Feature Friday Archive
Past Featured Speakers
James Matthew Wilson | Phil Klay | Randy Boyagoda | Patricia Hampl | Paul Elie | Molly McCully Brown | John F. Deane | Dorothy Fortenberry | Samuel Hazo | Philip Metres | Mary Gordon | Ron Hansen | Fanny Howe | Angela Alaimo O'Donnell | Dana Gioia | Alice McDermott | Richard Rodriguez | Paul Schrader | Tobias Wolff | Paul Mariani
James Matthew Wilson
James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor of Religion and Literature in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on all manner of subjects secular and divine, and especially on those where we see the two in their intrinsic relation, as truth, goodness, beauty, and being disclose themselves in art and culture, in the political and intellectual life, in our quest for self knowledge and the contemplation of God. His scholarly work especially focuses on the meeting of aesthetic and ontological form, where the craftsmanship of art-work discloses the truth about being.
Wilson is a poet and critic of contemporary poetry, whose work appears regularly in such magazines and journals as First Things, The Hudson Review, Modern Age, The New Criterion, Dappled Things, Measure, The Weekly Standard, Front Porch Republic, The Raintown Review, National Review, and The American Conservative.
He has published eight books, including The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition (CUA, 2017); the major critical study, The Fortunes of Poetry in an Age of Unmaking (Wiseblood, 2015); a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things; and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Wilson is the Poetry Editor of Modern Age magazine, the series editor of Colosseum Books, of the Franciscan University at Steubenville Press, and also serves on the boards of several learned journals and societies. His most recent book is The Hanging God (Angelico, 2018).
Twice, Wilson has been awarded the Lionel Basney Award by the Conference for Christianity and Literature; he has been a runner up for both the Foley Prize for Poetry by America magazine and the Jacques Maritain Essay Prize by Dappled Things magazine. The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture awarded him the 2017 Hiett Prize in the Humanities, the largest award of its kind.
Wilson was educated at the University of Michigan (B.A.), the University of Massachusetts (M.A.), and the University of Notre Dame (M.F.A., Ph.D.), where he subsequently held a Sorin Research Fellowship. He joined the faculty of Villanova in 2008.
Phil Klay is a graduate of Dartmouth College and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in Iraq’s Anbar Province from January 2007 to February 2008 as a Public Affairs Officer. After being discharged, Klay received his MFA from Hunter College. He is the author of Redeployment (The Penguin Press), a powerful collection of short stories that takes readers to the front lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his book and public lectures, Klay explores the complex feelings of brutality, faith, guilt, and fear that a soldier experiences during war, while also revealing the isolation and despair that can accompany a soldier’s homecoming.
Redeployment also received the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s James Webb award for fiction dealing with U.S. Marines or Marine Corps life, the National Book Critics’ Circle John Leonard Award for best debut work in any genre, the American Library Association’s W. Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction, the Chautauqua Prize, and the Warwick Prize for Writing; and was short-listed for the Frank O’Connor Prize. He was also named a National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’ honoree. Klay’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and the Brookings Institution’s Brookings Essay series.
With his stark, realistic depictions of war, Klay’s book has been praised as “one of the best debuts of the year” by the Portland Oregonian and author Karen Russell calls his writing “searing and powerful, unsparing of its characters and its readers.” Redeployment won the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2015 Chautauqua Prize. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Granta, Newsweek, The Daily Beast, the New York Daily News, Tin House, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012.
Randy Boyagoda may not be a household name in the Canadian literary world, but he is arguably one of the country’s most active public intellectuals. His first novel, 2006’s Governor of the Northern Province, was longlisted for the Giller Prize, and his second, Beggar’s Feast, was longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2013. He has written a biography of the Canadian American priest, author, and political activist Richard John Neuhaus and a monograph on the fiction of Salman Rushdie, Ralph Ellison, and William Faulkner. Boyagoda is also an English professor and administrator currently serving as the principal and vice-president of the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto.
Despite his academic bona fides, Boyagoda has exhibited a wicked fondness for satirizing the liberal pieties of the Canadian intelligentsia. In Governor of the Northern Province, for example, he lampooned the narrative of “good” versus “bad” immigrants through the character of Sam Bokarie, a charismatic African ex-warlord who goes to ground in Canada and takes advantage of multicultural tokenism to get involved in federal politics. Where novelists like Rawi Hage explore the deep hypocrisy that undergirds Canadian liberalism in the mode of deadly serious postmodernism, Boyagoda approaches these ideas with a deep sense of mischievousness. He is a master of the set piece, and his skewering of the petty vanities of the academic world in Original Prin stands alongside classic university novels such as Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim and Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man.
Boyagoda was named a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice Selection (2012). He regularly contributes essays, reviews, and opinions to publications including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, First Things, Commonweal, Harper’s, Financial Times (UK), Guardian, New Statesman, and Globe and Mail, in addition to appearing frequently on CBC Radio. He served as President of PEN Canada from 2015-2017. He is a Professor of English at the University of Toronto, where he also holds the Basilian Chair in Christianity, Arts, and Letters.
By the end of her thirties, Patricia Hampl had published two poetry collections and a critically acclaimed memoir. When a radio interviewer asked her what was next, she replied airily, “I have it in mind to work on fiction from now on.” What happened in the following years just goes to show that writers are no more adept than anyone else at predicting their futures.
Since her first memoir, A Romantic Education, Hampl has published five more works of nonfiction—four memoirs and an essay collection on memory and imagination—as well as a “fantasia” on the Czech composer Antonín Dvorák’s 1893 visit to Iowa. Her most recent book, The Art of the Wasted Day, won numerous awards, including the MacArthur (so-called genius) Award. Although her work is widely read, Patricia Hampl is also a writer’s writer—lyric, cerebral, a boon companion at any stage of the writer’s journey. She uses the language of surrender to describe her writing process. “I conscripted myself to be the protagonist of these books,” she told National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm in 2007. “As memoir began gaining ground, I realized I was riding this strange tiger.”
