Born in Holland, Michigan (1927), raised there and in Ann Arbor, and a longtime resident of the Washington, DC area, Rod Jellema is Professor Emeritus of English and former Director of Creative Writing at the University of Maryland. A graduate of Calvin College, he did his graduate studies (PhD) at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland).
He began teaching at Maryland in 1955. He began work as a poet in mid-career in 1967, at age 40. In 1970 he founded the university’s creative writing program and was appointed its director. Since then, his five books of poems have been published: Something Tugging the Line (1973), The Lost Faces (1978), The Eighth Day: New and Selected Poems (1985), A Slender Grace (2005), and his most recent book (which includes a CD), Incarnality: the Collected Poems (2010). He has also published two award-winning books of his selections and translations from Frisian poetry: Country Fair: Poems from Friesland since 1945 (1985) and The Sound that Remains: A Historical Collection of Frisian Poetry (1989). He was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Prize (1969), two NEA Writing Fellowships in poetry (1975 and 1980), the Columbia University Translation Prize (1989), Friesland’s provincial Pieter Jelles Prize (1991), Christianity and Literature’s Book-of-the-Year Award and the Towson University Prize in Literature (2005), and nine Writers' Residence Fellowships at Yaddo.
In the years of the war in Viet Nam, he organized and directed the University of Maryland’s three weekend conferences (1968, 1969, 1970) on “Poetry and the National Conscience.” The conferences incidentally pulled together several Washington-area poets who at that time were writing in isolation, unknown to each other.
A lover of the adventures of teaching (possibly more a teacher than a poet), he worked outside the university walls as a frequent convener of advanced poetry workshops (“more a midwife than a teacher”) at the Writers Center in Bethesda, MD. He also spent about a dozen years doing leisure-time elementary school poetry writing workshops in the state of Maryland’s Poet in the Schools Program.
The father of three sons, Jellema over the years has spent much of his summertime in his native dunelands on Lake Michigan. He and his wife, the writer Michele Orwin, often take temporary residence in the San Juan / Condado area of Puerto Rico.
His vocation and avocation are really the same: poetry. He reads and thinks some theology as an adjunct. But he is also a student and lover of old recordings of traditional New Orleans style jazz music. He has tried (unsuccessfully so far, 2013) to finish a book titled "Really Hot: a New Hearing for Old New Orleans Jazz."
written by Rod Jellema 2013
Note: Rod Jellema passed away in June 2018.