About Gregory Wolfe

My Own Commencement, Part 2: The Uses of Confusion

Photo by All Bong _ UnsplashThis post is excerpted from Gregory Wolfe’s final commencement address as director of the Seattle Pacific University Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing last month. Wolfe, who founded the program, stepped down as director yesterday.

Read part 1 here.

I’d like to close my commencement address by taking a lesson or two from the texts we’ve been studying in the Art and Faith seminar.

One of those texts is Brown: The Last Discovery of America by Richard Rodriguez. It’s a book that’s impossible to summarize: it’s ostensibly about the subject of race in America, from the perspective of a Hispanic writer, but it is so much more: a meditation on history and politics, a search for identity and community, an exploration of tragic conflict and the possibility of reconciliation.

Brown is the color of mixture, Rodriguez says, and thus of impurity. It is often considered either bland or repulsive. And yet he believes that this color speaks powerfully to that which makes us human: our nature as embodied souls. Brown is the color of his own race, but as he reminds us, the shrinking global village is becoming ever more brown. [Read more…]

My Own Commencement, Part 1: The Birth of an MFA

CampCasey_112_RutanThis post is excerpted from Gregory Wolfe’s final commencement address as director of the Seattle Pacific University Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing last month. Wolfe, who founded the program, steps down as director today.

Once upon a time—well, seventeen years ago, to be exact—I was contacted by Mark Walhout, the chair of the English department at Seattle Pacific University to consult with him regarding the possibility of SPU starting an MFA program in creative writing. He felt that as editor of Image I had the right sort of contacts to recruit faculty—and perhaps a bit of credibility with the literary community—to help kick-start the process.

“How odd that you called about that,” I said. “One of the long-term dreams among the Image editors has been to get involved with the founding of an MFA program.”

“Well,” he responded, “how would you like to come out here and start the program for us?”

I’d like to say it was as simple as that but these things take time and lots of elbow grease. We did indeed come to SPU but we still had a long road ahead of us. There was the matter of settling down, establishing the journal in a new location, and launching an extensive research process for putting together an MFA program proposal. A graduate writing program that sought to educate students in the light of the rich theological and literary heritage of the Christian faith had never been attempted before and we knew it would be looked upon with close scrutiny and even skepticism. [Read more…]

Some Questions about Politics and the Imagination

Pat Hawks flagThe following appears as the editorial statement in Image issue 89.

Q. Would you mind if I asked you some questions the current political situation, given the upcoming presidential election and turmoil in Europe?

A. I do mind, as a matter of fact. I have nothing to say about such matters. They’re far too complex. Not to mention depressing. And crazy-making. Besides, I left politics behind years ago to focus on what I’ve got at least a few credentials to talk about. Who are you, anyway?

Q. I’m the part of you that thinks you’re copping out by refusing to tackle political issues, preferring to swan about in your palace of art.

A. That’s a little harsh. As an editor I’ve published a lot of work that takes on serious issues, from poverty and race to immigration and the conflicts in the Middle East.

Q. Perhaps. I’ll even grant that you were an early critic of the culture wars. You’ve poked your head outside the gates from time to time. But come on, take a stand. It’s nuts out there. [Read more…]

Annie Spans the Gap, Part 2

This editorial statement from issue 88 is continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here

Illustration by Alissa Berkhan

Illustration by Alissa Berkhan

In 1994, Image was in its infancy, and I was living in Wichita and working with the Milton Center, a nonprofit devoted to fostering excellence in creative writing by people of religious faith. Thanks to a major grant, we were able to put on a conference, the highlight of which was giving an award to Annie Dillard. We chose as a theme the phrase “Spanning the Gap,” taken from Holy the Firm and included in the epigraph in yesterday’s post. We wanted to explore the way writing itself might span the gap between here and eternity.

I was assigned the task of introducing her, which more or less scared the hooey out of me. I had only read a few scattered pieces of hers, and the only full book I was able to read in preparation was Holy the Firm, because it is so short.

I remember very little about the introduction, except that I described her as “a nature writer on speed.” What I lacked in insight I tried to make up in verve. Her reading was of course electrifying as she paced back and forth, declaiming from one book or another. The audience was pleased. [Read more…]

Annie Spans the Gap, Part 1

The following appears as the editorial statement in Image issue 88.

Annie Dillard illustrated by Alissa Berkhan

Illustration by Alissa Berkhan

There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination. What can any artist set on fire but his world?… What can he light but the short string of his gut, and when that’s burnt out, any muck ready to hand? His face is flame like a seraph’s, lighting the kingdom of God for the people to see; his life goes up in the works; his feet are waxen and salt. He is holy and he is firm, spanning all the long gap with the length of his love, in flawed imitation of Christ on the cross stretched both ways unbroken and thorned. So must the work be also, in touch with, in touch with, in touch with; spanning the gap from here to eternity, home.

—Annie Dillard

Few books to come across my desk lately have stirred so many emotions as The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by Annie Dillard. In the Atlantic, the critic William Deresiewicz says that the book “might just as easily be called The Absence,” because the author has published nothing new for years. It’s a clever lead-in, but devoid of substance. Our online culture, with its constant demand for hitting the feeds at peak times every day, may dictate constant publication unto death as a requirement for any self-respecting author, but thank God Annie Dillard grew up before the advent of the internet. I prefer to look on her body of work and celebrate the abundance. [Read more…]