Because the life is inseparable from the work, it makes sense to begin there. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, shortly after the end of World War II, Hampl attended Catholic schools, then the University of Minnesota, where she is now Regents Professor and McKnight Distinguished University Professor. She teaches in the creative writing program there—a program that didn’t exist when she was an undergraduate. Except for a two-year stint at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, St. Paul—city of romance, city of churches, city that F. Scott Fitzgerald fled—has always been her home. (To have lived always in the same place is not the same as being a homebody. Hampl travels often and to far-flung destinations. Most of her books could just as easily be shelved with travel books as with memoirs.)
It’s almost as if being tied to one place freed her mind to roam. A Romantic Education ranges between the geographic poles of her life, St. Paul and Prague. Virgin Time, Hampl’s second memoir, traces a physical pilgrimage to Assisi, with stops at Lourdes and at a Northern California monastery. The spiritual journey here is one of rediscovery: after turning away from Catholic dogma, she once again opens herself to the mysteries of faith, prayer, and contemplative life.
“Memoir” is an imprecise label for Hampl’s next book-length work. Like Mark Doty’s Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, and her own Spillville (her Dvorák book, which she did with the artist Steven Sorman), Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime (2006), is sui generis. It revolves around the figure of the reclining female—the odalisque of Western imagination and, in particular, of Matisse’s paintings.
The Florist’s Daughter is storytelling in the old-fashioned sense: people—mainly her tart-tongued mother, who worked as a library file clerk, and her gentle florist father—move through space and time. The title both complicates and comments on the book’s biggest revelation. “In a sense,” Hampl says, “the title is a gentle irony: I thought I was my father’s daughter, but in fact…” Mostly, though, The Florist’s Daughter concerns itself with the numinous ordinary, what Don DeLillo calls “the radiance of dailiness.” Hampl’s mother was a storyteller, hoarder of details, “a veritable Proust of the breakfast table,” possessed of a keen eye and a knack for “reading a scene from the gestures of minor characters.” Though Hampl’s father never thought of himself as an artist, his floral arrangements were perpetually in demand for weddings and funerals and society balls.
Along with personal narrative, Hampl writes stories and poems and even spoken-word presentations, which she has performed to musical accompaniment by Dan Chouinard, her partner in these “staged essays” produced by Minnesota Public Radio and available on its Web site. Her work—including essays and journalism—has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Essays. Hampl has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Bush Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts (twice, once in poetry, and once in prose), Ingram Merrill Foundation, and Djerassi Foundation. Along with other distinguished alumni of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has her name and a fragment of her writing in concrete on an Iowa City sidewalk: “Maybe being oneself is always an acquired taste.”
Hampl’s essay collection, I Could Tell You Stories, marked her arrival as one of the most eloquent and elegant theorists of the memoir, which she calls “the quest literature of our times.” The memoir does not merely transcribe events but shapes them as well. “True memoir is written, like all literature, in an attempt to find not only a self but a world,” writes Hampl. The pleasures of memoir writing, one senses from reading her, are not the superficial, fleeting pleasures of self-indulgence. They are the deep, enduring joys of transcending the self, of creating a world out of words. “To write one’s life is to live it twice,” says Hampl, “and the second living is both spiritual and historical, for a memoir reaches deep within the personality as it seeks its narrative form and it also grasps the life-of-the-times as no political analysis can.”
Hampl’s impulses are essayistic in the Montaignian sense. She is always making a run at something, peeling back the layers of her defenses, seeking the nimbleness of mind needed to get her over one hurdle or another, to see the connection between seemingly disparate things. Hampl, like all essayists, keeps trying in the face of strong odds and only the faintest whiff of success. As T. S. Eliot says, in the end, “there is only the trying.”
Is one ever tempted to ask what became of the young woman who once predicted she would write fiction “from now on”? Perhaps. Then again, perhaps the answer is obvious: She simply acquired a taste for being herself.
Paul Elie is a senior fellow with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the director of the American Pilgrimage Project, a university partnership with StoryCorps based in the Berkley Center. His work deals primarily with the ways religious ideas are given expression in literature, the arts, music, and culture in the broadest sense. In the American Pilgrimage Project he examines the ways religious beliefs inform the experiences of the American people at crucial moments in their lives. Elie is also the moderator of Georgetown's Faith and Culture Lecture Series, a series of public conversations about the interaction of religion, art, literature, and society. He is the author of two books. The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) is a group portrait of four twentieth-century Catholic writers (Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day). Reinventing Bach (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) chronicles the transformation of Bach's music through recording technology in the hands of great musicians (Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, Glenn Gould, Yo-Yo Ma, et al.). Both books were National Book Critics Circle Award finalists, and The Life You Save May Be Your Own received the PEN / Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction, a Christopher Award, and two Modern Language Association book prizes.
His essays and journalism have addressed the intersection of literature, the arts, religion and society in our time. His November 2016 New York Times Magazine cover story “The Passion of Martin Scorsese” delved into Scorsese’s film adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence. Vanity Fair published his profile of Pope Francis and his twenty-fifth anniversary reconsideration of the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses. The Atlantic has published his articles about the Anglican church and sexuality, the resurgence of interest in Reinhold Neibuhr's religious realism, and the process of selecting a new pope; “The Year of Two Popes,” a cover story for the Atlantic in 2006, is the most comprehensive account of the Vatican's inner workings ever published in an American magazine. The New York Times Magazine has published Elie’s articles about conflicts between Catholic and Jewish leaders, the contested legacy of John Cardinal O'Connor, and the divisive prospect of Dorothy Day's canonization. In a 2004 lecture at Boston College Elie considered the priestly sexual abuse crisis from the perspective of bewildered younger Catholics; a subsequent essay was reprinted in the Best American Catholic Writing in 2005. He also contributed an afterword to Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Death Penalty (Seven Stories Press, 2015), by Mario Marazziti, an Italian parliamentarian and founding member of the Community of Sant'Egidio in Rome.
