There’s No Original Art

scarfWhat a joy to be knitting something beautiful for a woman I don’t know and never will.
She’s a guest at my church’s soup kitchen, where every guest gets a gift at Christmastime.

The yarns are a rich red and orange wool interlaced with red-orange nylon eyelash.
She’ll say “how pretty —at least I hope she will.

Maybe it will become her favorite scarf,
make her feel special, dressy, worthy in a way that the world doesn’t usually value her.

But maybe she’ll leave it by mistake on the bus,
where it will ride up and down town alone on the seat
until a quick turn slides it to the floor.

The next passenger doesn’t notice it caught in his boot as he steps off the bus.

The red-orange lies limp in the gutter’s blackened snow.
A child walking by with her mother points with “Oh look! Can I have it?”
“No, we don’t take dirty things from the street.”
[Read more...]

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Creative Writers According to St. Augustine, Part 2

st-augustine-2-1-2Guest post by Gregory Wolfe

The post, continued from yesterday, is adapted from a commencement address given at the Seattle Pacific University MFA in Creative Writing graduation ceremony in Santa Fe, NM on August 9, 2014.

5: Make your writing a prayer.

This point may sound overly pious but I don’t mean it in a pietistic way.

I’m not suggesting that you imitate Augustine, who wrote the entirety of the Confessions as a single, continuous prayer. But what he did in that book offers us some clues about how to be better writers.

Every prayer, even the short ones we blurt out in times of need, is language that is shaped to some extent: consecrated speech. In prayer we search for words to express our need, seek help, and give thanks. The very act of prayer is thus a search, a journey.

Augustine peppers his Confessions with questions, and I can’t think of a more spiritual form of devotion than questions that are posed with passion and genuine openness to the unknown, the unexpected sources of grace.

What if everything you wrote was a prayer to God and a prayer for communion with your reader?

[Read more...]

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Creative Writers According to St. Augustine, Part 1

podium-640x426Guest post by Gregory Wolfe

The following is adapted from a commencement address given at the Seattle Pacific University MFA in Creative Writing graduation ceremony in Santa Fe, NM on August 9, 2014.

I’ve been thinking that in the rapidly changing, cutthroat literary marketplace—where it’s easier to get published but harder to make any money or sustain a career—that my usual commencement “blah blah blah,” based as it is on old-fashioned rhetorical devices like carefully elaborated arguments drenched in a heavy sauce of gravitas, just won’t cut it anymore.

No, it’s time to loosen the tie, roll up the sleeves, and get practical. So, while I’m going to follow my usual pattern and speak on topics suggested by the texts we’ve been reading together, I’m junking the literary essay for the much more profitable format of bullet-pointed self-help advice. You graduates deserve nothing less.

[Read more...]

Fiction is Truer than Fact

img_4595In Jill Lepore’s extraordinary biography of Ben Franklin’s sister Jane, Book of Ages, a short chapter near the end sketches the rise of the novel as a genre. Prior to the eighteenth century, “history” was the genre for telling the stories of lives, and they were always the stories of famous men. Then in the eighteenth century, novels began to be written, but at first they called themselves “histories”: Fielding’s History of Tom Jones, Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy are two that Lepore names. Richardson’s epistolary novel Pamela also purported to be real letters that Fielding had discovered.

Soon, though, novelists dropped pretense of writing history, because they were convinced that their new genre was truer than history. It was a new kind of biography—of ordinary people—and its truth was founded not in documentary evidence but in human nature.

I was reminded of this while recently reading Kent Haruf’s novels Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction, all set in his fictional town of Holt, Colorado, on the high dusty plains east of Denver. The small events of very ordinary lives are Haruf’s subject. In a spare, understated style, Haruf creates characters who surprise themselves with a generous gesture, who suffer from depression or loss or the meanness of others, who settle into habits of sadness or of gratitude.

Reading along, I would often stop and think: “this is life as it really is.”

Lepore’s terms helped me understand why I keep reading fiction: because fiction connects me with the truth of other lives. And so with the truth of my own. [Read more...]

Lessons of The Giver

Mphoto-1-2emory, of both the best and the worst, is central to guidance. Without it, we forego paths that have led to prosperity, take paths that have led to ruin.

Further, memory is extremely personal, while at the same time supremely collective. We all have our own particular catalog of recollections, which we consult, as need be. But we are all also part of a greater story, and our lives intersect with each other in such complex and dangerous ways that the shared memory of what we have been to each other, and done to each other, must be sounded to direct how we are to live with each other. This we call history, and its caretaking is a solemn affair.

In Lois Lowry’s classic young adult novel, The Giver, brought to the screen August 15 in a very fine film version (with Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Brenton Thwaites), memory is not allowed to the individual members of the state. It is the repository of only one, who retains the past in case it’s ever needed. As he ages, he must pass—“give”—his storehouse to another.

[Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X