Firstly, how do you go about choosing a subject for your non-fiction writings?
In almost all cases, I was motivated to write on a particular subject to address a perceived need or sometimes to rectify an injustice. To offer a few examples:
I wrote the first of my books, my biography of Chesterton, because I did not feel that any of the existing biographies presented a true and accurate picture of the man and his work. This would also apply to my biography of Belloc.
I was motivated to write my biography of Oscar Wilde to rescue him from his being re-invented in the eyes of the Zeitgeist as a martyr for the homosexist agenda. I wanted to accentuate the central importance of his lifelong love affair with the Catholic Church and his rejection of the decadent lifestyle.
I wrote my biography of Solzhenitsyn because I felt that none of the existing biographies emphasized Solzhenitsyn’s faith and his conversion sufficiently. Solzhenitsyn agreed with me, which is why he cooperated with my writing of it.
The motivation for writing my biography of Roy Campbell (which I think might be the best biography I’ve written) was a desire to rescue this great and significant poet from the danger of obscurity.
Small is Still Beautiful was written to illustrate that Schumacher’s book, Small is Beautiful, remained as relevant as ever, thirty years after its initial publication.
And, when you do write fiction, what inspires you to do so?
The only work of fiction that I’ve written, The Three Ys Men, was an act of cathartic necessity. I had a vision of something that I needed to release and express. It was an act of purgation; a “getting something out of me” that needed to be done so that I could move on to other things. I don’t think it’s very good. Indeed, I feel what Chesterton felt about his own fiction (though in his case less justifiably), that he had spoiled a good idea by turning it into a novel. On the other hand, I do very much enjoy writing poetry and have published several poems with which I am satisfied. Most of my verse is published in a slim volume entitled Divining Divinity.
Additionally, while researching your impressive career as a writer, editor, and professor, we found no mention of college education or degrees. How or when did going to university play into your career? If it didn’t, can you give us some insight into how you have achieved success as a scholar without this background?
I have never had a college education. In fact, my formal education ended at the age of sixteen. A year earlier, at the age of only fifteen, I had become involved in radical politics and this became my only interest for several years. It would be fair to call it an obsession. I write about this in my book, Race With the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love. I was saved from this fanatical obsession by my bibliophilia, my love of books, especially by my discovery of the works and ideas of Chesterton. Again, I write about this in Race With the Devil, in a chapter entitled “Surprised by Chesterton.” My lack of a formal education and my autodidactic approach to learning have both strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, I was saved from the mind-numbing nihilism that characterizes almost all (post)modern education, sparing me from either being lost in a fog of nonsense forever or from having to spend many years finding my way out of it by unlearning most of the ideological claptrap with which I would have been programmed. On the other hand, I was aware of significant gaps in my reading which I’ve had to work hard to fill. I am still aware of significant gaps in my reading, but I think that this is true of all people, regardless of the type of education that they have received.
I was accepted as a faculty member at the colleges and universities at which I’ve taught because those who hired me considered that my published books would serve in lieu of a Ph.D. I taught for sixteen years at college level, at Ave Maria University, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, and Aquinas College. For the past three years, I’ve been concentrating on writing and editing and have not had a teaching position.
Are there any challenges you have encountered or habits you have formed because of your educational background?
I have occasionally encountered prejudice or even hostility from colleagues at some of the places I’ve taught due to my lack of a terminal degree, but I am grateful for this. Accepted prayerfully, suffering is always good for us!
Finally, regarding a Catholic cultural/literary revival, how do you assess the state of it in America and how do you see it playing out into the future?
I see many encouraging signs of a Catholic cultural revival. There are many excellent writers, artists, architects, and composers of music working in today’s culture, many more than was the case ten or twenty years ago. What they need is support from patrons and publishers. These gifted individuals can be great agents of change but only if patrons and publishers serve as the necessary catalysts offering essential support. One of the aspects of my own apostolate is the endeavor to find the necessary practical support for today’s new generation of writers and artists so that their works can transform the culture. We need to remember that the most powerful weapons in the culture wars are works of culture.
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The featured image is a photograph of Joseph Pearce.