CCW Book Discussion: Walking to Martha's Vineyard by Franz Wright

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Marist Annex

The Catholic University of America

Washington, DC 20064

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Join the Contemporary Catholic Writers Reading Group for happy hour and a discussion of

Walking to Martha's Vineyard by Franz Wright

In this radiant new collection, Franz Wright shares his regard for life in all its forms and his belief in the promise of blessing and renewal. As he watches the “Resurrection of the little apple tree outside / my window,” he shakes off his fear of mortality, concluding “what death . . . There is only / mine / or yours,– / but the world / will be filled with the living.” In prayerlike poems he invokes the one “who spoke the world / into being” and celebrates a dazzling universe–snowflakes descending at nightfall, the intense yellow petals of the September sunflower, the planet adrift in a blizzard of stars, the simple mystery of loving other people. As Wright overcomes a natural tendency toward loneliness and isolation, he gives voice to his hope for “the only animal that commits suicide,” and, to our deep pleasure, he arrives at a place of gratitude that is grounded in the earth and its moods.

About the Author:

Franz Wright was born in Vienna, Austria and grew up in the Northwest, the Midwest, and California. He earned a BA from Oberlin College in 1977. His collections of poetry include The Beforelife (2001); God’s Silence(2006); Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004; Wheeling Motel (2009); Kindertotenwald (2011); and F (2013). In his precisely crafted, lyrical poems, Wright addresses the subjects of isolation, illness, spirituality, and gratitude. Of his work, he has commented, “I think ideally, I would like, in a poem, to operate by way of suggestion.”

Critic Helen Vendler wrote in the New York Review of Books, “Wright's scale of experience, like Berryman's, runs from the homicidal to the ecstatic ... His best forms of or originality: deftness in patterning, startling metaphors, starkness of speech, compression of both pain and joy, and a stoic self-possession with the agonies and penalties of existence.” Langdon Hammer, in the New York Times Book Review, wrote of God’s Silence: “In his best poems, Wright grasps at the ‘radiantly obvious thing’ in short-lined short lyrics that turn and twist down the page. The urgency and calculated unsteadiness of the utterances, with their abrupt shifts of direction, jump-cuts and quips, mime the wounded openness of a speaker struggling to find faith.”

Wright received a Whiting Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He translated poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke and Rene Char; in 2008 he and his wife, Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright, co-translated a collection by the Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort, Factory of Tears. He taught at Emerson College and other universities, worked in mental health clinics, and volunteered at a center for grieving children. His father was the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet James Wright. He died in 2015.



Q: What is the Contemporary Catholic Writers Group?

A: CCW is a reading series started by Catholic University English graduate students in 2015. Learn more about us on our English department webpageand listen to author talks and interviews here. All CCW events are free and open to everyone.

Q: How do you choose which books to read?

A: Everyone who participates in a book discussion during a given semester is invited to suggest titles for the next semester's reading list and to vote on the final selections. We often take titles from lists compiled by leading Catholic literary artists and editors (here and here, for example) and the Catholic Literary Imagination conference series (here and here), but we are always open to new ideas from a variety of people and sources.

Q: Will the author be present at this book discussion?

A: No, but we will update the event page if there's ever a surprise visit.

Q: Why do I need to register?

A: RSVPs help us ensure there will be enough space, food, and drink for everyone. We appreciate the heads up!

Q: Should I bring anything for happy hour?

A: Feel free to bring a beverage or snack to share, but we'll be just as happy if you just bring yourself.

Q: What if I haven't finished the book before the meeting?

A: Join us anyway! We enjoy serious, in-depth discussions focused on major themes, characters, and the nuts and bolts of literary craft, but we're not sticklers. Regardless of how far you are in the book, you're welcome to participate as much or as little as you're comfortable with. We recommend picking out a favorite passage or two that we can read aloud and use as jumping off points for further discussion.

Q: Where exactly is the event location and where can I park?

A: Marist Annex is on the north end of campus (C7 on campus map): Free street parking is available on Harewood Road.

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Marist Annex

The Catholic University of America

Washington, DC 20064

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