Essays in praise of writing and faith.
Journalist, fiction writer, and teacher Pritchard (Creative Writing/Arizona State Univ.; Palmerino, 2014, etc.) collects 15 pieces that testify to her belief that art is “a form of active prayer” and writing literature, a “sacred vocation.” The author addresses several essays to aspiring writers. In “Spirit and Vision,” she exhorts writers to think of their lives as “a form of perpetual perishing, that as you lose yourselves in devotion and discipline to your work, you will attain the Beloved and begin to perceive the divine reality in all.” Another essay recounts her search for a regional voice as indelible as those of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor, writers “inextricably linked to place.” In the brief but potent essay “Elephant in the Dark,” Pritchard underscores the importance of a story’s point of view, asking, “which character owns the story most deeply?” A few pieces are slight memoirs: the author recalls her experience researching at the British Library; teaching British, Irish, and American writing students at Warwick University; and reflecting on why she came to admire Georgia O’Keeffe. Longer pieces are more substantive. “Finding Ashton,” a moving piece with a tragic ending, recounts her friendship with a female soldier that began when Pritchard was embedded with troops in Afghanistan. “ ‘Still, God Helps You’: Memories of a Sudanese Child Slave” reveals the harrowing story of 33-year-old William Mawwin, whom the author met when he was a student in Phoenix, Arizona, where she lives. When she discovered that he had to drop out of community college due to financial difficulties, she heard a “voice” that commanded her to pay for his tuition and books. In the course of many interviews, he related his experiences of unspeakable degradation and cruelty as a child slave.
As with many collections, the quality varies, but the best of these heartfelt essays bear powerful witness to suffering, compassion, and transcendence.