Although Dennis E. Hensley has earned nation esteem for creating a premiere university-level program in professional writing, he has diligently maintained a vibrant career as a book author, magazine columnist, reviewer and essayist, and investigative journalist. Jokingly, Hensley explains, "I don't want my college students to say their professor used to be a successful writer."
Hensley's newest book, number 54, is Jesus in the 9 to 5 (AMG Publishers), which has met with immediate success. Christian Fiction Online Magazine made it a "Publisher's Choice" selection, and Hensley has been interviewed about the book on Moody radio, the "700 Club," "The Harvest Show," "Just Ask Joyce," and numerous other national talk shows.
"This book is unique," says Hensley, who holds a Ph.D. in English from Ball State University. "I call it a fact-vella because it is a factual book that has a novella embedded within it. The book's twelve chapters present life-skill lessons based on biblical teachings, but each nonfiction chapter is followed by a fictional vignette in which Jesus Christ is on the earth in the 21st century running a furniture corporation. Readers are finding it entertaining and informative."
Currently, Dr. Hensley serves as director of the Department of Professional Writing at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, where he holds the rank of full professor. Simultaneously, he is a columnist for Christian Communicator and Advanced Christian Writer, a board of directors member of Christian Writers Guild and the Midwest Writers Workshop, and an annual judge for the Christy Awards, the Evangelical Press Association Awards, the Christian Book Awards, and the CWG/Worthy Publishing First Novel Contest. He also maintains an active schedule as a workshop leader and seminar presenter at writers' conferences nationwide, and in October, 2013, he was the "Distinguished Visiting Professor of Literature" at York St. John University in York, England.
"I like to think of myself as a writing teacher who is a practitioner of his craft," says Dr. Hensley. "I do everything I can to help my students become successfully published writers, but I set an example by continuing to earn bylines myself."
A diverse background has helped Hensley have a wide range of topics to write about. After earning A.A. and B.A. degrees in college, he served in the United States Army, including a year of combat zone duty as a sergeant in Vietnam, for which he was awarded five Letters of Commendation and six medals, including the Bronze Star. He and his wife Rose married in 1972 and today their two grown married children, Nathan and Jeanette, have given them four grandkids. Hensley earned an M.A. in English in 1973, then worked several years as a reporter for The Muncie Star while finishing a Ph.D. He worked as public information officer at Manchester College from 1978-82, then worked full-time as a freelance writer until 1997 when he created the professional writing program at Taylor.
"My definition of a Christian writer is a writer who is a Christian," says Hensley. "Christian carpenters don't just build churches. They also construct houses, garages, and office buildings. Likewise, Christian authors don't just write devotions and Bible studies. We also write editorials, sports stories, political news, business features, profiles, interviews, and textbooks. However, we have a code of ethics that provides parameters that exclude such things as off-color language, graphic sex scenes, or mindless violence."
As evidence of a career that has been as active in secular publishing as in religious publishing, Hensley's books include Millennium Approaches (Avon), The Power of Positive Productivity (Possibility Press), How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It (Random House), Jack London's Masterplots (Taylor University Press), and Staying Ahead of Time (R & R Newkirk Publishers). He also has written for a wide variety of secular newspapers and magazines, ranging from People and Success to The Cincinnati Enquirer and USA Today. "We cannot get our Christian worldview out to the masses if we only communicate to the people in the pews," he says.
Needless to say, such a demanding life calls for regimen. Hensley teaches classes only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He does committee work and student advising on Thursday mornings. Tuesdays all day and Thursday afternoons are relegated to either writing or to doing media appearances to publicize his books. Most weekends are spent doing guest speaking engagements. Summers are also used for blocks of writing time, as well as bookings at writers' conferences.
"Sure, it's a bit hectic," admits Hensley, 65, "but it's the most rewarding career I can imagine. I get letters from people whose lives have been changed thanks to my books and articles. I develop students who go on to become successful screenwriters, novelists, and editors. I get to travel worldwide, meet fascinating people, and earn a good living. I mean – really – who wouldn't want to be me?"
Ronni Meier is a freelance writer for Church Libraries, Christian Book Previews, The Aboite Independent, The Echo, and WBCL Radio.