Twelve lessons on how to become an artist and/or live your dream, as dictated by the author’s father, poet and teacher Leonard Wolf.
Feminist Naomi Wolf broke onto the literary scene as a young woman, producing The Beauty Myth (1991) when she was still in her 20s. No wonder—even her elementary-school poetry had been critiqued with rigor. And what a critic she must have had. Despite its having been mediated through his daughter’s words and stretched to fit every student, his philosophy makes Leonard Wolf come across with the force of a thunderbolt, as an electric, commanding teacher. He is, Wolf says, a man who has always lived outside of convention, one who still inspires everyone he comes across—students, colleagues, casual acquaintances—to listen to their “heart's wisdom.” Even the family’s building superintendent learned to follow his dreams after speaking with Leonard. Still, like most children, the author spent many years fleeing her father’s dictums, though now, as a parent and teacher herself, she is eager to absorb his philosophy. And so, over the course of a single summer, he shares with her his essential lesson plan. His lessons—“Use Your Imagination,” “Do Nothing Without Passion,” “Pay Attention to the Details,” “Your Only Wage Will be Joy”—are illustrated by scenes from his life, challenges Wolf faces with her own students, and the Wolfs’ combined efforts to construct a solid tree house for Naomi’s daughter. Leonard’s peripatetic life, even without the accompanying philosophy, would make for good reading, and Naomi’s childhood, too, is unexpectedly entertaining, colored as it was by Leonard’s follow-your-heart philosophy. For cultural gossips, her story should be interesting if only for the glimpse of the fiery Naomi Wolf longing for a way to soften her voice and become a better listener.
Unexpectedly warm, intensely inspiring: a work for dreamers—and Leonard would say that means all of us.