Flashback
The other DeJong brother -- David Cornel DeJong
By Richard Harms, College Archivist

David DeJong in the 1930sDuring the early summer of 1914, Remmeren DeJong, his wife and four sons emigrated to Grand Rapids, Mich., from the Netherlands. As was the case for many immigrant families, as soon as the two oldest brothers, David and Raymond (Remmeren), completed the eighth grade they went to work to augment the family income. David worked as a clerk in a drugstore and later in a bank, while Raymond joined their father in the home building industry.

Six years later, after the family’s debts were paid, David returned to school, completed grades nine through 12 in the preparatory school at Calvin, and in 1925 enrolled as an undergraduate. DeJong and brother Meindert—six years younger who had been able to stay in school and had begun at Calvin a year earlier—were part of a small group noted for their troublemaking ways. For instance, the DeJongs looked alike and would take each other’s tests, depending on whom they thought would do better.

A voracious reader, David wrote and won prizes for his poetry during college. After graduation he taught English in the Edmore, Mich., high school, but left teaching after one year to attend graduate school, earning a master of arts degree in 1930 from Duke University. He began studies for the doctoral degree at Brown University in 1931, supporting himself by writing and editing Smoke, a poetry magazine. In 1934, Alfred A. Knopf published his Belly Fulla Straw, the story of a Dutch immigrant family in Grand Rapids, as part of a series of books by promising authors that included Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man.

DeJong wrote two more novels about immigration, Old Haven and Two Sofas in the Parlor. All three were critically acclaimed and sold well, yet DeJong considered these the three he liked the least. He felt they were written to a formula in exchange for financial support and consequently limited his creativity. Conversely, his personal best-liked works—Light Sons and Dark (1940), Benefit Street (1942) and The Desperate Children (1949 and his personal favorite)—were not well-received by critics and did not sell well.

After graduate school, DeJong settled in Providence, R.I., where he met and married Helen Elizabeth Moffit; they had no children. In 1966, he suffered a series of health maladies resulting from cancer, which caused his death in 1967. During his literary career, 19 of his books and hundreds of poems were published. In spite of this, he is not as prominent as other Calvin alumni from the late 1920s and early 1930s who became well-known authors, such as Peter DeVries, Frederick Manfred or DeJong’s brother Meindert.