Before joining Georgetown University Elie worked for two decades in book publishing as a senior editor with Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York, acquiring and editing books about religion and other subjects. He taught nonfiction writing in Columbia's Graduate Writing Program from 2007 to 2011. Elie is a graduate of Fordham University (B.A., summa cum laude, honors, 1987) and the Graduate Writing Program in the School of the Arts at Columbia University (MFA, 1991).
Molly McCully Brown
Molly McCully Brown is the author of the poetry collection The Virginia State Colony For Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, 2017), which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and was named a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2017, and the forthcoming essay collection Places I’ve Taken my Body. (Persea Books, 2020) With Susannah Nevison, she is also the coauthor of the poetry collection In The Field Between Us (forthcoming from Persea Books, 2020).
Brown has been the recipient of the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, a United States Artists Fellowship, a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship and the Jeff Baskin Writers Fellowship from the Oxford American magazine. Her poems and essays have appeared in Tin House, Crazyhorse, The New York Times, Pleiades, Ninth Letter, Blackbird, and elsewhere.
Raised in rural Virginia, she is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Stanford University, and the University of Mississippi, where she received her MFA.
She lives in Gambier, Ohio and teaches at Kenyon College, where she is the Kenyon Review Fellow in Poetry.
John F. Deane
Deane is a poet of magisterial elegance, in works such as the spiritual, incantatory-like lament, 'Fugue' (2000), he uses language with a purpose, yet despite its intent, the impact is as beautiful as it is challenging and direct; he looks more to feeling than sensation. A 1996 poem, 'In Dedication', expresses this well and could serve as his poetic manifesto.
Deane's passion for poetry inspired him to establish the Dedalus Press in 1985 and to operate it from his home, then in Sandymount, and now in Templeogue where he lives. Before that, in 1979, he founded Poetry Ireland, the National Poetry Society "to give poetry a status which it lacked up to then. At that time, it was still a fly-by-night event, largely readings in pubs. I tried to bring it out into the open and to give poets a status, and an income". He is also general secretary of the European Academy of Poets founded in Luxembourg in 1996.
Highly regarded as a poet throughout Europe, he is published in Britain by Carcanet, has been translated into several European languages and also translates from French and Swedish. Deane particularly admires the senior Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer - "You must read him."
The second son in a family of four, he was born in 1943, and raised on Achill Island, Co Mayo. Although since the age of 18 he has lived mainly in Dublin, and for some years in Mornington, Co Meath, Deane remains a west of Ireland man.
The darker sense of religion emerges in his conversation and memories - "Each day dawned with prayer/and each day died." It is the weight of an absolute Catholicism that has dominated his experience of religion. "I kind of slithered into the priesthood," he says mildly, and recalls "cycling into UCD, wearing my clerical suit and collar and once being spat at" and he laughs abruptly. He was not to be ordained - "I had all the gear, the trappings, but I left."
At university he studied English and French. However he did not select his subjects. "As a seminarian, I was told 'You do English and French', so I did." Midway through his degree, his sense of vocation abandoned him. Deane then went on to complete an MA on the poetry of Hopkins, of whom Deane writes in 'Artist' (from Christ, with Urban Fox, 1997): ". . . our intent, depressive scholar/ who gnawed on the knuckle-bones of words/ for sustenance - because God/ scorched his bones with nearness/ so that he cried with a loud voice/ out of the entangling, thorny/ underbrush of language."
There is no doubt that Deane is instinctively a poet, for him it is his given mode of expression, the power of the exact word, the image. Of 'Fugue', his most technically ambitious poem to date, he says: "It has a narrative structure to it, and it has the structure of the Liturgical cycle from Christmas to Easter. I like an identifiable structure to a collection, not just to individual poems."
But he also writes novels and short stories. "Poetry is the main thing for me - but anything that won't become poetry, goes into fiction." He particularly enjoys the short-story form, remarking on the perfection of it. His first collection, Free Range, was published in 1994; his second, The Coffin Master and Other Stories (2000), is dominated by the superb title work, a novella of near religious power. Characterisation lies at the heart of his storytelling.
Characterisation is also vital to Undertow, a narrative divided between the Achill of the 1950s and the somewhat less brave new world of the island in 1997. "The characters are largely based on real people," says Deane. Central to it are extremes and contrasts, with the characters all engaged in various bids for freedom and are linked by relentless connections of fate.
Deane also observes our society. The poem 'The Dead and the Undead of St Michan's' is a brilliant denouncing of the vandals, "the cider drinkers, the language killers" who "came at night from our impatient streets" to desecrate the ancient wonders of a tiny Dublin church.
Still, he is a poet and as one must be asked why do poets, with few exceptions, invariably achieve far less attention than novelists? "I don't know. Perhaps poetry is too demanding of the reader. It is easier to come to terms with a novel."
Is the standard of poetry high? "The biggest problem is the lack of self-criticism, and with that, the lack of criticism." Above all, Deane, shaped by Hopkins, Eliot, R.S. Thomas and Austin Clarke, believes it is important "to try to measure up to poets you admire most, it's a help".
Dorothy Fortenberry is a Los Angeles-based playwright and television writer who is currently in her third season as a writer and producer on Hulu’s award-winning adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Prior to that, she spent three years on the writing staff for the CW series The 100. She also developed and sold a pilot, Witch Hunt, with filmmaker Ry Russo-Young and Fabrik Entertainment to the Bravo network.
Her plays include Partners, Mommune, Caitlin and the Swan, Good Egg, and the play with music Status Update. In 2017, IAMA Theatre Company produced the world premiere production of Fortenberry's play Species Native to California, a modern re-telling of The Cherry Orchard. Her play Partners had its world premiere at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Fortenberry's essays on subjects including faith, fear, and the politics of country music have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Real Simple, and Pacific Standard.
Dorothy’s work has been developed at Arena Stage, Ars Nova, Geva Theatre, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, among others, and produced by Center Rep, Chalk Rep, Live Wire, Red Fern Theatre, and The Management. She is a winner of the 2011 Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights, and a two-time Finalist for the O’Neill Conference (for her plays Status Update and Mommune). Residencies include the MacDowell Colony, the Djerassi Program, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Page 73. Dorothy is a member of the Playwrights Union, a founding company member of Tilted Field, and in the 2013 Warner Bros. Television Writers Workshop.
