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A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: MaxAbility

Jeanne Hess and Max
Linda Nartker
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Jeanne Hess
Jeanne Hess and Max

The Kalamazoo community may know Jeanne Hess as a city commissioner, first elected in 2019. But for 35 years before that, Hess was an icon as a professor, chair of the Physical Education Department, and volleyball coach at Kalamazoo College. Based on those experiences, Hess has written two books – Sportuality: Finding Joy in the Games, and now Maxability: Who are you? What are you here for? The inspiration for these books was a young man named Max.

A conversation with Jeanne Hess

“Max is a dear, dear friend who has enhanced my life, who has been a teacher for me, who has brought more love and joy than I ever thought this young man could,” Hess says. “Why is he here? Max is the brother of a young woman who I recruited to play volleyball for me at Kalamazoo College when I was the coach there. He was in 7th grade at the time and was sitting high in the bleachers just in front of me—I think intentionally. He turned around to me and pretty much shouted the questions—'Who are you? What are you here for?’”

The front cover of MaxAbility
Courtesy of the author
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Jeanne Hess
The front cover of MaxAbility

Hess gave the boy basic answers in that first encounter: her name and occupation. She was there to recruit his sister. Max did not approve. He wanted to keep his sister home. But the young woman did come to Kalamazoo College, and a friendship with Max and his family ensued. With that, Hess found her answers to Max’s questions deepening and widening.

Hess writes about that friendship and what she learned from Max and his family: about the grief over a child who died, about a foreign adoption, and about what it means to be a good sport in athletics and in life. She writes about what it means and what it takes to reach one’s maximum capabilities.

In answering those questions Max asked her, Hess says she was led to contemplate the power of love, of questions, family, education, and more.

“Our answers evolve,” Hess says. “It may mean more than name, rank, and serial number. As I sat with these questions in my meditative process, this is what I came up with when I published this book. Today, I would look Max in the eye, and I would say, ‘Thank you, Max, for those questions. I am who I am. I am blessed as a child of creation and as a member of the cosmic universe, just as you are. I am, and you are, peace and love and joy. I am here to connect and remind humanity that all thought is connected, and all minds are joined as one. Everything we are, everything we do, and everything we create flows into and throughout all human consciousness, and that realm of co-creation is where we find our joy.’”

Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
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