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Dordt College News

James Schaap double-dips to be writer-in-residence at covenant

May 14, 2010

One thousand miles separate students at Dordt College and those attending Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

But thanks to modern technology, students on each campus are enrolled in the same creative writing course.

Forty-two students are learning how to approach the process of fiction writing from author James Calvin Schaap.

Schaap’s writing talent caught the eye of Paul Hesselink, an emeritus professor of English at Covenant College, who encountered Schaap’s work while searching for a Christmas story to share at a faculty party. A story in Schaap’s 1997 collection of short stories, “The Secrets of Barneveld Calvary,” fit the bill.

Dr. James Schaap has found a creative way to work with and connect fiction writing students at two sister institutions.As head of Covenant’s Writer-in-Residence program, Hesselink contacted Schaap and asked him to consider teaching a course there this spring. The program brings an accomplished writer to campus every other year to teach some genre of imaginative writing.

Schaap already had a class of twenty-two Dordt students enrolled in his spring semester fiction course, but after some careful consideration, he accepted the challenge of simultaneously teaching the same course to another twenty students at Covenant College.

When asked how he was dealing with teaching both of these classes Schaap said, “The real problem is just the blizzard. Not snow. Papers. I’ve got them coming in from all angles these days, and they mount up fast. . . . The thing is I sort of enjoy it—maybe even too much. . . . I’ve got forty-two fiction writers. That’s awful (but I like ‘em).”

Schaap spent a week at Covenant at the start of the semester and returned there for a week in March during Dordt’s spring break. The rest of the course is accomplished via the internet, e-mail, and mp3 podcasts that Schaap has recorded and posted online. The Covenant students have access to the same written materials offered to Dordt students through “Courses@Dordt,” an online tool for faculty and student interaction on Dordt’s computer network.

Schaap has paired up a few “pen pals” between the schools, and students from both classes can comment on each other’s short story assignments through an online forum. In addition, Schaap recruited Dordt alumna Carma Smidt (’99) to help individual students from both colleges with their first attempts at writing fiction. Smidt has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of South Dakota. 

“Generally I’d say a quite significant number of students who take this class are disappointed in what they write,” Schaap said when asked about his goals for the courses. “I don’t really care whether my students write grand short stories. I’d much rather have them understand the process, work at it, learn something about imagination and creativity, look closely at stories other people consider to be good, and just live in the world of an imaginative writer for a while. They’ll have the rest of their lives to live—and write.”

This is actually Schaap’s second collaboration with Covenant College: In the 1980s, he wrote a play about the story of King David with Musician James Ward, who once taught at Covenant. The musical was titled, “The House of the Lord,” and it was performed at Covenant in the early ’80s.

The Bagpipe Online, a student newspaper at Covenant College, introduced Schaap to the campus with the headline: “Professor wows adoring students with writing know-how and witty wordplay.” Writer Lianne Visser, a Covenant College senior from Whitinsville, Massachusetts,  noted, “Schaap is Dutch, hails from Wisconsin, has a great Reformed name, currently teaches at Dordt College, and has graciously agreed to teach a class here as well.”

Schaap, who has been teaching English at Dordt College for thirty-two years, has written more than twenty books; won an Award of Merit in the Christianity Today 2004 book awards; received five top Evangelical Press Association fiction awards, as well as four Associated Church Press Awards. He was among twenty authors featured in The Best Christian Writing 2004, and his novel Romey’s Place was a runner-up for the prestigious Christy Award. Schaap’s articles, essays, and short stories have been published in more than twenty-five magazines and journals, including Poet & Critic, Mid-American Review, and The Banner.


JANE VER STEEG

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