Links about: seeking where the Lord is at work in stories; the Black Madonna of Lake Ohrid; Wendell Berry’s 86th birthday; Wallace Stevens’ disputed deathbed conversion; a report on the first week of the Wiseblood Books 2020 Writer’s Residency; when is it time to turn off the news, and more.
Matt Nelson interviews Jessica Hooten Wilson on the Word on Fire Blog. Father Michael Rennier wrote, “Stories by Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and others are ultimately about belief in God, says Jessica Hooten Wilson, thus filled with drama and urgency.”
This essay at Church Life Journal by Timothy P. O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, was suggested by Karen Barbre Ullo.
Father Michael Rennier:
If his point is simply that Catholic culture is formed within a living, breathing Church and is not to be confused with the translations of doctrine into art, then that’s probably correct. Not sure if he’s meaning to go beyond that.
Roseanne T. Sullivan [me]:
Seems to me that he is reporting on his observations of a tendency to turn the ideal of the “Catholic imagination” into a sort of buzzword, and he is saying that any list of principles should not be extracted from an essential partaking in the messiness of life lived in the Church as it really is. “The triune God has decided to save humanity through a Church! Church life, in the end, is the heart of the Catholic imagination.”
What do you think? If you have time, read the essay, and join the discussion in the comments.
Wiseblood Books’ First Annual Writing Residency Just Ended
From Wiseblood Books on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/wisebloodbookspress/)
The first week of Wiseblood Books’ first annual “Writing Residency” just came to a finish. (On account of all things Covid, ours was an online “residency-without-a-residence.” We hope to complete the second half in December, in person). It was pure joy to work with this year’s recipient: Katy Carl. Prior to the residency, Wiseblood sent Katy a bundle of books on the Art of Fiction, including James Wood’s How Fiction Works, Caroline Gordon’s How to Read a Novel, and Bauer’s The Stuff of Fiction: Advice on Craft. After becoming familiar with the sort of novel she is working on, we also sent additional craft books and “paradigmatic” novels that she might study like a writer. For instance: Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot; Balzac’s Lost Illusions, Henry James’ Roderick Hudson; Min Jin Lee’s Free Food for Millionaires . . . so Katy came well-prepared with a rich vocabulary of ways to think through the House of Fiction. After addressing her overarching concerns with her novel MS, we delved into a daily deep edit, with our editor-in-chief Joshua Hren providing line-by-line and big picture edits by midnight each night and Katy writing away in the mornings until we met each afternoon to talk through the day’s work. What a great, intensive week! Thank you Katy for your infectious commitment to the craft: can’t wait until a wide readership can pass through your completed novel. Thank you to those whose donations made this rich programming possible. Deo Gratias!
For those interested in applying for next year’s (2021) summer writing residency: details are forthcoming . . .
From Katy Carl:
WHEW. This was awesome. Readers (and DT staffers!) should know that the 2021 residency application process will be open in the near future. Start polishing those manuscripts.
Literary Birthday this Week
Wednesday, August 5, was 86th birthday of Wendell Berry, American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer.
It’s the 86th birthday of environmental writer Wendell Berry, born in Port Royal, Kentucky (1934). Berry publishes poetry, essays, and novels, often reflecting his concern for the preservation of the natural world and the ways we interact with it. Berry continues to live and work on his farm in his hometown.
Berry said, “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
And he said, “Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”
Wallace Stegner awarded Berry a fellowship to attend the creative writing program at Stanford. Berry had “absorbed the notion that homes—particularly homes in the dying rural communities of Middle America—were for leaving. . . . [B]y being a regional writer who cared about his region, Stegner also opened for Berry the possibility of return (he also eventually suggested Berry for a position at the University of Kentucky, materially enabling his return in 1964). Stegner’s writing about his region went further than the standard creative writing program advice to ‘write what you know.’ Though Berry did not really comprehend the lesson until after he had returned to Kentucky, Stegner had taught Berry how to be a regional writer who gives rather than takes. Stegner was a regional writer ‘who not only [wrote] about his region but also [did] his best to protect it, by writing and in other ways, from its would-be exploiters and destroyers.'”