She holds an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama.
Samuel J. Hazo
Editor, poet, translator, critic, playwright, and essayist Samuel Hazo was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He earned a BA at the University of Notre Dame, an MA at Duquesne University, and a PhD at the University of Pittsburgh. Hazo began writing poetry during the Korean War, as a captain in the US Marine Corps.
The son of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants, Hazo tackles themes of faith, family, and war in his poems, which are often elegiac in tone. Discussing the urgency of poetry in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Hazo maintained, “It speaks to us personally and with absolute sincerity, like a private letter, and we nod and assent to the truth of it as we would to the mention of our very names.” Poet Naomi Shihab Nye noted Hazo’s poems of “immense intelligence, lyricism, and humanity” on awarding his book Just Once: New and Previous Poems (2002), which also won the Maurice English Award for Poetry.
Hazo is the author of dozens of books of poetry, criticism, essays, fiction, and plays. His poetry includes the collections Discovery and Other Poems (1958), the National Book Award finalist Once for the Last Bandit (1972), and The Song of the Horse: Selected Poems 1958–2008 (2008). He has translated several volumes of Adonis’s poetry, including The Blood of Adonis (1971), Transformations of the Lover (1982), and The Pages of Day and Night (1995), as well as Nada Tueni’s Lebanon: Twenty Poems for One Love (1990). His own poetry has been translated into numerous languages.
An accomplished playwright, Hazo has authored plays including Feather, which was performed at the Carnegie Lecture Hall in 1996, and Watching Fire, Watching Rain, which premiered at the Katz Theater in 2006. His fiction includes The Wanton Summer Air (1982) and Stills (1989). He has also published several expanded editions of his memoir, The Pittsburgh That Stays Within You (originally published in 1986).
Hazo has been a vocal advocate for poetry, in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. As founding director of the International Poetry Forum, which closed in 2009 after 43 years, Hazo brought hundreds of prominent poets to Pittsburgh. He also edited the forum’s press, Byblos Editions, for a decade.
Hazo’s honors include the governor of Pennsylvania’s Hazlett Award for Excellence in Literature, the Elizabeth Kray Award for Outstanding Service to Poetry from New York University, the Forbes Medal from the Fort Pitt Museum, a Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Cultural Award, and a Griffin Award for Creative Writing from the University of Notre Dame. The McAnulty Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at Duquesne University, Hazo has also been granted more than 10 honorary doctorates, and was chosen as the inaugural Pennsylvania poet laureate. He lives in Pittsburgh.
Born in San Diego on July 4th, 1970, Philip Metres grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. He graduated from Holy Cross College in 1992, and spent the following year in Russia on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship pursuing an independent project called “Contemporary Russian Poetry and Its Relationship to Historical Change.” Since receiving a Ph.D. in English and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Indiana University in 2001, Metres has written and translated a number of books and chapbooks, including Pictures at an Exhibition (2016), Sand Opera (2015), I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky (2015), Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Poetic Texts of Lev Rubinstein (2014), Concordance of Leaves (2013), abu ghraib arias (2011), Ode to Oil (2011), To See the Earth (2008), Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (2007), Instants (2006), Primer for Non-Native Speakers (2004), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Selected Poems of Lev Rubinstein (2004), and A Kindred Orphanhood: Selected Poems of Sergey Gandlevsky (2003).
His writing has appeared widely, including in Best American Poetry and has garnered two NEA fellowships, two Arab American Book Awards, the Lannon Literary Fellowship, the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, five Ohio Arts Council Grants, the PEN/Heim Translation Grant, the Beatrice Hawley Award, the Akron Poetry Prize, the Anne Halley Prize, the Creative Workforce Fellowship, the Cleveland Arts Prize, and the inaugural George W. Hunt, S.J. Award for Excellence in Journalism, Literature & the Arts.
His work has been called “beautiful, powerful, magnetically original” (Cleveland Arts Prize citation). Lawrence Joseph has written that “Philip Metres’s poetry speaks to us all, in ways critical, vital, profound, and brilliant.” His poems have been translated into Arabic, Polish, Russian, and Tamil.
Were it not for the Ellis Island effect, his last name would be Abourjaili.
He is a professor of English at John Carroll University in Cleveland, where he teaches literature and creative writing, and lives with his wife Amy and their two daughters.
Earlier in her literary career, Mary Gordon was fond of quoting Flannery O'Connor, who'd once said that writers learned everything they needed to know before the age of eight. What does Gordon -- the celebrated, bestselling author of eight novels, three memoirs, and multiple collections -- believe she had learned? "I think I learned the importance of story," she says. "I think I learned the pleasure-bearing aspect of language. I think I had experiences of real formal beauty in Catholic liturgy. I think I knew about secrets and lies, although I didn't know that I knew it. And I think I didn't expect that human life was about happiness."
Such knowledge might seem overly profound for a mere child, but Gordon was, to say the least, precocious. Born in Far Rockaway, Long Island, in 1948, Mary Catherine Gordon learned to read when she was three years old, taught by her father, David, who wrote her poems and love letters in German, French, Greek, and Latin. She idolized her father.
It is no surprise, then, that Gordon was shattered when her father died of a heart attack. She was seven years old. Her mother, a legal secretary, and her aunt, a key-punch operator, had been polio victims as children and were crippled, and her grandmother was seventy-eight and ill. Gordon was the only able body in the house. Someone who was dreamy and artistically inclined -- traits her family tried to knock out of her. She attended parochial school and didn’t know any non-Catholics. Owing to her Jewish heritage, she was made to feel like an outsider. Her family referred to Jews as "Hebes" or, in private code, as "the Persians," and, as Gordon writes in her memoir The Shadow Man, "'That's the Jew in you,' they would say whenever I did something they didn't like. Even now the memory of their emphasis on the word 'Jew' frightens me like the reports of the noise of Kristallnacht." Instead of going to Jesuit-run Fordham University, as her family insisted, Gordon chose to accept a scholarship to Barnard, the women's college associated with Columbia.
