Greg Wolfe Made Me a Better Writer: 25 Years of Image

proofreadingGuest post by William Coleman

To celebrate Image’s twenty-fifth anniversary we are posting a series of essays by people who have encountered our programs over the years.

My first task at Image was to write to Ray Bradbury. That, I told my disbelieving self, was my job: to send proof pages of new work to the man whose old work so absorbed me at fifteen that all I could do for a year was write version after watered-down version of Dandelion Wine.

What saved my cover letter from devolving into a Chris Farley SNL sketch (“You remember when you said the birds scattered like skipped stones across the inverted pond of heaven? Yeah…that was…that was awesome.”) was my overweening desire not to be sent home on the very morning I began acting as managing editor of Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion.

Luckily for me, my predecessor, Richard Wilkinson, had left some ready language in the Dell, and I was able to maintain my position.

Close to six, Image’s founder Greg Wolfe returned from his think-tank day job somewhere in the woods of Delaware and invited me to join him and his wife Suzanne in their living room for drinks. To accomplish this, I walked all of thirty feet. In those days, the whole of Images office space comprised Greg’s study, next to the family laundry room.

[Read more...]

Riding the Waves

Woodlief photoMy sons argue over Avengers characters. The littlest insists he’s Captain America. Another claims Hawkeye. There’s an argument over Ironman. They resolve it by awarding that honor to me, given that I’m a smartass and look a little like Robert Downey, Jr.

I argue that I’m the Hulk. I flex my muscles. They roll their eyes, but their mother would understand. She told me once, not long before our divorce, that I am the angriest man she’s ever known. A therapist once told me I’ve been angry since childhood. Another said I’ve been depressed my entire life, like my mother before me. I told him about the first diagnosis. He shrugged his shoulders. Flight or fight, does it really matter when your enemy is yourself? That’ll be 100 dollars.

I don’t remember if October was when the weight always came closest to leveling me, or if that cycle commenced after my daughter died. I suppose no matter which therapist was correct: I’ll always have something to blame my mother for, because she died in October as well.

[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...]

Susan Sontag, Simon Weil, and the Pursuit of Seriousness

Susan SontagI could stare for many hours at that famous 1975 picture of Susan Sontag lying on her bed. She’s wearing a turtleneck sweater and her arms are tucked behind her head. She is thinking. Her eyes are open, slightly dreamy, but fixed.

She looks serious. How else could she look? By God, that woman was serious. It is her main contribution as a belletrist, the idea that seriousness itself is a goal, that in the collapse of all other values, we can be serious about being serious.

There is also a picture of Simone Weil at age thirteen, before she got those round glasses you see in the later photos. Weil is laughing and pretty and resting her left arm casually on her neck. It seems impossible that this is the woman who later refused treatment for her tuberculosis and who more or less starved herself to death out of spiritual solidarity with those suffering under German occupation during WWII.

Susan Sontag wrote a review of a collection of Weil’s essays for the New York Review of Books in 1963. Sontag used the publication of Weil’s essays as an excuse to talk about her favorite subject: being serious. Sontag loved Weil’s harshness, her unrelenting, unremitting commitment to seeing her thoughts through wherever they lead. [Read more...]

A Christian Writer Drops the F-Bomb: 25 Years of Image

To celebrate Image’s twenty-fifth anniversary we are posting a series of essays by people who have encountered our programs over the years.

Guest post by Cathy Warner

It was a reading at a memorial service that got me riled.

“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room.” Don’t be sad, my pastor read, “All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.”

Watching the tearful widow, who’d now be living alone after forty years, I was unconvinced and angry the dead man’s missive denied the living their grief.

I penned an alternative letter, then another, and another, until I imagined half a dozen dead—an aged father, alcoholic wife, young solider, child molester, husband who succumbed to cancer—writing from the beyond to those they’d loved and those they’d wronged. [Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X