“After the family broke,
and when the house was about to sell,
I walked around it for a last look.
Under the eaves, on the ground,
there was a path worn in the dirt,
tight against the foundation —
small padded feet, year after year,
window to window.” (excerpt from the poem “Gray” by Philip F. Deaver)
In addition to winning the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and other prestigious honors, Philip Deaver’s work has been published by some of the finest magazines and has even appeared on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac on multiple occasions (you can listen to Garrison Keillor read the poem “Gray” here – he starts the poem around the 2:43 mark).
As a graduate student, I had the good fortune of listening to Phil read selections of his wonderful poetry and his exceptional short fiction several times before I had the even better fortune of getting to know him as a person.
As good as his writing is (and it’s damn good), what has impressed me most about Phil is his sincerity, his generosity, and his compassion.
He’s not just a man in the sense of his being a husband, and a father, he’s also a guy.
I’m not talking about all that testosterone-laden machismo you see sometimes. I simply mean Phil has always reminded me of the men of my childhood, the hard working, blue collar men I grew up around. Yet infused in that down-to-earth persona is a strong, quiet sensitivity, a creativity and a tenderness and an intelligence. He’s quite a bright man, after all, yet spend some time with him and you’ll soon realize he’s also just one of the guys: the sort of person equally at home in the outdoors, on the sports field, in the classroom, or at the page.
If you spend some time with his work (and I strongly urge you to do so), you’ll undoubtedly find many of those same traits – an honesty, a truthfulness, a sensitivity, an earthiness, an authenticity that will have you feeling that “soaring mountain/wind lifting through the pine stand.”
There’s a personal element to Phil’s writing that is neither overly sentimentalized nor devoid of emotion, a sensibility that feels real and true. There’s a reason the New York Times wrote of his short story collection, Silent Retreats: “Written in vivid, spare prose, the best of these stories linger, sad and profound, like songs you sing to yourself.”
You’ll find yourself not merely immersed in a realistic tale, but also witness to “the heart of why” the story was written.
It’s my honor to offer a special Guest Post by Philip Deaver (not just a writer I admire, but a friend I admire) as he offers an intimate and thoughtful response to the question What Are You Writing For?
As a writer, it’s interesting to me how differently each writer approaches that question.
Of course, Phil’s post is also a response of sorts to a talk given by author Tim O’Brien last summer. Enjoy!