During this time, she lost faith in Catholicism, alienated by its attitude toward women and its censures about sex, and troubled by some of its doctrines. "I think that the tragedy of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is that it has put so much energy into forbidding sexual freedom," she says. "It turned itself into a kind of very perverse sexual policeman, and it's eroded its own moral authority for that reason."
Political and religious concerns notwithstanding, Gordon's main preoccupation was always her writing. She was living in London when, on a whim, she wrote a letter to the novelist Margaret Drabble, who read the manuscript for her first novel, Final Payments, and introduced Gordon to her American agent, Peter Matson, who signed her immediately. The critics gushed, comparing her to Jane Austen, Doris Lessing, and Flannery O'Connor. Final Payments sold sixty thousand hardcover copies and well over a million in paperback.
This was followed quickly by The Company of Women in 1981. The year 1985 brought Men and Angels, a novel about a working mother who develops a dangerous relationship to the woman who cares for her children. She followed that up with a collection of short stories entitled Temporary Shelter in 1987, and The Other Side, a novel, in 1989. The nineties saw the publication of The Rest of Life, a collection of three novellas. For many years, Mary had been researching the story her father’s life which he had so dexterously hidden from those closest to him. The Shadow Man was the culmination of that work, and it proved a great strain. To cheer herself up, she wrote Spending: A Utopian Divertimento, a book whose subtitle has confused readers since publication. Suffice it to say that the idea for the book was born from Gordon’s irritation that so few works of fiction feature a woman enjoying sex without someone dying as a result. After a 7-year hiatus from fiction, she published Pearl, which is incidentally her daughter’s favorite of her books.
Gordon also produced many works of nonfiction, some of which were published as books. When Penguin Books approached Gordon to contribute a popular biography to their Lives series, she chose to write on Joan of Arc. Although she had no formal background as a historian, the book was such a success that it won her the O.B. Hardison award for the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies.
In 2006, The Stories of Mary Gordon, including new and old stories, was published. This received The Story Prize in 2007. Mary’s mother, Anne, died in 2002 after a long illness that had robbed her of most of her memory. The experience of a long grieving became a memoir, Circling my Mother, which was published in 2007. Two years later came Reading Jesus: A Writer’s Encounter with the Gospels. In 2008, one of Eliot Spitzer’s last acts as governor was to name Gordon the New York State Author.
Three days a week during the academic year, Gordon teaches at her alma mater, Barnard College, where she is Millicent C. McIntosh Professor of English. "I teach very intensely," Gordon says. "What my students give me is hope, and a sense of not being alone, and not being at the end of the road. There's so much talk about the end of literacy, that what comes after us is just a wasteland, vulgar, and cheap, and it's of no value, and when I meet these wonderful students who are as in love with literature, as I was at eighteen and nineteen, it gives me great hope that the parade is still going on. It's not going to end with me."
Mary Gordon still lives in Manhattan, with her beloved puggle Charlotte. Her latest book, On Thomas Merton (2019), is an illuminating exploration of the life of the writer-monk. She became a grandmother in 2010, and again in 2012, and she would like you to know, that while it was nice of you to have read her biography, you are not as interesting as her grandsons.
(by Ploughshares and http://www.marygordon.net/)
The post-war boom in fiction was a moment of hope for the state of Catholic culture. Catholic writers Flannery O’Connor and Muriel Spark were being sent up the same flag poles that flew pennants for Saul Bellow and John Updike. Catholics even managed to capture back-to-back wins of the coveted National Book Award with Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer (1962) and J.F. Powers’ Morte D’Urban (1963).
But then it seemed that once Catholic fiction had its moment, the light began to fade and with it any hope of a true Catholic renaissance in literature. While for consolation O’Connor, Percy, Powers et al, have been enshrined in the pantheon of contemporary fiction, it seemed everyone was ready to don black arm bands, write up the obits and send flowers.
Fortunately for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Nebraska-born and Catholic-raised novelist Ron Hansen dismissed reports on the death of Catholic fiction as greatly exaggerated.
Hansen is the author of ten novels, including his most recent The Kid (2016), two collections of short stories, Nebraska (1989) and She Loves Me Not (2012), and a collection of essays, A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction (2001).
Many are drawn to Hansen’s works by his ability to take what might be considered a footnote in history and transform it into an opportunity for profound and moving fiction. He takes the events surrounding members of Adolf Hitler’s family and turns it into a novel about the horror and banality of evil, Hitler’s Niece (1999). In Exiles (2008), he explores how the fate—and faith—of a group of shipwrecked nuns inspired Gerard Manley Hopkins to write one of his greatest poems. In A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion, Hansen relates how the tawdry and torrid affair de coeur between lingerie salesman Judd Gray and desperate housewife Ruth Snyder explodes into a sensational and sensationalized 1927 murder and became the template for much of the hard-boiled fiction and film noir that would follow.
Then there’s his most ostensibly Catholic work, the haunting Mariette in Ecstasy (1991). Exploring the fine line between the spiritual and the psychological, the novel presents a lyrical bittersweet account of a young girl who as a novice in a religious order may or may not be experiencing the stigmata, and the resulting upheaval in the community she has joined.
Many if not all these books are now a fixed and vital part of the Catholic literary landscape. So popular and important is Hansen as a writer that it’s fair to say that for many budding Catholic writers, Hansen titles invariably share shelf space with Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Spark, O’Connor, Percy and the other usual suspects.
Fanny Howe was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1940. She is the author of over 20 books of poetry and prose. Howe grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and studied at Stanford University. “If someone is alone reading my poems, I hope it would be like reading someone’s notebook. A record. Of a place, beauty, difficulty. A familiar daily struggle,” Howe explained in a 2004 interview with the Kenyon Review. Indeed, more than a subject or theme, the process of recording experience is central to Howe’s poetry. Her work explores grammatical possibilities, and its rhythms are generated from associative images and sounds.
