On Saturday I visited professor Jeff Hillard’s Cincinnati Authors class at the College of Mount St. Joseph to talk about Dancing in Heaven. I’m going to tell you more about my morning there next week, but for now, I wanted to introduce Jeff and the Cincinnati Authors’ class to you.
Jeff is a well-loved English and Creative Writing teacher at the College of Mount St. Joseph. I first met him when I took his Poetry class in 2004. I later took a Fiction: Short Story class from him as well. He is an interesting and energetic teacher with a lot of ideas. Jeff also is an awesome writer and poet.
I’ve worked closely with Jeff over the past three years as web-editor for his online magazine, RED!webzine, stories of transformation in the lives of prisoners, and of individuals re-entering society, and the innovations making it happen.
Jeff recently self-published a small ebook aimed at getting youth interested in reading called A Bunch in a Month. It is a month’s worth of daily devotional for ages 9 – 15. Each day has a Bible verse followed by an inspirational short story to encourage young readers to think about what it all means to them in their own lives.
Jeff created the Cincinnati Authors course in 1993. He is the only instructor of the course. “I created it because I believed students should become acquainted with local and regional writers whose work is incredibly meaningful and deserving of attention,” he says.
I asked Jeff a few questions about the course.
What do you hope students will get from the class?
“I hope that students will become familiar with the great wellspring of writing and writers living “right under their noses”; that is, there are many working writers in Greater Cincinnati – past and present – that have made a literary impact in both quiet and large ways. I hope to connect students with those writers.”
How often do you teach the course?
“I always have a “revolving door” of writers coming into the course. Since 1993, I have brought over 70 writers into the class. For about 12 years, we only rolled out the course once every two years. Now, it is so popular that we roll it out nearly every semester – certainly once a year. The genres we cover vary from children’s literature to screenwriting. Naturally, it also involves fiction, poetry, journalism, essay writing, and memoir writing.”
Who were your authors this year?
Are there any notable authors from past years?
“Past authors are plentiful, too many to name. One of my favorites, of course, is the major American novelist Thomas Berger, who is Cincinnati’s greatest all-time novelist – and the strangest. He is from my hometown of Lockland, and he is basically a recluse who lives in New York. He has written 23 novels and his place in the country’s pantheon of major novelists is secure. He wrote the novel Little Big Man, which was made into a movie starring Dustin Hoffman. He also wrote a novel, Neighbors, that was made into a movie starring the late John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd of Saturday Night Live. Berger is by far both our strangest writer and most significant ever coming out of Cincinnati. By the way, I know Thomas Berger fairly well. His parents, in Lockland, were wonderful supporters of me in my early writing career. And they told me many stories about their famous, extremely private son.”
The students in the Cincinnati Authors class read the authors’ books, then journal and hold small group discussions about them. The author then comes in for a discussion and question and answer period. I was happy to be able to share my memoir, Dancing in Heaven, with this very attentive class. I’m going to write more about my experience there next week.