Hillsdale College will offer a new Creative Writing Honors Program in Fiction led by author and visiting professor Chigozie Obioma starting in the fall.
“Professor Obioma was chosen because of his extraordinary gifts as a writer, and also for his expertise in teaching,” Associate Professor of English Dutton Kearney said.
As head of the Visiting Writers Program, Kearney invited Obioma to campus in the spring of 2021. The author, who is from Akure, Nigeria, has been shortlisted as a Booker Prize finalist twice for his works “The Fisherman” and “An Orchestra of Minorities.”
Obioma was the first writer Kearney invited in 2019 after he took over the position as head of the program, although the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the visit.
When Obioma was finally able to visit last year, “students loved the writing workshops that were a part of his campus visit, and they universally admired his public readings,” Kearney said.
According to Kearney, students have requested a creative writing program for years. After Obioma’s visit, President Larry Arnn led the initiative to create the new program, and focused on inviting Obioma.
“There is much to admire about Dr. Arnn, but what I might admire most is that he has balanced his administrative success with a deep love of the arts. Poetry, music, theater, rhetoric: He understands that artistic expressions can’t be beautiful without also having years of education that roots them in the good and the true,” Kearney said. “He immediately recognized these things in professor Obioma’s novels, and then he focused on getting him here to teach our students.”
Kearney, the faculty administrator of the new program, said the class will be a combination of in-person and remote teaching and will be limited to 10 students, as Obioma will commute from his teaching position at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Students who are interested in joining the class must submit a story of their own between five and 20 pages to him by 5 p.m. on April 15.
Obioma said he readily agreed to take the position.
“When I visited the Hillsdale campus last year to read and speak, I saw the energy from the students and their enthusiasm for creative expression through fiction,” Obioma said. “I had a small workshop during that visit where this was apparent, but I was more convinced by the sophisticated and impassioned questions the students asked me after my reading event. Thus, when the idea was floated by Dr. Kearney and President Arnn, it was easy to nod in acceptance.”
According to the class’ syllabus, the program will focus on teaching students not only the craft of fiction writing, but also how to peer review and annotate well. Students will also be required to write two stories between five and 20 pages long.
Although Obioma said he has taught and mentored students in the art of creative writing all over the world, he still is not sure he can truly teach anyone to write.
“I believe I can help students see how to write well — or better,” he said. “There’s a subtle but cosmic difference between the two. I think that with focused instruction and close mentorship, this is within an attainable universe of achievement. What is most important is to find a group of driven students who have a love for creative writing and the rest can fall into place. It would be great to see a future Cormac McCarthy out of Hillsdale in future, wouldn’t it?”
“My hope is that, beyond all, it will be fun,” Obioma said.