Walter Wangerin Jr. is one of top three favorite contemporary writers (Anne Lamott ranks up there with him too). If you haven't read any of his books you ought to. I started with As For Me and My House which is a gut-wrenching non-fiction book on marriage. I loved it and immediately was drawn to read more of Wangerin's work, but I wouldn't necessarily say to start there. The Book of the Dun Cow comes to mind as a good starting place. It's fiction; an allegory.
Wangerin is one of those writers whose prose is so strong and so...stylized? Maybe that's not the word. He just has a very strong voice. One that I have to be careful of for fear of picking it up and coming out with a bad imitation. C.S. Lewis is that way for me too. And Jean Shepherd. I never read any of them when I'm working on a writing project. They have a way of creeping in.
The reason I bring up Mr. Wangerin is that he's been on my mind lately. I had the great privilege of hearing him speak at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing this year (I'd put in a suggestion that they invite him four years ago and hoped and prayed they would). It wasn't a disappointment at all. First, I have to admit my initial reaction to seeing him. I wrote it down in my notes: "he has a goatee and a ponytail!!!". I meant it in a positive way, probably because it validates a certain choice I made (love you, hon!). Anyway, it was great to hear him speak. More of a privilege because he was in the midst of treatment for cancer and wasn't guaranteed to be there. That fact also lent a sort of prophetic bent to his words. Here's a writer, speaking to writers, with death in view. I took lots of notes.
So fast forward. Knowing his condition (it's an aggressive cancer), I've been following his progress in his open letters to the public on his website. His writing there is just as strong and beautiful. But he hadn't written since September and I was beginning to wonder. Thankfully he posted a new letter on his web site about a week ago. I just read it Tuesday. Gladly. You really should read it too. I was in tears when I read the last few lines. What a great writer.