WHAT HE WOULD WANT YOU TO KNOW
He’s written over 30 books, most of them for children and young adults. Two of them have shiny silver medallions embossed on their covers, signifying that he’s won two Newbery Honors. He’s had one of his books (a particularly autobiographical one) made into a play performed by Calvin’s Theatre Company.
These are the things that Calvin English professor Gary Schmidt wouldn’t tell you, especially if you’ve just met.
So what would he say?
He’d probably start by telling you about an exciting change to the English department’s academic programs.
“Did you know that Calvin’s English department is now offering a writing major, starting in fall 2011?”
He would encourage you to register for “The Craft of Writing” and “Fiction Writing,” courses he teaches regularly, and to check out courses in business writing, poetry and nonfiction writing taught by other English profs.
Professor Schmidt might mention the lively discussions, some of them held in front of the fireplace in his 19th-century farmhouse, as part of the English department’s “One Book, One Department” program. He might not mention the fact that he came up with the idea to get English majors reading a book together for fun, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but he’d invite you to take part in the discussions when you arrive on campus in the fall.
Another thing he’d tell you? To join him in the lobby of Calvin’s new Covenant Fine Arts Center each week during January for Soup Mondays. You don’t even have to bring a bowl—just come and enjoy the simmering sustenance compliments of Professor Schmidt and his fellow English profs.
He might add a plug for the popular “New England Saints” course that he co-teaches during Calvin’s three-week January interim. The trip, offered every two to three years, takes students to explore the homes, hangouts and graves of famous New England writers. You’ll read Emily Dickinson in the room where she penned great poetry; you’ll read Henry David Thoreau while standing on the frozen Walden Pond.
At some point in your conversation, Professor Schmidt will certainly ask you about your writing life. Do you consider yourself a writer? What are you doing to become a better one? Have you considered publishing your work?
He’ll tell you that each day, he gets up and writes at least 500 words. He might also tell you that the first work of fiction he ever wrote never made it to publication: “One night, really late at night, I was working on Latin prayers, and I was sick of it, so I sat down and wrote the first page of a novel for children. And it was terrible. ... And I sent it away, and it was rejected, for which I’m very grateful today.”
All of this he’d say to encourage you in your journey to becoming a better writer—maybe even one who will someday bring home Calvin’s first Pulitzer Prize or add to its handful of Newberys.
If you happen to meet Professor Schmidt on a campus visit or at first-year student orientation, he will want you to know this: He and his colleagues work hard to create a collaborative community among English majors. Why? Because the best writing and reading is often done with the help of others. Then, he’d offer his help to you.
English professor and department co-chair William Vande Kopple says: “For a prospective writer, you’re not going to get a more supportive mentor than Professor Schmidt.”
THE WEDNESDAY WARS
Professor Schmidt got to watch his Newbery Honor-winning book, The Wednesday Wars, come to life on the stage this January in Calvin’s Lab Theater. Calvin alum Kirsten Kelly (see page 11) returned to Calvin to produce this story-turned-play about Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader who is forced to read Shakespeare by his teacher, Mrs. Baker.
In reality, Professor Schmidt was watching his own life on the stage—the story is about his seventh-grade experience reading Shakespeare while his Jewish and Catholic classmates left school for religious activities each Wednesday afternoon. The story is both inspiring and hilarious, a great read for a sick day, a beach day or any day, really.