By Michael Lythgoe
SCWW Board Member/Aiken Chapter
As the deluge came to SC I was in Texas where it was very dry. The purpose for my drive to Texas was to participate in a Conference on Christianity & Literature at the University of Mary Harden-Baylor in Belton, between Waco and Austin. I began my visit with B-B-Q brisket and ended the same way. After the sessions and readings a friend and former member of the UMHB faculty hosted a literary salon on his patio.
The theme of the conference was the literary imagination, sacramental language, the Word. How wonderful to hear so much from scholars on fiction and nonfiction. Some talks stood out. A young PhD. candidate did a presentation and reading on Gerard Manley Hopkins. She was very confident. Another presenter who teaches in the US Virgin Islands compared the 17th century devotional poet, George Herbert, with the late Welsh poet, R. S. Thomas. I am fond of both writers who worried over their writings while serving as clergy.
My road trip allowed me to spend time in Natchez Mississippi. The town was abuzz with the new novel by local author, Greg Iles. His trilogy started with Natchez Burning. I listened to his latest, The Bone Tree, as I drove out of the country featured in his atmospheric stories: Louisiana, Angola prison, swamps, highway 61, Vidalia, Vicksburg, and the antebellum homes of Natchez on the Mississippi. Bluff City. Wonderful basilica. River barges, Natchez Under The Hill. Mysteries, JFK assassination.
Mississippi is a literary state, with tales of Eudora Welty and the home of Richard Wright and the ghost of William Faulkner. I remember a great short story by Faulkner on a flood. One night in Natchez the little Theater did a production of The Little Foxes. How deeply Southern. Timely too. While I did not spend time at the battlefield in Vicksburg, the river stories and the siege and strategy employed to win the battle in the Civil war is still haunting the landscape. So, too, is the spirit in the Natchez City Cemetery (with CSA labels and family names, stone Angels,and local ladies tending to the flowers), and the National Cemetery with the headstones all aligned in row after row on the bluff, the high ground.
My participation at the Literary Conference in Belton, TX opened with readings from a book of poems on saints, introduced by the editor. I was included in the readings because I had reviewed the book for Windhover, a journal published at UMHB. Hearing of sacrifices, martyrs, saints dying for their faith, relics, I remember how the summer was a summer of requiems, and a funeral, and 2 road trips, and notes in my journal. May you, too, drive into stories and pages and words.
Michael H. Lythgoe is a hoosier by birth. He lived near and took canoe trips on the Ohio River and the Wabash as a boy. He studied in St. Louis near the Mississippi, and now lives in Aiken, SC near the Savannah River. Mike is a contributing editor and reviews art for Windhover, a literary journal. His poetry collection, Holy Week, is available from Barnes & Nobel and Amazon. Mike holds an MFA from Bennington College. He teaches a course on the literature of espionage for the Academy for Lifelong Learning at USCA.