A beloved Hope College professor who influenced more than a generation of students is remembered in a memorial volume published earlier this month.
Dr. A. James Prins, a long-time member of the college's English faculty who died on May 27, 2003, at age 86, is celebrated in "A. James Prins: A Life in Literature." The book is edited by former student and Hope colleague, Dr. Kathleen Verduin, and also by Prins' son, Christopher James Prins.
Prins taught at Hope for 35 years, from 1946 until retiring in 1981. Highly respected as a teacher, he was elected recipient of the college's "Hope Outstanding Professor Educator" (H.O.P.E.) Award by the graduating class in 1966.
As a Hope English major in the 1960s, Verduin enrolled in three of Prins's courses, and found his reputation as a master teacher well-deserved.
"He never seemed to use notes. He would have the novel in one hand, and that's about all," Verduin said. "Somebody once joked that he lectured in stream-of-consciousness because his words just seemed to flow."
"He had a wonderful lecture style," she said. "You didn't feel he was talking at you - he was talking to you. He was always very eloquent and impassioned."
As originally envisioned, the book was to be relatively slim, featuring a few pieces by Prins and reflections by some of his former students and colleagues. However, as Verduin and Christopher Prins pursued the project, and as the family sorted through the elder Prins's papers, they made a discovery: file cabinets filled with lecture notes. The lecture notes, moreover, were detailed and beautifully written. The master teacher who had made it look so easy had worked incredibly hard at his craft.
"We knew he knew the material inside-out, but it always seemed so spontaneous," Verduin said. "And then we saw that he actually typed out word-for-word, including asides and jokes, what he wanted to say. It showed us how much work had gone into those lectures."
The notes, Verduin believes, capture Prins's voice in a way that his former students will enjoy.
"I think what's going to be exciting for people who had Jim is that you can really hear his voice again," she said. "It's like being in the classroom again."
His son appreciates the way that they reflect who his father was.
"Perhaps nothing more in this memorial volume comes as close as these teaching notes to capturing the essence of A. James Prins the teacher, and to recording the energy and ideas he imparted to the thousands of students he taught at Hope College," he said.
"A Life in Literature" includes a representative sample of the lectures, grouped within four categories: the American novel, the English novel, the European novel and the Russian novel.
In addition, the book includes several of Prins's published and unpublished works: a number of literary essays and book reviews; a chapter from his dissertation on Charles Dickens's "Bleak House"; his "Last Chance Talk" delivered to the campus as the H.O.P.E. winner; and an interview featured in the college's alumni publication in 1975. The tributes include reflections by his wife, Iris, whom he met while stationed in England during World War II, as well as by friends, colleagues and former students. The book also features photographs from his family and Hope publications.
Copies of "A. James Prins: A Life in Literature" are available in the Hope-Geneva Bookstore on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, located at 141 E. 12th St., on the corner of Columbia Avenue and 12th Street. The hardcover book totals more than 550 pages and costs $29.95. Copies may be ordered online at www.hope.edu/bookstore/ or by calling the bookstore at (616) 395-7833 or 1-800-946-4673.