Special magazine produced by students for Elton John displayed backstage at Van Andel Arena concert

A display on a wall shows part of a special magazine created by writing students. The GVSU logo is visible. The top says "Winter Semester 2020 Student Writing; A collection of work inspired by Elton John."
Image credit - Courtesy of Van Andel Arena

This month's rescheduled 2020 Elton John concert at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids also renewed an opportunity originally planned two years ago for the work of Grand Valley writing students to be displayed backstage.

Pages from a special magazine produced as a tribute to the musical icon were blown up and placed on the walls backstage for the April 5 show, officials with Van Andel Arena said. This was a continuation of a plan for the 2020 concert that had to be shelved when the pandemic forced John to pause his tour.

“The marketing department at Van Andel Arena was excited to partner with Grand Valley State University’s writing department for the Elton John Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour,” said Hilarie Carpenter, director of marketing. “Working with students truly proves his music lives on by inspiring generations to come.”

Students from three different Department of Writing classes contributed:

  • Those in the style and technique class of Chris Haven style wrote flash fictions inspired by John's songs and lyrics.
  • Students in Caitlin Horrocks' intermediate nonfiction class wrote nonfiction pieces inspired by music in general.
  • And students in the advanced magazine writing class of Oindrila Mukherjee created, designed and edited the magazine.

Part of a magazine is shown. The headline of the story reads: Elton John, A Legend in His Own Words. The magazine title, "New Beginnings" is at the top.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills
Part of a magazine is seen. Some images from Elton John albums are behind the page. At the foreground, the headline says, "Student Writing" and describes the content as a collection of work.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills
Writing students created a special magazine for the Elton John concert in Grand Rapids

Mukherjee said officials at Van Andel Arena reached out to the Writing Department in 2020 to see about producing something through GVSU classes for the concert, leading to the supplement on John as part of the larger magazine that was the main class project, a magazine titled New Beginnings.

The objectives for producing the section on John included deep research into one focus area, from John's music to fashion, while also recognizing the local relevance of the musician playing in Grand Rapids, Mukherjee said.

"They put in so much work, and it was such a shame that everything was canceled," Mukherjee said.

She said when she heard about the rescheduled concert, she reached out to Van Andel officials to see about resurrecting the backstage project, and received word in March that they could do it.

That was also good news for Alaina Taylor, '20, who was the magazine's managing editor. Taylor chuckled ruefully when discussing the name of the magazine, "New Beginnings," as it was conceived in part as a theme about students eagerly anticipating what's next in their lives. Then came the pandemic.

"It was an exciting way to look at change, and then everything changed and it didn’t seem so exciting anymore, but the theme still fit," said Taylor, who now works on the communications team for the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

That's why Taylor is particularly glad that the special plans for the John section, which the pandemic had seemingly robbed, were restored. Taylor, who as a writer appreciates the lyrical storytelling in John's hit, "Your Song," recalled a collective shriek of excitement by students at just the opportunity to create content about the artist who transcends generations.

"He's an icon, a symbol of the '70s music movement and a trailblazer for queer artists who can openly express who they are," Taylor said. "We appreciated his music and also his legacy; he changes mass media, and we see the effects of his influence on culture."


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