Jeanne Murray Walker, professor of English at University of Delaware, is an award-winning author of six volumes of poetry, the latest of which is A Deed to the Light (University of Illinois Press, 2004). She is a frequent contributor to periodicals such as Poetry, The American Poetry Review, Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, and Image. In addition to teaching poetry and script writing workshops and other classes at the University, she gives readings, runs workshops, and speaks across the United States and abroad.
The author of many essays, she has also written extensively for the theatre. Her scripts have been produced in Boston, Washington, Chicago, throughout the Midwest, and in London. Her work has been honored with prizes and awards including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, seven Pennsylvania State Arts Council Fellowships, the Prairie-Schooner Reader's Choice and Strousse Awards, many new play prizes, and the prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts. She serves on the Editorial Board of Shenandoah.
LeAnne: Why do you think should Christians care about the arts?
Jeanne: The arts get below the surface. We live in a materialistic society and we see the surface of things. Most art (opera, painting, dance, etc.) is really about love, death and human longing. It gives us good, rich, deep questions. The arts are always surprising, not clichéd. They offer a new way of seeing things.
They also create camaraderie or community. They bind people who are unlike together, like when we see a movie and talk about it afterward. Or when we see a ballet, we are together with the dancers and the audience. Or when we read a novel and think, ‘This author knows! I’ve had that experience, too!’
These are very biblical principles—creating community and getting below the surface.
LM: Why should we read good literature?
JW: Literature creates empathy. A good novel helps us know how it feels to be that character. With empathy, we walk in their shoes. Literature takes you out of yourself and you become less self-centered.
I think good literature leads people to stillness, meditation, and reflection. We live a manic lifestyle, constantly multi-tasking. It is possible to sit quietly with a book or with poems. Sometimes I think poetry is close to prayer.
LM: You’re a poet yourself. Who are some of your favorite poets?
JW: Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and contemporary poet Billy Collins.
The greatest writers are the greatest writers because they talk about spiritual questions. All truth is God’s truth. Shakespeare wrote about profound questions that dealt with truth. He was tapping into the complexity and truth that Christianity speaks to as well, things like human longing, death, limitations, and fear. There’s only bad art and good art, and good art deals with issues that Christianity also deals with.
More from Jeanne Murray Walker on Thursday.