspirational quotes from American authors on the leaves of the tree to inspire
fellow students during U-Matter week.
The Literary Garden Club is truly much more than just your typical club; we are a huge family full of people all ages who are just trying to make West Bloomfield High School a better place. Although there have been some stressful moments and some mild bumps in the road, everything is coming  together so amazingly, and we have so much more that we want to do. I’m so grateful and honored to be the first president of The Literary Garden Club, and I  know that the rest of the year is going to be incredible.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hemingway Field Trip Time!

I have had a blast traveling the country and gathering plants for the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden, but in the back of my mind I have always hoped to bring my students to the places where these authors found their inspiration. This week, with the help of Michigan Hemingway Society President Chris Struble and critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Dr. George Colburn, my sophomores, juniors, and seniors got to visit Ernest Hemingway country in northern Michigan - the home of the Nick Adams stories.

Photo courtesy of Maggie L.

We do have mint in the Literary Garden, and when we read some of the Nick Adams stories, we did go outside and pick, smell, and taste the mint as we read the first paragraph of "Summer People:"

"HALFWAY DOWN THE GRAVEL ROAD FROM Hortons Bay, the town, to the lake there was a spring. The water came up in a tile sunk beside the road, lipping over the cracked edge of the tile and flowing away through the close growing mint into the swamp. In the dark Nick put his arm down into the spring but could not hold it there because of the cold. He felt the featherings of the sand spouting up from the spring cones at the bottom against his fingers. Nick thought, I wish I could put all of myself in there. I bet that would fix me. He pulled his arm out and sat down at the edge of the road. It was a hot night."

We talked about the symbolism of that spring and its baptismal qualities, and what a WWI veteran like Nick might be attempting to wash away. We talked about mint and why it's used in gum, how it's billed as a "refreshing" flavor, and how that added to Nick's desire to purge himself of the horrors of war, of his early trauma, of his lustful thoughts, and so forth. And yes, having the mint in the garden provides a tangible and visible experience for my students that most literature classes just don't have. But when I bussed them up to Hemingway country for the day, everything changed.
Photo courtesy of Alison A.

Photo courtesy of Rachel D.

Photo courtesy of Rachel D.

The students plunged their own hands in the water, picked the mint at its source, tried to catch frogs hanging out at the lip of the "cracked tile," and connected to Hemingway's words in a way that no video or link or digital text could ever capture. They reported that the water was shockingly cold and that they could now better understand why Nick would want to put his whole body in there to somehow purify himself from all he had been through in his young life. It made sense to them.

There's something so visceral, so tangible, about wading in the waters of Horton Bay and Walloon Lake where Hemingway and his friends went swimming. (Photo courtesy of Alison A.)

Photo courtesy of Maggie L.

Photos courtesy of Alison A.

Hemingway didn't say this, but Henry David Thoreau did, back in 1841: "What I begin by reading, I must finish by acting." It is my sincere hope that I can continue to offer these kinds of opportunities to my students to make literature jump off the page and into their hands - literally. 

Who knows what kind of inspiration my students will find from one of these literary trips? Who knows how they will choose to act, what they will choose to become, as a result of this intoxicating mix of great literature and the nature that inspires it? I know I will keep reading and acting to find the opportunities for my students...and I will let them take it from there.
Photo courtesy of Haley P.

We are extraordinarily grateful to Chris Struble of the Michigan Hemingway Society and to Dr. George Colburn for all that they did to make this trip a reality. You can check out Dr. Colburn's new documentary on Young Hemingway here!