Howe’s collections of poetry include Love and I (2019), The Needle’s Eye (2016), Second Childhood (2014), Come and See (2011), On the Ground (2004), Gone (2003), Selected Poems (2000), Forged (1999), Q (1998), One Crossed Out (1997), O’Clock (1995), and The End (1992). Critic Jordan Davis lauds the manner in which revelatory thought is presented in Gone: “Howe enacts what the South American poet Jorge Guinheime called hasosismo, or the art of the fallen limb, in which startling insights emerge and are subsequently concealed.” Critic Kimberley Lamm, discussing the poem “Doubt,” writes, “Fanny Howe’s work is unique in contemporary poetry for its exploration of religious faith, ethics, politics, and suffering.” Second Childhood (2014) was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award.
Poet Michael Palmer commented: "Fanny Howe employs a sometimes fierce, always passionate, spareness in her lifelong parsing of the exchange between matter and spirit. Her work displays as well a political urgency, that is to say, a profound concern for social justice and for the soundness and fate of the polis, the ‘city on a hill.’ Writes Emerson, 'The poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty.' Here's the luminous and incontrovertible proof."
Howe is the author of many novels, including Nod, The Deep North, Famous Questions, Saving History, and Indivisible. She has written short stories, books for young adults, and the collection of literary essays The Wedding Dress: Meditations on Word and Life (2003) and The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation (2009).
Howe was the recipient of the 2009 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. She also won the 2001 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for her Selected Poems, and has won awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Poetry Foundation, the California Council for the Arts, and the Village Voice. She has received fellowships from the Bunting Institute and the MacArthur Colony, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2001 and 2005. In 2008 she won an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Howe taught creative writing for almost 20 years in Boston, at MIT, Tufts University, as well as at Emerson College, Columbia University, Yale University, before taking a job at the University of California at San Diego, where she is professor emerita. In 2012 she was the inaugural visiting writer in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. Her papers are housed at Stanford University. She lives in Massachusetts.
Angela Alaimo O'Donnell
Angela Alaimo O'Donnell teaches English, Creative Writing, and courses in American Catholic Studies at Fordham University in New York City. She also serves as Associate Director of Fordham's Curran Center for American Catholic Studies.
O'Donnell has published two chapbooks, Mine (Finishing Line 2007) and Waiting for Ecstasy (Franciscan University Press 2009), and five full-length collections of poems, Moving House (2009), Saint Sinatra & Other Poems (2011), Waking My Mother (2013), Lovers' Almanac (2015), and Still Pilgrim (2017).
O'Donnell's poems have appeared in a variety of journals, including Alabama Literary Review, America, Anglican Theological Review, Christian Century, Potomac Review, Runes, Comstock Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Mezzo Cammin, First Things, Post Road, Saint Katherine Review, Italian Americana, Xavier Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review and Windhover.
O'Donnell has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Web Prizes, and was a finalist for the Foley Poetry Prize and the Mulberry Poets & Writers Award. Saint Sinatra was nominated for the Arlin G. Meyer Prize in Imaginative Writing.
O'Donnell also writes essays on and reviews of contemporary poetry and literature. Her essays and reviews have appeared in Studies In Philology, Commonweal,Chistianity & Literature, America, Italian Americana, and Mezzo Cammin, among other journals, and have been anthologized in several essay collections, including Teaching The Tradition and The Catholic Studies Reader.
O'Donnell has published The Province Of Joy (2012), a book of hours based on the theological imagination of Flannery O'Connor, and Mortal Blessings (2014), a memoir/meditation on caring for her mother in the last 48 days of her life. In addition, she has written a biography of Flannery O'Connor, Flannery O'Connor: Fiction Fired By Faith (2015).
It seems almost a requirement for a poet to have an unconventional résumé, but Dana Gioia’s is perhaps notable for being so conventionally unpoetic. A graduate of Stanford Business School, Gioia claims to be “the only person, in history, who went to business school to be a poet.” He later rose to become a vice president at General Foods, where he marketed products such as Kool-Aid. These experiences in the corporate world, Gioia states, “taught me a lot of things that have helped me as a poet.” In 1992, he committed himself to writing full-time. Most recently, he served as chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2008.
Though Gioia has worked in various high-level positions, his approach to poetry might be deemed populist. Born in a suburb of Los Angeles, Gioia remembers his mother, a Mexican-American who he says had no advanced education, reading and reciting poetry to him at an early age. “Consequently,” he declares, “I have never considered poetry an intrinsically difficult art whose mysteries can be appreciated only by a trained intellectual.” As head of the NEA, he increased the budget and launched several successful initiatives, including Operation Homecoming, which provides writing workshops to U.S. soldiers and their spouses. He has also taught poetry at the university level and sits on the board of several arts foundations.
Gioia completed an MA in comparative literature at Harvard University and is an active translator of Latin, Italian, German, and Romanian poetry. While at Harvard, he studied with the poets Robert Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Bishop. His collections include Pity the Beautiful (2012); Interrogations at Noon (2001), winner of the American Book Award; The Gods of Winter (1991); and Daily Horoscope (1986). A collection of new and selected poems, 99 Poems, was published in 2016. Although Gioia writes in free verse, he is known primarily for his formal work, and has been included in the school of New Formalism, a movement in the 1990s by American poets to bring traditional verse forms back to the fore. Reviewer Kevin Walzer notes that “Gioia’s range, in both style and subject, is unusually broad. In his lyric poems, he works equally well in free verse and traditional forms, and in fact merges them in many cases; he works hard to give his metrical poems the colloquial quality of the best free verse, while his classically-trained ear gives his free verse a sure sense of rhythm that approaches a formal measure.”
Also a noted critic, Gioia has authored some influential and widely referenced essays on American poetry. In particular, his 1991 Atlantic Monthly essay, “Can Poetry Matter?,” argues that poetry has lost its central status in contemporary culture. The essay generated so much feedback that he later turned it into a book of the same title, which was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. For several years, he has also served as a commentator on American literature for BBC Radio and as a classical music critic for San Francisco magazine. His interest and training in music composition has led him to write opera libretti for Nosferatu (1998) and Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast (2008).
