Book Club Finale: An Interview with Luci Shaw

By December 24, 2009 culture, faith, language No Comments

Have you noticed the regular postings this fall referencing Luci Shaw’s Breath for the Bones? If you didn’t catch it, this was our writing group’s pick for our first blog-based book club. And what a pick it was! We have enjoyed the reading, writing, discussing, pressing, and stretching of every chapter.

The deeper we got into this read, the more we grew to love the author. And we wanted to know more about her. So we contacted Mrs. Shaw and requested an interview to feature as the book club’s grand finale—and she agreed!

Here you will find excerpts from the wealth of Mrs. Shaw’s responses. Be sure to visit Rancho Ruperto for part two of the interview. You won’t want to miss it!

Many thanks to Luci Shaw for all we’ve learned from her, both in the book and in the interview.

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Book Club: How did the Lord lead you to attend Wheaton College, here in our state of Illinois? What do you treasure most from your days at Wheaton?

Luci Shaw

Luci Shaw: During a long convalescence from pneumonia in Toronto, my parents sent me to stay with friends in the town of Wheaton, Illinois. While I was there I sat in on some lectures and found them fascinating. I had finished high school with high honors and had no trouble with admission to the school, which I began to attend the following year. I tried out several majors, and finally settled on English Literature and N.T. Greek and graduated in 1953 with high honors again.

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Book Club: Do you set out to write on a particular topic or do you watch for themes to emerge from the pieces you’ve already written?

Luci Shaw: If I’m writing an essay or a piece of creative nonfiction, I usually work from the random thoughts that gather in my head, getting them into the computer and letting the writing grow “organically,” rather than devising an outline or system. Research helps me fill in the gaps and re-order the work, making sure that transitions between ideas move along rationally and naturally. With poetry, I often see a connection between the natural/physical world and the world of emotion/soul/spirit. I note it down in my journal, and later transfer it to my computer and play around with it (a lot of fun!) until it feels “settled” or complete. I have poet friends with whom I workshop on the Internet, and they often give invaluable insights.

At all times I try to avoid Christian jargon or buzz words. My hope is to reach a wider audience for whom such shorthand is incomprehensible.

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Book Club: Describe your friendship with Madeleine L’Engle.

Luci Shaw: I’ve written extensively* about my friendship with Madeleine, which ended in her death in 1997. We met in the ’70s as speakers at a Wheaton College literary conference, exchanged books, affirmed each other as kindred spirits, and started a correspondence. Her first book of poetry, Lines Scribbled on an Envelope, had recently gone out of print, and since my husband Harold and I had recently started our publishing house, I asked her “Why don’t we reprint the volume in a new edition, along with some of your more recent poems?” Madeleine jumped at the idea, and next year The Weather of the Heart was released and later, newer poems in A Cry Like a Bell. After the publication of her poetry, I asked her to write a book for Shaw Publishers about her philosophy of creativity. It became Walking on Water: Reflections on Art and Faith.

Of course, as we worked through manuscripts we often had disagreements. As her editor, I wanted her books to command the widest attention and truly represent her fresh thoughts and ideas without unduly provoking those with divergent convictions. We never actually fought, but we regularly entered into vigorous differences of opinion. Sometimes one of us would win, sometimes the other, but we both considered our differing viewpoints as a great advantage in our friendship, growing as it did out of a working editorial bond.

As wordsmiths, Madeleine and I both loved to trace words back to their derivations. The etymological dictionary in her study gave us one of our most enjoyable ways of working with language and verbal expressions. We’d both learned other languages when we were in school—French for Madeleine, Latin and Greek for me.

WinterSong, our first book compiled together, mingled our poems, essays, stories, and journal entries that reflected light into the dark period of the year weather-wise. We then assembled A Prayer Book for Spiritual Friends, a collection of prayers “in two voices” that friends can pray together. Often our prayers together over the phone spanned the gulf of time and space as East and West coasts met each other in God’s presence. Finally came Friends for the Journey. We called this a “Trinitarian” friendship book, reflecting the way our three-way friendship with Barbara, our fellow pilgrim to Iona and in faith, had enriched all our lives.

*Some of the material in this [response] appeared earlier in my foreword to Madeleine L’Engle’s collected poems, The Ordering of Love (Waterbrook/Shaw Books, 2005), and in a memorial article in Books & Culture, January 2008. It also contains parts of the memorial address at her funeral “for close friends” in Goshen, Conn., in September 2007.

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