• Lawrence Clayton Poets & Writers Speaker Series

    Christian Wiman

    Poet, Translator, Essayist, and Editor

    Christian Wiman was born in West Texas (1966) and spent his first seventeen years in Snyder, Texas. He has a B.A. in English Literature from Washington and Lee University and has taught at Stanford University (Jones Lecturer in Poetry), Northwestern University, the Prague School of Economics, and Lynchburg College. From 2003-2013, Chris Wiman was the editor of Poetry magazine, founded in 1912, the oldest monthly magazine devoted to verse in the English-speaking world.

    July 1, 2013, Chris moved to New Haven, Connecticut, to join the faculty of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music as Senior Lecturer in Religion and Literature, beginning the first five-year term of the joint appointment with the Yale Divinity School. The website of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music notes that Chris “will join Prof. Peter Hawkins in teaching courses on subjects at the intersection of theology and literature, one of the cornerstones of the Institute’s interdisciplinary curriculum. Wiman’s extraordinary gifts as poet, teacher, critic, and editor will make him a natural partner in the musical, liturgical, and artistic life of the Institute, nurturing the formation of future preachers, theologians, and scholars in the Divinity School, and enhancing life throughout the Yale community.”

    Chris includes among his particular interests “modern poetry, the language of faith, ‘accidental’ theology (that is, theology conducted by unexpected means), and what it means to be a Christian intellectual in a secular culture.” The Poetry Foundation website quotes Chris’s response to Jessa Crispin in a 2009 interview, explaining what Chris hopes readers might take from his work: “I have no illusions about adding to sophisticated theological thinking. But I think there are a ton of people out there who are what you might call unbelieving believers, people whose consciousness is completely modern and yet who have this strong spiritual hunger in them. I would like to say something helpful to those people.”

    A number of people in Abilene and in West Texas know about Chris and his family, both from personal knowledge and from reading Chris’s books, poems, and essays. His spiritual memoir / meditation My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer seems to have an especially strong following in the Big Country.

    He is the author of three collections of poetry: Every Riven Thing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), Hard Night (Copper Canyon, 2005), and The Long Home (Copper Canyon, 2007). Once in the West, his new book of poetry, is forthcoming September, 2014, from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He has also translated the poems of Osip Mendelstam (Stolen Air, Ecco, 2012). He has two books of essays: My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), in its eighth printing and now available in paperback, and Ambition and Survival: Becoming A Poet (Copper Canyon, 2005). His poems, criticism and personal essays appear widely in such magazines as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker.

    He has been the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, the Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the 1998 Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize from Story Line Press.

    Chris’s mother and his father graduated from Hardin-Simmons, and his great aunt Ruth Wiman has an HSU School of Education scholarship endowed in her name. Chris’s mother, Frances Wiman, and Chris’s brother David live in Abilene. Ryan Wiman, Chris’s nephew, also lives here. Chris and his wife Danielle have twin daughters.

    Chris Wiman is one of the most accomplished contemporary poets. Quoted on the Yale Institute Of Sacred Music website, Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003-2009 calls Christian Wiman “one of the most important American poets and poetry critics now active. He is a writer of depth, ambition, and originality. There is no one in his generation for whom I have a higher regard.” Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist, says of Chris Wiman and his work: “The thing that impresses me most is that faith, with all its complexities, really matters to him.” For Robinson, this means that Chris Wiman’s “poetry and his scholarship have a purifying urgency that is rare in this world. This puts him at the very source of theology, and enables him to say new things in timeless language, so that the reader’s surprise and assent are one and the same.”

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