Gioia has founded and co-directed two major literary conferences: the West Chester University summer conference on Form and Narrative, and Teaching Poetry, which is dedicated to improving the teaching of poetry in high schools. He is the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California and lives in both Los Angeles and Sonoma County. In 2015, Gioia was named Poet Laureate of California. Appointed by former governor Jerry Brown as California Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2018, Gioia also served as head of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 to 2009. An active Catholic, he and his wife have two sons.
(The Poetry Foundation)
For more about Dana Gioia, read the feature article written by Commonweal, entitled “Dana Gioia Goes to Washington: Still shaking up the poetry establishment.”
Alice McDermott is an American novelist, essayist and university professor. McDermott was born in 1953 in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from the State University of New York at Oswego in 1975. She went on to study at the University of New Hampshire, graduating with an MA in 1978. She has held teaching positions at UCSD and American University, she has held writer-in-residence positions at Lynchburg College and at Hollins College.
Her second novel, That Night, was published in 1987 by Picador. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. It takes place in the 1960s and is told from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl who becomes fascinated by the romantic lives of others. In 1992, it was adapted for film by Craig Bolotin. McDermott was awarded an American Book Award and a US National Book Award for Fiction for her novel Charming Billy, which was published in 1998.
As well as novels, McDermott has written many essays and articles. Her works of non-fiction have appeared in publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. In 2013, she was given an induction into the New York Writers Hall of Fame.
Alice McDermott now lives on the outskirts of Washington D.C. with her neuroscientist husband and their three children. She was raised as a Catholic, and still considers herself to belong to the faith, although she herself has professed to be ‘not a very good Catholic’. She is currently Richard A. Macksey Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Richard Rodriguez was born on July 31, 1944 in San Francisco, California to Mexican immigrants Leopoldo and Victoria Moran Rodriguez, the third of their four children. When Rodriguez was still a young child, the family moved to a small house in a comfortable white neighborhood in Sacramento, California. In his autobiography, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, Rodriguez writes of his childhood home: "Optimism and ambition led” the family “to a house (our home) many blocks from the Mexican side of town...It never occurred to my parents that they couldn't live wherever they chose." This autobiography, Rodriguez’s first published book, was critically acclaimed and it placed him in the national spotlight, which brought with it controversy, including scorn from affirmative action and bilingual education supporters.
Rodriguez's family was not well-to-do. Although he dreamed of a career in engineering, Rodriguez’s father had only a third-grade-level education and worked as a dental technician. Despite this, Rodriquez’s parents found a way to afford to send their children to Catholic primary and secondary schools. Ultimately Rodriguez, who could barely speak English when he started elementary school, finished his academic efforts as a Fulbright scholar in Renaissance literature with degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University.
Perched on the edge of a brilliant career in academia, but uncomfortable with what he viewed as the unwarranted advantage given him by affirmative action, Rodriguez refused a number of teaching jobs at prestigious universities. He felt that receiving preference and assistance based on his classification as a minority was unfair to others. This dramatic decision, along with a number of anti-affirmative action essays published in the early to mid-1970s, made Rodriguez a controversial national figure.
After leaving academia, Rodriguez spent the next six years writing the essays that comprise Hunger of Memory, aided for part of that time by a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. Before being compiled into book form, many of these essays appeared in several other publications such as Columbia Forum, American Scholar, and College English. Hunger of Memory was a hugely successful book, garnering reviews in approximately fifty publications after its release. Critics generally praised the book for its clear and concise prose and for Rodriguez's honesty in revealing his conflicted feelings about being a "scholarship boy," as he refers to himself in the book. In 1983, the book won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a Christopher Award.
Since 1981, Rodriguez has continued his writing career, occasionally serving as an essayist for the PBS series MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour and also working as an editor with the Pacific News Service in California. In 1992, he published Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father, another collection of previously issued autobiographical essays. The book, which did not receive the same acclaim and admiration as his first book, covers such topics as Rodriguez's Mexican and Indian heritage, his homosexuality, and the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco.
Rodriguez's most recent book, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography (2013), explores the important symbolism of the desert in Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Paul Schrader was born and raised in the western Michigan Dutch American community, centered around Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was born into a religiously conservative family, was forbidden by his parents to go to the cinema, and did not see a movie until he was 18 years old. He attended Calvin College, a rather religiously conservative college, and earned a B.A. degree in philosophy and theology from there in around 1968.
The late 1960’s were tumultuous times in academia, and not because of the professors, but because of the students alarmed at what was happening in Viet Nam and elsewhere. Not surprisingly, even the conservative Calvin College was affected by the tumult created by the student generation of the late 1960’s. And I suspect that the student revolts also affected Paul Schrader, and he began to question all he had been taught at home and at school during those early years.
Following his undergraduate work at Calvin College, Schrader became interested in film, and especially in writing and studying about film. He attended the UCLA Film School Graduate program and earned his M.A. degree from there. He was fortunate to find a mentor in Pauline Kael, who directed him to the UCLA Film Program, and who was also instrumental in his becoming a film critic for the Los Angeles Free Press, and later for the Cinema Magazine. Following the completion of his graduate studies at UCLA, Schrader also studied at the American Film Institute Conservatory.
In 1972, Schrader wrote his first monograph examining cross-cultural similarities in film. The monograph was influenced by Robert Bresson, Yasujiro Ozu and Carl Dreyer. Its title was Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer.
During the early years of his film career, the early 1970’s, Schrader focused on being a film critic but he also became interested in becoming a screenplay writer. His first successful screenplay, The Yakuza, written with his older brother Leonard Schrader, came out in 1975. The film was directed by Sydney Pollack and featured Robert Mitchum. Only a year later, in 1976, Schrader wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese. This film was nominated for a 1976 Golden Globe Award.
