I grew up in Three Oaks, Michigan, a typical Midwestern small town, but I spent summers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where my father, a commission merchant with a seasonal business, handled produce that was shipped there from what was then the world’s largest farmers market, in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The men who worked for my father were almost all Italians, and in retrospect I see that this is how I got my first sense of Italy as something opposed to small-town Midwestern Protestant culture—a theme that has shaped a lot of my writing.
My wife (Virginia) and I met at the University of Michigan, spent the first year of our marriage in Belfast, Northern Ireland, spent a year in North Carolina, and started having children when I was in graduate school at Princeton.
I’ve taught English literature at Knox College, in Galesburg, IL, since 1968. During my tenure at Knox I have directed two programs for the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, one at the Newberry Library in Chicago and one in Florence, Italy, and I’ve spent a year at the University of Chicago on a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Florence and Bologna, and in 2009 we spent six weeks in Verona, where I was a visiting writer at the university.
I started writing fiction at Knox, which has a strong creative writing program, published my first story in 1973 and my first novel (after 39 rejections) in 1994. Snakewoman of Little Egypt is my sixth novel. The first five are: The Sixteen Pleasures, The Fall of a Sparrow, Blues Lessons, Philosophy Made Simple, and The Italian Lover. Another novel, The Confessions of Frances Godwin, will be published in Spring/Summer 2014.
My wife and I have lived in Belfast, Galesburg, Florence, Bologna, Verona, and Rome. I have three daughters, like King Lear, but unlike the Lears, we all get along. Rachel is entrepreneuring in Chicago; Heather teaches fifth grade in Galesburg, IL; and Caitrine is a verterinarian in Glen Carbon, IL. My wife has recently retired from teaching Latin at Monmouth College and is now in great demand as a substitute teacher.
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Mirabile Dictu (Oct. 27, 2014)
Memoir Journal (forthcoming, Oct. 2013)
Chicago Book Review (Aug. 23, 2013)
Gapers Block Book Club (August 3, 2013)
Quiddity (vol. 1, no. 1, Spring/Summer 2008)
We loved this old house and I can’t stop writing about it. Princess Galetina, the daughter-in-law of the last czar, was entertained here, though that we before our time. Our daughter and her family live here now.
Our old black lab, Maya, who was diagnosed with liver cancer on a Monday and was dead on Thursday. I can’t stop writing about dogs either, and we now have two. Simone and Mishka.
Several of my protagonists live in houses very similar to this one, and most of them play the guitar, though I switched to the blues harp in Snakewoman and the piano in The Confessions of Frances Godwin. Blues Lessons is the only novel that’s ever been reviewed in Acoustic Guitar Magazine.
This is the house in the woods where Sunny (Snakewoman) lived with Jackson.
We now live in an apartment on Seminary Street in Galesburg that bears a strong resemblance to the apartment that Francis Godwin lives in in The Confessions of Francis Godwin.
Here’s our apartment window from the street (Christmas 2015)