At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life
A meditation on solitude as a font of creativity and spirituality. Known for his lyrical prose and clear insight, Fenton Johnson explores what it means to be not "single"—meaningless outside of coupledom—but "solitary," able to be alone, inclined to mine the treasures of inner life. Americans tend to celebrate "fortress marriage," turning an equal right into an omnivorous expectation, marginalizing solitaries as odd, even potentially threatening. Johnson taps into an older tradition embodied by Trappist monks near the Kentucky home where he grew up, and by artists and writers including Paul Câezanne, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, Henry James, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Rod McKuen, Nina Simone, and Bill Cunningham. Johnson includes his parents, who in workshop or garden found places to be alone; married people, too, can be solitaries in spirit. A hybrid of memoir, inspiration, social criticism, and celebration of the lives of great solitary artists, At the Center of All Beauty will resonate with anyone needing a break from the clamor of "society.”
Mariko's Staff Review:
This is the kind of quiet, hard-to-classify book that is easily overlooked, so I’m giving it a boost, because I’m thankful it exists. In a culture that is obsessed with being coupled, having an active social life, collaborating… a voice that considers solitude a legitimate calling really stands out. This book came out just as the pandemic began forcing us into isolation, so while it wasn’t written with that kind of solitude in mind--what perfect timing! If, like me, you’ve been thinking a lot about solitude lately, this book might offer some comfort and inspiration.