Best-selling author David James Duncan visited The Seattle School on Wednesday, May 14, for the inaugural Alumni Lecture Series. Known for his best-selling books The Brothers K and The River Why, Duncan led an intimate day-long writing workshop and then spoke to over 100 members of both The Seattle School community and the greater Seattle community who have been influenced by his writing in a lecture and reading in the evening.
“As 90% storyteller and 10% preacher, he speaks all over the country, inviting his hearers into rivers and wilderness, imagination, the tragicomedy of the writing life, and spiritual freedom,” Paul Steinke, Dean of Students & Alumni and Field Abbot at The Seattle School, said of Duncan. “Martin Buber once said: ‘A mystic cannot say the unsayable, instead (s)he says the other thing.’ David James Duncan is an artist who begins with the uncomfortably particular and leads us to transparent places in our human journey, drawing us toward another opportunity to remember hope.”
Alumnus Zach Brittle (MAC, ‘01) joined Duncan as he led the writing workshop, which included 56 participants. Participants were led through writing exercises and practices that Duncan has found useful in his own work. Throughout the day, Brittle facilitated questions and conversations with Duncan around the practice and discipline of writing as well as a writer’s life and calling. Of the spiritual power of writing, Duncan has said, “With a pen in hand and paper before us, we gain access to realms within ourselves to which we do not normally have access. I can’t claim to understand why this is so, but I have a lot to say about my long experience of it.”
Duncan continued to explore spirituality in his evening lecture, “Infinite Guest: Submitting to the Guidance of a Spirit-Thread.” The lecture was inspired by Duncan’s forthcoming novel, Sun House, and explored the idea that whatever society means by “God” is beyond reason, imagination, concept, and literature. “With love…and by following our spirit-threads,” Duncan says, “we can sing to this Indefinable Mystery of mysteries.”
The day’s events involved a diverse group of participants and attendees, including faculty, staff, students, members of the Seattle community, and alumni, for whom The Alumni Lecture Series was established. “The Alumni Lecture Series is offered by The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology in honor of our alumni, who lead our school’s mission beyond our walls and into the middle of humanity’s pain, joy, catastrophe, wonder, and suffering,” Steinke said, describing that the newly created series will be an annual event “in which alumni bring in an artist whose body of work offers a taste of hope and, therefore, a call to us all.”