posted December 12, 2007

Book Analyzes Writing of Walter Wangerin Jr.

The latest book by Dr. Dianne Portfleet of the Hope College English faculty offers a critical analysis of the writing of contemporary author Walter Wangerin Jr.

Her book "Walter Wangerin, Jr.: Artist, Poet, and Prophet" was published earlier this year by Greenleaf-Wilcop Press.

Wangerin, whose fiction and non-fiction alike focuses on faith and Christianity, is the author of more than 30 books, including novels, collections of short stories and essays, collections of poetry, children's books, volumes focused on practical theology and devotionals. His first novel, "The Book of the Dun Cow" (1978), won both the 1980 National Book Award and the New York Times Best Children's Book of the Year award.

Writing for scholar and layperson alike, Portfleet, who is an adjunct associate professor of English at Hope, examines Wangerin's work in light of its exploration of faith and the way that he seeks to guide the Christian community "down faith's thorny path" away from complacency into commitment.

"Wangerin's work - marinated in myth, animals, biblical figures, and Lakota storytellers - is masterful wordsmithery," noted Portfleet's Hope colleague Dr. Stephen Hemenway in reviewing the book. "Wangerin's writing guides his reader on a journey to Grace on the roads of dejection, despair and darkness."

The book is Portfleet's second volume about Wangerin. Her book "Shaping Our Lives with Words of Power: A Study of the Major Works of Walter Wangerin, Jr." was published in 1996, and was the first critical, in-depth study of his work.

Wangerin holds the Jochum Chair at Valparaiso University in Indiana, where he teaches literature and creative writing, and is writer-in-residence. In addition to "The Book of the Dun Cow," his books range from "The Book of God," which sets the biblical story in its own cultural and social settings; to "As for Me and My House," which is about marriage; to "Reliving the Passion," a meditation on the death of Jesus. He has also written children's books including "Water," "Come Down," "Mary's First Christmas," "Thistle" and "Potter." His "The Crying for Vision" is a mystical tale about a Lakota boy's effort to save his people. Wangerin was the opening keynote speaker during a two-day forum at Hope in October 2006 that focused on the art and craft of publishing from a Christian perspective.

Portfleet began teaching at Hope in 1988. Her teaching and research specialties are expository writing, Western world literature and children's literature. Her courses in the college's cultural heritage and Senior Seminar programs are especially popular with students.

In addition to her two books on Wangerin, she is the author of the 2005 book "The History of the Adventure Mining Company from the Ancient Miners to the Present," which she wrote after her son purchased the mine, located in the Upper Peninsula. She is also the author of numerous scholarly articles.

Portfleet advises the college's chapter of the Mortar Board honorary society, and this summer received one of only three "Excellence in Advising" awards presented by the national organization. In 2006, the college's graduating seniors presented her with the annual "Hope Outstanding Professor Educator" (H.O.P.E.) Award, and she won the "Hope's Outstanding Woman" Award in 2003. She was the college's Commencement speaker in May.

A 1969 graduate of Pennsylvania State University, Portfleet did graduate work at the University of Georgia and received her Ph.D. from Columbia Pacific University in 1984. She also taught for 12 years at Grand Rapids Baptist College (now Cornerstone University).