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Good Letters

My Catcher in the Rye

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Maybe it’s because my students and I are discussing Holden Caulfield this week—this sweet kid who genuinely wanted to know where the ducks went in winter. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading Salinger and teaching once again at a rigorous prep school. Maybe it’s because I’ve just moved back home to Mississippi and it’s as…

The Horizon Stops Here

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My uncle died early this month. He and I were not close, and yet he was the last of his generation in my branch of the family. The burial was a brief affair. Four of us sat on folding chairs that had been covered in something resembling green fur, under a tent in 95-degree heat,…

Life, Death, Bread, Host

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The birds’ wings shake out the smell of the men who sleep in the park: the smell of meat, sweat, and bread. The birds lift up and fly away as I ride my bike through the park’s courtyard, and in the trees a stone Cardinal sits on a throne, staring down at the ground where…

Who’s the Greatest One of All?

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I am skeptical of any attempt to gauge the greatness of a literary artist when the criteria being considered are not directly related to literature. The recent passing of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has provided some fodder for skepticism. Because of “the effect that he has had on history,” David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, believes…

On a Photograph of a Toddler in Zimbabwe

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I haven’t read Susan Sontag’s “On Photography” or “Regarding the Suffering of Others,” both extended meditations on the public consumption of images of suffering, but I do have the feeling that a recent experience of mine (and many others as well, no doubt) with a horrifying photograph in the mainstream media would make a fitting…

A Parable of Talents

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How many artists are successful in two different mediums? I don’t mean proficient; I mean as good in one as in the other? There’re lots of musicians who write middling to horrible poetry, and God save us from all the lame “novelist rock bands,” especially those comprised of ever-infantilized baby boomers. Okay, Shakespeare—plays and sonnets—but…

Other Dreams

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I remember Adam’s dream as if it had been my own dream, and I recall the spring in which he dreamed it as if I lived that time in his body: fearing the flat horizons that hemmed in Kansas City’s bleak skyline, but fearing the empty city, too; driving the snaking black-tops between his grandparents’…

“No Man the Island that a Woman Is”

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I was just finishing graduate school when the feminist movement began—around 1970. It spoke so powerfully to my personal experience that I wrote part of my dissertation on how the movement was transforming women’s language: allowing them to discover their own voice for the first time in Western history. As a brand new Asst. Professor…

Cloud of Witnesses

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“The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.” –Joseph Ratzinger Those who know me only from the Glen Workshop may not believe I’m an introvert, but it’s true. For all my chattiness and conspicuous upstaging,…

Undoing our Undoing: Reva Williams & Gretel

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For two years, I lived in an artists’ colony in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, just on the outskirts of Boston. We set up house in a drafty three-story Victorian—me along with six musicians, one painter, one sculptor, and one band manager (in addition to a steady stream of guests, most of them of the musical variety).…

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For the humanists of the Renaissance, literature mattered because it was concrete and experiential—it grounded ideas in people’s lives. Their name for this kind of writing was bonae litterae, a phrase we’ve borrowed as the title for our blog. Every weekday, one of the gifted writers on our blogging team will offer a personal essay that makes a fresh connection between the world of faith and the world of daily life, spanning the gap between theology and experience and giving language a human shape.

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