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Faculty Spotlight: Jeff Vande Zande, English Professor

Growing up, Jeff Vande Zande started Saturdays doing the same thing as every other kid. He watched cartoons.

But he remembers always having to keep the television volume low, as his father worked on his writing at their home in Marquette, where he was also an instructor at Northern Michigan University.

That’s how Vande Zande got his penchant for both crafts.

“I was always around writing,” said Vande Zande, who has been an English professor at Delta College since 2000. “In high school, I kind of rebelled against it, because that’s what the old man did. But I kind of came back to it. It started with poetry then turned to fiction. That turned into novels and then I started writing for films.”

Vande Zande has a vast array of published work. His novel, “American Poet,” won the 2013 Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan, among others.

Jeff Vande ZandeAt Delta, Vande Zande teaches fiction writing, advanced creative writing and screen writing. He also team-teaches digital film production, where students write short film scripts, preparing them to be ready for filming. Vande Zande and his colleague Jim Gleason also have created several short films (Cellar Dwellers, B.F.A) of their own.

The duo has had several of their films highlighted at the Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival, which recognizes independent films and music in downtown Bay City each September.

“We approached them and asked if they would consider having a short film program that would just highlight Delta’s short films,” Vande Zande said.

The festival agreed. Students not only submit films (view some of their Capstone projects here) but they also get the opportunity to volunteer with the film festival. Delta also works with the Saginaw Riverside Film Festival.

Delta offers an advanced certificate in Digital Film Production designed for those who would like to be independent filmmakers. Courses will prepare students for work in video advertising, videography and production. Vande Zande added that a two-year degree program is also in the works.

Vande Zande considers his greatest career accomplishment to be his involvement with building the curriculum and developing new classes at Delta. To do that, he has been attentive to students’ needs.

“I think that it’s part of Delta’s job to keep young people here (in Michigan),” he said. “To keep things like Hell’s Half Mile Film Festival happening. If we don’t give them this program, they’re just going to go somewhere else. Then, we’re going to lose these creative people.”

Vande Zande, too, likes to create things. Anything. When he isn’t writing, he has built furniture -- teaching himself how to do it along the way.

“I feel just as fulfilled by seeing that (furniture) come together as I do with writing,” he said. “I just try to always be doing something creative.”

Vande Zande’s greatest advice for his students: If you want to pursue your art, don’t always listen to society.

“I try to encourage them to not get caught up in ‘I’ve got to have a great car, I have to have a great house or hip clothes.’ You get yourself locked in. And then, to finance that, you’re going to need a job,” he said. “And pretty soon, you don’t get a job. The job gets you. It owns you because you own all this stuff that you don’t really own because you have loans.

“Then you say, ‘Once I have a day job, then I’ll write at night or I’ll work on films at night,’ he said. “But often, you don’t. You just come home and you’re tired.

Vande Zande sometimes challenges students to reassess their lives, asking them if they could live a simple life, making room for creativity.

“Can you not worry about what you own but just make room for that creativity? If they try to move you up at your job, tell them no if you’ve struck that balance.”

Awards and accomplishments

  • 2012 Bergstein Award for Teaching Excellence
  • 2012 Stuart D. and Vernice M. Gross Award for Literature in Historical Fiction Drama (“American Poet”).
  • 2013 Michigan Notable Book Award from the Library of Michigan (“American Poet”).

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