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!
UPDATE: Anyone who has read Annie Dillard knows that she’s a thinker. Her writing is not only vivid and supple, but evinces deep reflection. So I suppose we should not have been surprised that after writing her initial note of support for the Image annual appeal, she kept on thinking.
Out of the blue on Christmas Eve-Eve, she sent us a few more Dillardian thoughts (below, in red).
We hope you’ll agree with her and help to keep this journal of planetary excellence going! And now, without further ado, Annie Dillard….
I subscribe to Image because it publishes LITERATURE. Violence, sex, money, celebrity, fitness, and food interest us less than inner life does. We want our reading to call attention to values. (Of course we avoid and eschew piety as Image does—thankfully.) It’s great to encounter settings outside Manhattan and people who might well live outside Manhattan’s consensus. It’s great to read fiction that avoids shock value and appeals to (what may remain of) our sympathies and minds.
We want prose like Tolstoy’s: simple, clear, and easy to read, not calling attention to itself or showing off. We want to read artfully composed stories about morally complex characters in morally complex situations. We want to read poems that are not about the poet. We hope to learn about serious visual artists who are working today. Among the welter of junk books, which are books worth reading? Are any thoughtful?
Literature is hard to find in American publishing today. Today many published works, said to be thoughtful, arrive at nihilism—as if nihilism were the end-point of human thought, as if at 15 years old we reached the acme of wisdom. Seeking wisdom and comparing virtues from the vantage of different places and persons is living the good life. I find Image very much worth having and keeping to reread. Like any wisdom literature, it develops in insight and pleasure as years go by.
I find Image very much worth supporting because it has no axe to grind.
If you want to encourage the arts by encouraging artists—starving artists I might add unnecessarily—then do help where they stand a chance in this crazy world. Help Image. Image encourages the arts—literature and visual arts—and glory be, it doesn’t care if you’re world-famous or wholly unknown.
Giving to Image is a gift to a world you hope grows.
I love reading Image because I learn from it. This is the writing I want to read. There I see the arts true to their roots, true to their highest calling: to have and make meaning.
Writing and publishing is a joy. Oh, hell, why not give people a little joy?
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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Annie Dillard
Annie Dillard is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut.