By Katy Yocom, Spalding MFA Associate Director
The Fall 2018 residency features a road trip to the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, located an hour south of Louisville near Bardstown, Kentucky. There, we’ll hear Brother Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O., read from his new memoir In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir. Quenon served as a novice under Thomas Merton, who encouraged Brother Paul to write. His memoir details meetings with Gethsemani visitors over the years, including Sister Helen Prejean, Pico Iyer, and Seamus Heaney.Before our visit, we will view a film about the Abbey. While at Gethsemani, students and faculty will have time to explore the grounds of this important Trappist monastery.
“Monastic life and its counter-cultural wisdom come alive in the stories and lessons of Brother Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O., during his more than five decades as a Trappist at the Abbey of Gethsemani,” reads the book description on Amazon. “In Praise of the Useless Life includes Quenon’s quiet reflections on what it means to live each day with careful attentiveness. … [T]he beauty of life can best be seen in the “uselessness” of daily life—having a quiet chat with a friend, spending time in contemplation—in our vocations, and in the memories we make along the way.”
Quenon entered the Trappists, a branch of the Cistercian Order, in 1958. He is a photographer and the author of several books of poetry, including Unquiet Vigil, which was named a “Best Spiritual Book of the Year” by the website Spirituality & Practice and “Best Poetry Volume of the Year” by Hearts and Minds Books. He is also author of poetry collections Monkswear and Afternoons with Emily. He coauthored Carved in Stone and has contributed spiritual reflections to other books.
The Abbey plays a role in books by MFA faculty members Fenton Johnson (The Man Who Loved Birds) and Dianne Aprile (The Abbey of Gethsemani: Place of Peace and Paradox). Pico Iyer, a past distinguished visiting writer for the MFA program, wrote the foreword to Quenon’s memoir.
Katy Yocom’s novel Three Ways to Disappear (Ashland Creek Press, forthcoming 2019) won the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature. She is a 2019 recipient of the Al Smith Fellowship Award from the Kentucky Arts Council. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Salon, The Louisville Review, decomP magazinE, StyleSubstanceSoul, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University and is a grantee of the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.