Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of English Dutton Kearney studied com­puter pro­gramming before he decided to pursue a career in English. | Col­legian Archives 

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.