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The Wedding Dress

Meditations on Word and Life

Fanny Howe (Author)

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November, 2003.
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In times of great uncertainty, the urgency of the artist's task is only surpassed by its difficulty. Ours is such a time, and rising to the challenge, novelist and poet Fanny Howe suggests new and fruitful ways of thinking about both the artist's role and the condition of doubt. In these original meditations on bewilderment, motherhood, imagination, and art-making, Howe takes on conventional systems of belief and argues for another, brave way of proceeding. In the essays "Immanence" and "Work and Love" and those on writers such as Carmelite nun Edith Stein, French mystic Simone Weil, Thomas Hardy, and Ilona Karmel—who were particularly affected by political, philosophical, and existential events in the twentieth century--she directly engages questions of race, gender, religion, faith, language, and political thought and, in doing so, expands the field of the literary essay. A richly evocative memoir, "Seeing Is Believing," situates Howe's own domestic and political life in Boston in the late '60s and early '70s within the broader movement for survival and social justice in the face of that city's racism.

Whether discussing Weil, Stein, Meister Eckhart, Saint Teresa, Samuel Beckett, or Lady Wilde, Howe writes with consummate authority and grace, turning bewilderment into a lens and a light for finding our way.
Fanny Howe is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego. Among her books of poems are Gone: Poems (California, 2003), Selected Poems (California, 2000), Forged (1999), Q (1998), One Crossed Out (1997), O'Clock (1995), and The End (1992). She is the winner of the Commonwealth Club Gold Medal for Poetry and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Selected Poems was also one of the Village Voice's Best Books of the Year and was nominated for the Griffin Trust Prize.
“Fanny Howe is one of America’s most gifted and prolific experimental writers. Her books are lucid and beautiful and threatening and unsettling. . . . Howe’s recent issues in prose—including The Wedding Dress . . . prove that such a restless dubious poetics works in nonfiction as well as fiction.”—Katie Peterson Boog City
“In these richly evocative and provocative pieces, Howe meditaes on imagination, motherhood, art-making, and bewilderment, challenging conventional systems of belief.”—Editor’s Corner Ploughshares
"Fanny Howe draws the reader into her meditations on spiritual illuminations with a simplicity and an originality of vision and style that I find in no other contemporary work dealing with mysticism."—Etel Adnan, poet and author of The Spring Flowers Own & the Manifestation of the Voyage

"Here we reach the quick: the cutting edge between faith and fiction. These are not sentences, they are surgical incisions; the whole book a signpost for the new century."—Mark Patrick Hederman, Irish Benedictine monk and author of Tarot, Talisman or Taboo

"The Wedding Dress is the precious end product of an unique sensibility that combines faith, wisdom, experience and an uncompromising pursuit of beauty and truth."—Piers Paul Read, author of The Templars and Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors

"This is an ax of a book, like Kafka's, breaking through the ice of received wisdom, fake attitudes, piety. An unflinching but exhilarating look at real religion, the American desolation, a woman's life, and, always, the redemption of literature. The sharpened edge is Fanny Howe's love of the truth, which (after cutting) does indeed set free."—James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword and Secret Father

"Fanny Howe's latest book is a primer for the mind America does not know it has. Her prose is utterly simple and truthful yet rings with the formal elegance of past centuries. These pages are a dazzling handbook on the riddles of language, breath and speech. At every moment in the book Fanny is present, precise, mischievous, awesome, a companion in arms to her readers. When she turns with us to address the Unknown, she brings us face to face as no other writer I know can do."—Mark Jay Mirsky, editor of the journal Fiction

"This is, without exaggeration, an extraordinary book. The essays have the concentration and obliquity and suggestiveness of prose poems. The sentences are characteristically short and direct, grammatically simple and seemingly to the point. But so much thinking and responding and feeling have been distilled into these deceptively straightforward statements that they often have the tantalizing and paradoxical witchery of runes. There is no one else like Fanny Howe on the contemporary literary scene."—Albert Gelpi, Stanford University

"An important book for anyone interested in contemporary literature and the role of the artist in the present. These essays on the art enact a vital intervention with race, gender, faith, motherhood, and poetry. Fanny Howe uses Doubt to smash conventional systems of belief and Bewilderment to investigate political injustice and to shape a humane response, displaying an embodied wisdom that is both brilliantly articulate and precariously lived."—Peter Gizzi, author of Artificial Heart

"I have never before had such a physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience while reading one book. Fanny Howe makes words reality, thought beauty, and learning meditation. I went with her from 'Bewilderment' to agreeing that this book is 'a path' and 'like a plot--once formed, it seems to welcome and pull you into it.' And I am grateful."—Frances Smith Foster, author of Written by Herself: Literary Production by African American Women, 1746-1892

Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, Poetry Foundation

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