Local author Richard Hawley reflects on his life's work and writing
The Vermont Book Shop and Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society present “In Search of the Real World: Richard Hawley Reads from his Life’s Work” on Sunday, Oct. 8, 7 p.m., at CVUUS (2 Duane Court, near Middlebury Union High School). This is a free event open to all.
Hawley is a writer of astonishing range and authority, a master of many forms: novel, short story, poetry, critical non-fiction, literary non-fiction, philosophy. The author of over 20 books, he will be reading from recent work, work-in-progress and favorites over the course of his writing life.
“From the time I was a little boy, I realized there was ordinary life and — occasionally I found when I was outside in nature or with animals — extraordinary, transforming experiences,” Hawley explained in a recent interview. “Which is the real world, is something I’ve been asking myself ever since. The day to day? Or the elevated special glimpses into the Ultimate or the greatest thing?
“Through poems, fiction, writing about my work in schools and boyhood, I’m going to try to develop that theme through the talk on Sunday.”
Scholar and schoolmaster, Hawley was educated at Middlebury College (B.A., 1967), Cambridge University (M.A.) and Case Western (Ph.D). He taught at University School in Cleveland, Ohio for 37 years, the last 17 of which he served as its Headmaster.
He is the founding president of the International Boys School Coalition, which now numbers 250 schools worldwide. He conducts research, writes extensively, and lectures widely on educational practice, most recently on the relational nature of good teaching.
Hawley’s most recent novel "The Three Lives of Jonathan Force" is a panoramic take on the life of a popular social critic in three stages, taking him from first breath to last. One reviewer wrote that Hawley “explores with sensitivity and eloquence the unexpected moments that linger in memory and give shape to our souls.”
His 1984 epistolary novel "The Headmaster’s Papers" has remained in print for over 30 years. In 2015, he combined it with two subsequent novels "The Headmaster’s Wife" and "The Headmaster’s Son" into a trilogy, "Greeve’s Passing," a moving examination of the life and struggles of John Greeve, the Headmaster, and his family.
John Irving has observed, “Richard Hawley has the poise and vision to create a whole world.”
At present, Hawley is working on an extended personal reflection tentatively titled "An End Game: a Meditation on Life’s Closure." It will be included in the work from which he will read on Sunday evening.
“When I came to the threshold of old age, I told myself I would try to document the experience of the end of life,” said the 72-year-old who lives in Ripton with his wife, the artist Molly Watson Hawley. “It’s the passage of real time… Who knows, maybe it’s just a grandiose diary, but I find it valuable and essential to reflect on my deep past and what happened an hour ago. It’s about the pleasures of things and frustrations of what I can’t do anymore.”
Hawley has selected six or seven past works to present this Sunday.
“I’m looking forward to this very much,” he said. “This event caused me to reflect on my work and ask: Is there any shape to this? Or momentum? Yes, there does seem to be a shape to it. It’s about how you convey boyhood into manhood, and how you integrate the most sublime experiences with every day life.”
— Elsie Lynn Parini contributed to this report.