Wendell Berry’s activism continues. As reported here, in July of this year, Berry and his wife Tanya Amyx Berry sued the University of Kentucky to prevent the removal of a mural that has been criticized for being racially offensive. The mural was commissioned in the 1930’s and was done by Ann Rice O’Hanlon, a relative of Tanya Berry. The twist on the story is that a black artist has created her own work around the original mural, and to remove the mural will destroy the context for a piece of art that cannot be accused by any stretch of the imagination of being racist.
The subtitle by this essay by Father Michael Rennier is, “Instead, let’s look at the world the way God intended, as an expression of His divine love.” And the essay goes on to provide solid reasons behind this included suggestion, “If the news is producing rotten fruit, it’s time to turn it off.”
At LitHub, an excerpt from To the Lake, in which Kapka Kassabova, rising poet, novelist, and memoirist, and apparently a non-Christian—at least at the time—writes about the Black Madonna of Lake Ohrid, Mesopotamia—and about the icon’s keeper.
‘You say you’re not a Christian, but it doesn’t matter what you are ’cause this is a place of wonder. I wasn’t a believer either, I was a cynic, a waster and a goner, oh yeah.’
“A few months before his stroke, his mother had been struck down too. She was paralyzed down one side and bedridden. After his coma-induced dream, he begged her—she also wasn’t a believer—to come and visit the Black Madonna.
“’By then, she could move with crutches. And what happened? She stood before the icon, and when she went to go, the crutches fell out of her hands, as if wrenched by a force. I picked them up for her. But once again, they fell out of her hands. And she walked. Like a healthy person. Last week, I had a brain scan. The doctor didn’t believe his eyes—no trace of damage. Now go on, tell me that miracles don’t exist!’”
A Dominican Father Arthur Hanley wrote a letter to Professor Janet McCann, dated July 24, 1977, in which he described his conversations with poet Wallace Stevens—who he baptized in April 1955 while Stevens was hospitalized and eventually diagnosed with stomach cancer. Stevens had been raised in a Lutheran family, and he even had been a choir boy. But he assured Father Arthur Hanley he had never been baptized, and so the priest baptized him absolutely. Stevens died a few months later on August 2.
The body of the letter from Father Arthur Hanley is included here “with line breaks, punctuation, spelling, etc. exactly as in the typescript” because the clicking the link brings up an error message that the URL is not to be trusted.
I-The First time he came to the hospital, he expressed
a certain emptiness in his life.
His stay then was two weeks.
Two weeks later, he was in, and he asked the sister to send for me.
We sat and talked a long time.
During his visit this time, I saw him 9 or 10 times.
He was fascinated by the life of Pope Pius X,.
He spoke about a poem for this pope whose family name
was Sartori— ( Meaning tailor)
At least 3 times, he talked about getting into the fold–
meaning the Catholic Church.
The doctrine of hell was an objection which we later
got thru that alright.
He often remarked about the peace and tranquility that
he experienced in going into a Catholic Church and
spending some time. He spoke about St. Patrick’s Cathedral
I can’t give you the date of his baptism.
I think it might be recorded at the hospital.
He said he had never been baptized.
He was baptized absolutely.
Wallace and his wife had not been on speaking terms for
So we thought it better not to tell her.
She might cause a scene in the hospital.
Archbishop at the time told me not to make his (Wallace’s)
conversion public, but the sister and the nurses on the
floor were all aware of it and were praying for him.
At the time–I did get a copy of his poems and also
a record that he did of some of his poems.
We talked about some of the poems.
I quoted some of the lines of one of them and he was
He said if he got well, we would talk a lot more and
if not–he would see me in heaven.
That’s about all I can give you now.[Signed] God’s Blessing
Poet and professor Anthony Esolen commented on a Facebook post I made about this topic, “I knew some elderly Dominicans who knew Fr. Hanley and who related the story to me, but without most of these great details. . . . His daughter Holly Stevens angrily denies the story.” As the letter said, Fr. Hanley and Stevens both agreed that it would be better for them not to tell his estranged wife about his conversion, lest she cause a scene. Holly was never around when her father initiated the conversations with Fr. Hanley that led to his Baptism. Her strong denial may have been because she shared mother’s animus towards the Catholic faith.