Although he has never attended law school, Taylor University professor Dr. Dennis E. Hensley finds himself sitting in judgment of others four times each year. Hensley is director of Taylor's Professional Writing Department. He also serves as a judge for four of the most prestigious writing awards granted nationwide annually.
"It's an honor to be asked to judge the works of the top writers in the country," says Hensley, "but it's also a lot of work. It involves endless hours of reading, critiquing, and analyzing books or magazine articles and then preparing a written report. Being a journalist and book author myself, I empathize with all the effort that goes into preparing a published work. I try to provide helpful, honest suggestions and evaluations."
Hensley holds a Ph.D. in literature and linguistics from Ball State University, and he is the author of 53 published books and more than 3,000 articles and short stories. He is a recipient of the Indiana University Award for Teaching Excellence and the Elizabeth Sherrill Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing and Speaking.
Hensley explains that some contests are "content intensive." For example, he judges the "Biblical Exposition" category of theology books for the Evangelical Press Association Awards, which involves careful analysis of biblical history, geography, translations, and exposition. Other contests are of lighter reading, such as serving as a judge for the "Best Mystery-Suspense Novel" for the Christy Fiction Awards. Some contests are an all-or-nothing competition, as in the Christian Writers Guild "First Novel Contest," in which Hensley and one other judge evaluate more than 150 book manuscripts and select one winner to receive a $20,000 cash advance and a book publishing contract from Worthy Publishers of Nashville, Tennessee.
"Sometimes I rotate responsibilities," says Dr. Hensley. "I am a judge each year for the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association's 'Christian Book Awards,' but one year I may be a judge of contemporary novels, the next year a judge of biographies, and another year the judge of theology texts. This keeps it from having any one category dominated by a single judge."
When asked why he is willing to donate so much time and effort into serving as a judge, Hensley has several answers. "It pushes me into reading articles and books that cover a wide variety of genres and subjects, which keeps me alert to publishing trends and enhances my range of knowledge. Also, I discover many ways that good writing could have been even better, which improves my own talents as an author. Additionally, I get to interact with a lot of important people in various publishing venues, and that often opens doors for my writing students at Taylor. And, well, there's also the fact that I get to keep all of those books that are shipped to me to read and judge."