MOTT, NORTH DAKOTA The Midwest emerged as a hotspot for literature during the past half century. Novelists like Leif Enger, Louise Erdrich, Jon Hassler, Garrison Keillor and many others have not only demonstrated literary excellencedisplayed by countless awards and honorsbut they have also demonstrated a willingness to write about faith, in all its eccentric out-workings: Keillor with his Minnesota Lutheran tales, Hassler with his stories of priests and small-town churches and Enger with his evangelical sensibilities.
Perhaps none of them have written with such honesty and grit about faith, however, as Larry Woiwode. His novels, short stories, essays and memoirs touch on his circuitous journey of faith: from the literary life in New York and his problems drinking to his move back to his birthplace in North Dakota.
Woiwode has experienced the height of professional success and the depth of personal failure, two key components for reflecting on the necessity of a faith in something outside of one's self.
He is currently the Poet Laureate of North Dakota, and his novels include "Beyond the Bedroom Wall," "What I'm Going to Do, I Think" and "Indian Affairs," among others.
His most recent work is titled "Words Made Fresh: Essays on Literature and Culture" from Crossway Books. The work contains a revised collection of essays that have appeared over the years.
Woiwode writes in the Introduction: "My title is meant to echo the incarnation, because it was with the incarnation that writers outside the scope of the Hebrew or Greek texts began to understand how a metaphor of words could contain the lineaments and inner workings of a human being."
The essays cover a variety of topics, including the place of poet, essayist and novelist Wendell Berry among the American literati. This is perhaps Woiwode's best essay, as he traces his first encounters with Berry and discusses some of his works.
The last several pages of the essay include a wonderful look into the publishing world, as Woiwode waxes eloquent in speaking of the lost world of an industry that is often more interested in money than in quality.
Perhaps the least compelling essay in the book concerns the novelist John Gardner, of whom Woiwode was a close friend. While the relationship between the two is of interest to the reader, Woiwode chose to spend a considerable portion of the essay discussing a character in one of Gardner's books.
The other essays cover topics, including "Updike's Sheltered Self: On America's Maestro," "Deconstructing God: On Views of Education" and "The Faith of Shakespeare: On My Favorite Actor."
Woiwode writes with an honesty of lived experience and touches on topics of interest to those with a bent for literature and faith. One hopes that even though Woiwode is getting older (he turns 70 next month) he has not given up on the idea for a new work of fiction, a genre where his writing shines the most.