Colleagues, students, alumni, and friends gathered at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, on February 19 to hear from a beloved writer.
James Schaap, professor at Dordt and storyteller of the CRC community, gave his final reading as a professor. Schaap will be retiring from teaching at the end of this school year.
Schaap’s passion was evident. Moving to Iowa from Arizona in 1976, he knew being a professor would allow him to write more. Without having taken a formal writing course, he realized writing was his calling in life.
“I decided that if I could learn what a story was, then I could do other things,” Schaap said. “I can create character and I can create setting, but what is a story?”
And so he searched. The old stories he read led to his first book, Sign of a Promise.
Schaap said his defining moment as a writer came from reading The Secret Place by Frederick Manfred. Set in Doon, Iowa, the story centers on an era of the CRC Schaap was just young enough to remember.
“That was new to me. I thought you had to be Jewish or from New York, or you had to have some sort of exotic background. But that you could just be somebody with an ordinary life and write about that—that I got from Manfred.”
Schaap might be best known in the CRC community for his book A Family Album: The Unfinished Story of the Christian Reformed Church, which was subsequently produced for the stage and recorded on DVD.
Schaap recently published Rehoboth: A Place for Us, which tells the stories of twelve families whose lives were affected by Rehoboth Christian School in New Mexico, which was run by the CRC.
With his own writing, Schaap said his inspiration is varied. His more recent work delves into magic realism, a style that comes from his students. Devoutly a realist, he’s noticed that nearly a third of his students’ short stories are fantasy. The magic realism he’s found is his way of employing that same technique.
Retiring is a big change, but Schaap has no worries. “I have at least a half-dozen projects that I’d like to do,” he said.
The stories he shared in his reading are not yet part of a book, and there isn’t yet time to finish one. But Schaap has plans for them in the back of his mind.
“I know the next story I want to write,” he said. “Fiction is something that when you’re in it, new stories emerge. I sort of have to be in that limbo.”
Schaap is a member of Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa.