La Femme Nadia – Nadia Bolz-Weber at Lenoir Rhyne


photo credit: web/jerichobooks/ download/Pastrix2.jpg

I had originally read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s La Femme Nadia before hearing her speak. I’d never heard of her, nor had I imagined what kind of person she would be. From the excerpt, I still didn’t know what to expect from her. The only tidbits of information I gained prior to her visit were that she was a Lutheran pastor and that she was coming to Lenoir Rhyne as part of the Visiting Writers Series. So I went to hear her speak as part of my creative writing class.

The excerpt covers her struggle with alcoholism and drugs and Christianity, coupled with the influence of women in her recovery group. Bolz-Weber describes this idea of herself and her premature death (due to her addictions) as a “favorite outfit I refused to vary because I liked how I looked in it.” The fact that she now understands these changes in her mentality speaks a lot of her character. Because of the influence of the others in her group, she began learning how to ask God for sobriety, and then as I imagine, other blessings in her life later on.

Though this session with Bolz-Weber was somewhat informal and focused on her religious views more so than her writing, I could see how strangely I had misjudged her character based on the bit of Pastrix that I’d read. It felt bad. Now, after reading the excerpt again, I can see how those instances in her life have affected the practices she uses in her congregation as well as her beliefs and other values. Because she came from this kind of background and learned about God in a more “functional” way versus “doctrinal,” Bolz-Weber’s religious practices now reflect this kind of functional relationship both between us and God and us and others who are believers.


This Hedgehog Still Has Secrets…

Who would think that a poem titled “Hedgehog” would begin by addressing the hovercraft-like appearance of a snail?

Paul Muldoon, who was unfortunately unable to present a reading as part of Lenoir Rhyne’s Visiting Writer’s SeriesPPaul Muldoon due to snow, demonstrates a complicated use of similes and metaphors in his poem, “Hedgehog.”

The opening metaphor addressing the snail’s appearance definitely grapples for the reader’s attention throughout the poem. The use of enjambment and caesuras in this poem makes it a beautiful read, a poem that I personally want to see from Muldoon’s perspective. The first stanza is in effect one sentence, which carries over into the first line of stanza two. The construction of the poem is clearly not random, but leaves many questions about the reason for Muldoon’s choice of structure. I genuinely cannot imagine what he was thinking at the time of this poem’s birth, which is frustrating and enlightening at the same time. There is something to be said about a poet who can make his/her readers feel this way.

And then of course, the poem causes so many questions to arise, making it all the more intriguing as a reader. What are the “secrets” mentioned in the poem? Who is the hedgehog and who is the snail? Who is the “we” addressed by Muldoon in the poem?

All of these questions are strictly up to the reader to determine, as in nearly every poem. I get an overall sense that this poem is taking a stab at how we view our “gods,” or, in effect, Christianity. The last stanza of the poem particularly lends to this meaning:

“We forget the god

under this crown of thorns.

We forget that never again

will a god trust in the world.”

We, meaning Muldoon and you as the reader, seem to “forget” why a hedgehog (a metaphorical deity, perhaps) might hide. But in fact, what reason would a god have to trust in mankind? Why would a god trust the world, with so many murderous, slanderous, sinful works brought forth on a daily basis? It is this sudden change in thought  towards the end of the poem that lends to that higher meaning, particularly after reading a second time (when reading the first time, I envisioned a literal hedgehog and snail). Many other perspectives can be taken on this poem, however. After reading it again and again, the hedgehog has yet to spill all of his secrets to me.

Conversion: Katherine Howe’s talk at Lenoir Rhyne

After reading the summary of Conversion by Katherine Howe, my first instinct was to ask myself: how could she pull this off effectively? The parallels of colonial life in Massachusetts and modern day high school life could only be so close, and keeping the facts both accurate and relevant could be next to impossible.

conversionThe prelude to Conversion begins in Massachusetts in 1706, presumably during the Salem Witch Trials of the time. It is written in the perspective of Ann Putnam, one of the women to testify against several townspeople of the time. These victims were then executed for their crimes of witchcraft in 1692. Later, in 1706, Ann came forward and apologized publicly for testifying against them. Presumably, the prologue of Conversion shows Putnam’s thoughts immediately before she makes her confession about the trials to a Reverend.

The prelude leaves the reader with a lot more questions than answers, which is an excellent way to get the reader engaged and excited to read the next chapter. I understand that this novel took a lot of research, and while I wasn’t able to attend Howe’s talk as part of Lenoir Rhyne’s Visiting Writers Series on February 12th, I would have loved to hear about her research and writing process. She clearly has such an original idea, and a clear passion for history and research, which is not something a lot of writers want to pursue. Overall, the prologue of this novel is thrilling and interesting, something I believe I would really enjoy reading.

Honesty at its finest – Response to Jesmyn Ward’s talk at Lenoir Rhyne University

Sometimes, even the hardest stories need to be told.

Jesmyn Ward, author of Salvage the Bones – a gripping novel about Hurricane Katrina – has recently been featured in Lenoir Rhyne University’s Visiting Writers Series. After reading selections from both Salvage the Bones and her memoir, The Men We Reaped, Ward spoke about the reasons for producing her novels, as well as the ways she hopes her novels influence young adults.untitled

Ward contributes many of the ideas for her novels to her rough past, filled with depression, death, and drug abuse in her family. In this way, she has found her real purpose for her writing: to tell the truth about real life situations. When addressing the reasons for her somewhat brutal approach in Salvage the Bones, Ward states, “I must be honest and foolish enough to think that I can do it well.” However, this realization did not come until after the publishing of that first novel.

Ward’s readers have remarked that the ending of her first novel shed too much light in the face of Hurricane Katrina. Since it was her first big production, Ward says she regrets giving too much of a “happy ending,” because the real world is much more honest than that. Yet she highlighted the very real struggle that she faced when approaching the ending of the novel. She fell in love with her characters and could not make herself write a horrible (however realistic) ending for them. She couldn’t “hurt them further” than she already had in the process of telling their story.

As a student of writing and a lover of the craft, I understand what the love of a character entails. I have written several short stories and attempted a full length novel or two. The characters I create, at some point in the writing process, become real people that I can’t bear to hurt. In this way, Ward’s perspective on honesty within her novel proves to be a challenge to me to improve my writing. I can learn how to be brutally honest when writing, because the world doesn’t always grant favors.