Renowned Essayist to Speak at Saint Mary's


Acclaimed essayist Brian Doyle, whose writing explores topics ranging from wine-making to Catholic spirituality, will visit Saint Mary's College on Sept. 6 for a reading in the Soda Center at 7:30 p.m.

Doyle has written seven books, including his most recent book "The Grail: A Year Ambling and Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World," and his writing has appeared in The Best American Essays, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The American Scholar, The Times of London and many other publications. Doyle also serves as editor for the award-winning Portlandmagazine at the University of Portland.

Passion and emotion are the signatures of Doyle's work, and his writing focuses on some of the most intimate and personal experiences of his and other's lives.

"I'm an essayist by avocation," Doyle said. "I try to write small true stories, while maintaining grace under duress. I've noticed the last few years, especially since 9-11, I've become more of a listener. I listen to the stories that people have and then write small, tight narratives and tell little stories."

Doyle's other books include "Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies," "Spirited Men: Story, Soul and Substance," and "The Wet Engine: Exploring the Mad Wild Miracle of the Heart."

It is Doyle's eye for detail and ability to capture the heart of a story that bring his essays to life.

"A story has universality even if it is personal," Doyle said. "I wrote a story for our magazine about a sin I committed. I yelled at my child, and seriously scared him. I felt horrible about it. I still do, but I got so much mail about that essay, and all the letters pretty much said the same thing. Parents wrote to me saying they had similar experiences, and as fathers we've all been there. It was a small story, but it carried a lot of weight."

In his work for Portland, Doyle finds stories that resonate at the University of Portland and beyond the campus. The magazine has won five national gold medals as the finest small circulation university magazine in America as awarded by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. In 2005, Newsweek awarded the Portland magazine the Robert Sibley Award as the finest university paper of any size in America.

"An alum told me a while ago that she finally figured what struck her about our magazine: She said the magazine was vulnerable to emotion and that's what we go for," said Doyle. "In each issue there should be something to make you laugh, or cry, or lose your temper. We're not here to just write about what happened. We're here to find the pain and joy of each story. Sometimes we may fail, but when we fail, we fail with grace."

Doug Barnes, a University of Portland business graduate, was drawn to Doyle's work through the magazine, but was also impressed by his broad range of work.

"It just seems like he can write about any subject and make it interesting," Barnes said. "He's one of the most talented writers I've read."

Doyle said that over the years he has been able to develop a filter to find the story and tell it in a short essay. The filter has been honed through his work at a Catholic university, which provides him with a religious framework.

"I try my best to tell stories for people to connect with, which can be a holy act because in a way it advances the world two inches like a song that hedges itself in your soul," he said.

Alicia Bleuer, a non-fiction student in Saint Mary's MFA program, sees Doyle's work as inviting and enticing.

"Doyle's narrator embeds emotion and spirituality in both conversational and formal writing such that, by the time the emotional core of the essay is revealed, the reader is enthralled and enraptured in the world he's constructed, even if the world was entirely foreign in the onset of the piece," Bleuer said.

Making connections with people through writing or personal interactions is a true passion for Doyle, and a main reason he chose to read at Saint Mary's.

"I'm hoping that I'll be able to make some real connections with people here, and hopefully give the people at Saint Mary's something that they connect with also," he said. "I swear I'll make you laugh in the first five minutes, or I'll eat a sock. Then I might get might get into some serious stuff. I think it will at least be amusing and possibly moving."

--Kevin Damore
Office of College Communications