Talking About Biography and the Catholic Literary Imagination in NYC this Friday
From 9:15 to 10:30 a.m. on Friday, April 28, I’ll be talking about writing my Robert Lax biography on a panel titled “Biography and the Catholic Literary Imagination” in the McNally Amphitheatre at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. The panel is part of the 2017 Catholic Imagination Conference with its theme “The Future of the Catholic Literary Imagination.” Appearing with me on the panel will be:
Dana Greene from Emory University, who has written a biography of Denise Levertov
Mark Bosco, SJ from Loyola in Chicago, who is making a film biography of Flannery O’Connor
Moderator Angela Alaimo O’Donnell from Fordham University, who wrote a short biography of Flannery O’Connor and is helping Bosco with his film
The conference runs all day Friday and Saturday, April 28 & 29. Featured speakers include Alice McDermott, Ron Hansen, Dana Gioia, James Martin and Mary Gordon. For complete details, go to the conference website, where you’ll find times and summaries for all of the talks and panels.
Here’s an Exercise from my Terroir Writing Festival Workshop on Personal Essay and Memoir
The featured image here is of poet Lynn Otto introducing me for my workshop “Getting Down to the Truly Personal in Personal Essay and Memoir” at the 8th annual Terroir Creative Writing Festival in McMinnville, Oregon, last Saturday. McMinnville is at the heart of Oregon’s wine country and home to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, which is where Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose resides now.
The conference had 120 attendees and close to half of them squeezed into the small room where my workshop was held, with some spilling out the door. The tight quarters made for good energy and the writing was furious during the three exercises I was able to offer in the hour I had. Judging by the comments afterward, the exercises took people to the deeper places I hoped they’d go, some emerging with tears in their eyes and others saying they found their way with projects that had been stalled.
Below is one of the exercises we did, based on this paragraph from Jorge Luis Borges’ essay “Blindness”:
“A writer, or any man, must believe that whatever happens to him is an instrument; everything has been given for an end. This is even stronger in the case of an artist. Everything that happens, including humiliations, embarrassments, misfortunes, all has been given like clay, like material for one’s art. One must accept it. For this reason, I speak in a poem of the ancient food of heroes: humiliation, unhappiness, discord. Those things are given to us to transform, so that we may make from the miserable circumstances of our lives things that are eternal, or aspire to be so.”
WRITING: Think of an “instrument” that is an inescapable element of your experience of life—asthma, blindness, migraines, single parent, poverty—something that has marked you in ways that might seem damaging or at least disadvantageous. Write a long paragraph about it and your connection to it.
A Workshop on Personal Writing at the 2017 Terroir Creative Writing Festival on Saturday, April 22
On Saturday, April 22, I’ll be leading a workshop called “Getting Down to the Truly Personal in Personal Essay and Memoir” at the 2017 Terroir Creative Writing Festival in McMinnville, Oregon. If you live in Oregon or SW Washington, I highly recommend this boutique writing festival. For just $50 ($60 after April 14), you get a full day of workshops and readings with many of Oregon’s finest writers. For more information or to register, click here: Terroir Creative Writing Festival.
Talks, Readings, Workshops and Seminars
I’ve added quite a few events to my appearance schedule in recent weeks. Check the Talks page for a full list. If you’d like to discuss a possible talk or reading in your area, please contact me using the Contact form on the About page.
PURE ACT Paperback Out on April 3
First look at the paperback version of PURE ACT: THE UNCOMMON LIFE OF ROBERT LAX. The publication date is April 3 but it’s available for pre-order now: https://www.amazon.com/
I’ll Be a Visiting Professor at St. Bonaventure University in March
I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been selected to be the Spring 2017 Lenna Endowed Visiting Professor at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York. I’ll be on campus for the last two weeks of March, giving talks, visiting classrooms, meeting with students, and chatting with the Franciscan friars.
I’m especially honored to receive the Lenna Professorship because the first recipient of it, when it was established in 1990, was Robert Lax. St. Bonaventure is in his home town and, as those who’ve read my biography of him know, he and his mother went there often. The friars were an important early spiritual influence on him.
The dates for the public talks haven’t been set yet but they should be soon. I’ll post them in the Talks section of my website. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come!
Video of Fordham Editor Talking About the Acquisition, Design and Selling of PURE ACT
I didn’t know this was available online but found it yesterday: It’s a video of my editor, Fred Nachbaur, talking about the acquisition, design and selling of my book, PURE ACT: THE UNCOMMON LIFE OF ROBERT LAX. It was presented at a conference as an illustration of what university presses can do beyond their usual markets:
A Year of Pure Act
The image here is of the bottle of vintage French wine Sylvia and I opened to celebrate signing my book contract with Fordham University Press two years ago. Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax has been out in the world just over a year now, and what a year it has been. The unofficial end of the book’s debut year came three weeks ago when we attended the Washington State Book Awards in Seattle. Pure Act was a finalist in the Biography/Memoir category. It didn’t win but it was a great honor to be recognized in my home state.
All told, Pure Act was a finalist for four awards: the WSBA in Biography/Memoir, the Religion Newswriters Association Book Award for best religion book of the year, the Association of Catholic Publishers’ Excellence in Publishing Award in Biography (it won second place) and the Catholic Press Association’s Book Award in Biography (it received an Honorable Mention). It has been nominated for an Oregon Book Award too, but the finalists for that won’t be announced until early January 2017.
For a big book by a first-time author about a little-known poet published by a small publisher, it has done pretty well. It’s in its third printing and a paperback version will be published in March 2017. It was favorably reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement in the U.K., Publishers Weekly, the Oregonian and over 20 other publications. The American Association of University Professors recommended it as one of ten nonfiction books and only two biographies (the other was of Mark Twain) in the area of American Studies for libraries to purchase in 2016. I’ve had a chance to read from it at bookstores, universities and community events across the country. And it has led to my being asked to be a keynote speaker at the 2017 International Thomas Merton Society conference at Saint Bonaventure University.
I’m reluctant to let this wonderful year end, but time marches on, of course, and I’ve already drafted my next book, a memoir about a year spent in the San Juan Islands. A huge thank you to all who were part of a marvelous experience.
PURE ACT a Finalist for a Washington State Book Award
Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax has been named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award in Biography/Memoir. You’ll find a full list of finalists and information about the awards ceremony here.
If you live in the Seattle area and are interested in attending, the awards ceremony will take place 7-9 p.m. in the Microsoft Auditorium at the Seattle Public Library’s central branch (1000 Fourth Avenue).
I’m off hunting new prey this summer (actually, working on a new book) but I’ll be back in October with more news and stories. I hope you’ll check back then.