Your Attention, Please

Art GalleryDear Friends:

I received two emails recently from writers you likely know and admire.

Like clockwork, I can expect an email from Annie Dillard a week after each new issue is published. Her response to issue #92 arrived right on schedule: “This is the best Image ever published. These writers stun me.”

Then, the day after the brilliant essayist and cultural critic Richard Rodriguez returned home from delivering Image’s Denise Levertov Award in typically mesmerizing fashion, he sent a thank-you note in which he wrote: “I would do anything for Image and its mission. (I didn’t need the award to take me up to Seattle.) The bravery of the journal, especially in these times of cultural, not to say religious, illiteracy, astonishes me.”

He continued: “The audience on Thursday night was your latest gift of encouragement—an audience so rare in my life these days—such passionate listening, such quiet attention, such generous souls. So, I thank you for them—the audience—the sort of people Image alone seems able to assemble in a dark time.”

[Read more…]

Always Becoming

silhouetted image of a woman standing in front of a window, mostly in dark. outside it is bright, light, and airy, inside you can only see the silhouettes of things. the windows open outwards, the image feels hopeful. The following is adapted from an address given at the Seattle Pacific University MFA in Creative Writing commencement ceremony last month.

For centuries, wise men and women of various traditions have troubled the terms being and becoming, without arriving at anything like conclusion. We affirm the beauty and joy of being—being writers, being Christians, being laborers in and lovers of a complex realm that is concurrently material and spiritual. Still, in the very midst of our being, we are obliged to affirm the efficacy of becoming, the call to be ever becoming.

During our residency we shared the deep pleasure of poring over Holy the Firm, a delicious if challenging text by the beloved Annie Dillard. Among the many provocative passages in that book, Dillard attends to the gap between what is known and what is.

“Here is the fringey edge,” she writes, “where elements meet and realms mingle, where time and eternity spatter each other with foam. The salt sea and the islands—molding and molding, row upon rolling row—don’t quit, nor do winds end nor skies cease from spreading in curves.” [Read more…]

Why Annie Dillard Supports Image

Annie Dillard illustrated by Alissa BerkhanDear readers,

When Image was founded in 1989, we turned to a few literary exemplars for endorsements. After all, we had no reputation, money, or power, so we needed to find advocates whose words carried authority.

One of the first we turned to was Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Dillard, whose incandescent prose dealt with some of the deepest and most challenging questions, from the existence of God to the mystery of nature, which can possess so much beauty and so much brutality.

To our great surprise and delight, she responded with her usual gusto, stating in her endorsement that “Image is one of the best journals on the planet.”

So as we launched our end of year financial appeal last month we decided to chance asking her again to say why she still reads (and comments on!) every issue of Image.

Once again she responded with her signature blend of passion and truth-telling. What follows below is not marketing language. It is, verbatim, Annie Dillard’s thoughts about where we are as a culture and why Image is worth supporting. After writing it she joked that this is the most she has written since retiring from literary life! [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…]