Today I’m concluding my interview with Jill Peláez Baumgaertner. Dr. Baumgaertner is Professor of English and Dean of Humanities and Theological Studies at Wheaton College. She has written several books of poetry: My Father’s Bones (Finishing Line Press, 2006), Finding Cuba (Chimney Hill Press, 2001), Namings (Franciscan University Press, 1999), and Leaving Eden (White Eagle Coffee Store Press, 1995). She has also published a textbook/anthology, Poetry (HBJ, 1990); and Flannery O’Connor: A Proper Scaring (Cornerstone Press, 1998). She has been a Fulbright scholar, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has won many awards. She is past president of the Conference on Christianity and Literature and serves as poetry editor of The Christian Century.
You can read two of Jill’s poems here:
Her article on poetry here:
And a review of her book, Finding Cuba, here:
LeAnne: Your Ph.D is in Renaissance and Seventeenth-Century literature, yet you wrote a book on Flannery O'Connor. Tell me about the book and about why you feel drawn to her life and work.
Jill: Flannery O’Connor has a lot in common with John Donne, the subject of my dissertation. They both understand that the cross is the center of our faith—that one cannot skip over Good Friday on the way to Easter morning (which many Christians try to do). And the cross is ugly and violent and powerful and scary, but it is also death defeated even though God himself on that cross had to experience the silence of God. Flannery O’Connor deals with all of this and she avoids sentimentality and the pretty religious experience. She understands that we would rather not confront God, that it is often more comfortable not to receive revelation, so her characters are often pushed to the brink before they finally see the blazing light that is God.
LM: What projects are you working on right now?
JB: I’m editing a collection of letters from the front in World War II. A young Army/Air Force chaplain writes home to his new bride and tells the story of combat and life in the trenches, the liberation of the camps, life in liberated France and with Patton’s army. They’re remarkable letters—love letters, adventure letters, spiritual direction letters—everything. And they were written by my father-in-law.