Also in 1976, Schrader wrote the screenplay for Obsession. This film was directed by Brian DePalma. And in the following year, in 1977, Schrader wrote the screenplay for Rolling Thunder, a film directed by John Flynn. With several successful screenplays under his belt, Scrader became interested in film directing. And in 1978, he was able to direct the film, Blue Collar, a film whose screenplay was written by Schrader and his brother Leonard Schrader. This film featured Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel. In the following year, in 1979, he directed the film, Hardcore, and again the screenplay was written by Schrader and his brother Leonard. Also in 1979, Schrader and his brother Leonard wrote the screenplay for the film, Old Boyfriends, a film directed by Joan Tewkesbury.
As a screenwriter Schrader would write three screenplays during the 1980s. They were Raging Bull, co-written with Mardik Martin, and directed by Martin Scorsese; The Mosquito Coast, a film directed by Peter Weir; and The Last Temptation of Christ, a film directed by Martin Scorsese.
During the 1980s Schrader would also continue his film directing activities. In 1980, he directed American Gigolo, a film also written by him. In 1982, he directed Cat People. In 1985, he directed Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, a film written by him, his brother Leonard, and his sister-in-law. This film was nominated at the Cannes Film Festival for the Palme d’Or Prize. In 1987, Schrader directed Light of Day, a film also written by him. And finally in 1988, he directed Patty Hearst.
Schrader’s directing activities in the 1990’s included The Comfort of Strangers in 1990, Light Sleeper in 1992, also written by him, Witch Hunt in 1994, a film for television, Touch in 1997, also written by him, and Forever Mine, also written by him. In addition, Schrader also wrote the screenplay for City Hall, a film directed by Harold Becker and co-written with Bo Goldman, Nicholas Pileggi, and Ken Lipper.
During the first decade of the 21st century, Schrader directed Auto Focus, in 2002, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, in 2005, The Walker, a film also written by him, in 2007, and Adam Resurrected, in 2008.
In 2013, Schrader directed The Canyons, and in 2014, The Dying of the Light. His dramatic thriller First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke, premiered at the 2017 Venice Film Festival and received critical acclaim. Schrader received his first Academy Award nomination for the film in the category Best Original Screenplay.
He was born in Birmingham, Alabama on June 19, 1945. His parents, Rosemary and Arthur "Duke" Wolff, divorced when he was five years old. His older brother George, twelve at the time, went to live with his father.
Wolff remained with his mother, who moved numerous times. They lived in Florida and then in Utah before settling in Newhalem, Washington when his mother remarried in 1955. Wolff had a poor relationship with his abusive stepfather. He attended Concrete High School in Concrete, Washington before entering The Hill School, a boarding school in Pennsylvania.
After being expelled from The Hill School in 1963, Wolff joined the military. He served in the U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968. Wolff was then discharged and moved to England, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in English from Hertford College at Oxford University in 1972.
After earning a master's degree from Oxford in 1975, Wolff returned to the United States. He married Catherine Spohn, with whom he had three children.
Wolff worked as a reporter for the Washington Post, and then entered Stanford University. He secured the Wallace Stegner Fellowship in creative writing and earned a master's degree from Stanford in 1978. That year he also received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Having completed his formal education, Wolff spent a year teaching at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, followed by another year at Arizona State University. From 1980 to 1997, Wolff taught at Syracuse University in New York.
Wolff published his first short story collection, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, in 1981. It was well reviewed and received on the St. Lawrence Award for fiction. His novella The Barracks Thief (1984) won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The short story collection Back in the World appeared in 1985.
Wolff published his best-known work, This Boy's Life, in 1989. It was a memoir describing the details of his life from age ten up to his enrollment at Hill School. Wolff discussed moving around the country with his mother, as well as struggling to get along with his stepfather. The book was adapted as a film in 1993 starring Robert De Niro.
Wolff's brother George, who also became a writer, wrote about his childhood and his recollections of his father in The Duke of Deception: Memories of My Father (1979).
Wolff won the Rea Award for the Short Story in 1989.
In a sequel to This Boy's Life, Wolff wrote about his years in Vietnam in the memoir In Pharaoh's Army (1994). It was a finalist for the National Book Award but was generally less well received than This Boy's Life.
Later short story collections include The Night in Question (1997), Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories (2008), and That Room (2008). Wolff edited the anthology The Best American Short Stories (1994).
Paul Mariani is an award-winning poet, biographer of William Carlos Williams and Robert Lowell, and critic who holds a Chair in English at Boston College. He is the author of eighteen books, including seven volumes of poetry and biographies of Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Hart Crane, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and William Carlos Williams, which was a National Book Award finalist. His life of Hart Crane, The Broken Tower, was made into a feature-length film directed by and starring James Franco. He lives in western Massachusetts.
“The oldest of seven children from a working-class background, Paul Mariani was born in New York City on February 29, 1940 and grew up there and on Long Island. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College, a Master’s from Colgate University, and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York.
He is the author of seven poetry collections: Epitaphs for the Journey (Cascade Books, 2012), Deaths & Transfigurations(Paraclete Press, 2005), The Great Wheel (W. W. Norton, 1996), Salvage Operations: New & Selected Poems (1990), Prime Mover(1985), Crossing Cocytus (1982), and Timing Devices (1979).
He has published numerous books of prose, including Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius (Viking, 2002), and God and the Imagination: On Poets, Poetry, and the Ineffable(University of Georgia Press, 2002). Other books include A Useable Past: Essays, 1973-1983 (1984), William Carlos Williams: The Poet and His Critics (1975), and A Commentary on the Complete Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1970), as well as four biographies: The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane (1999); Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell (1994), both named New York Times Notable Books of the year; Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman (1990); and William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked(1981), which won the New Jersey Writers Award, was short-listed for an American Book Award, and was also named a New York Times Notable Book of the year. His latest biography, Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life (Viking) appeared in 2008.
His honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2009 he received the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. He was Distinguished University Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he taught from 1968 until 2000, and currently holds a Chair in Poetry at Boston College. Mariani and his wife, Eileen, have three grown sons and live in western Massachusetts.