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Words Made Fresh: Essays on Literature and Culture
Words Made Fresh: Essays on Literature and Culture
Larry Woiwode
Crossway, 2011
192 pp., $24.99

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Timothy Jones


Gritty Eloquence

Larry Woiwode's measured words.

I learned something about Larry Woiwode from the cup of coffee he offered me. I had come to his farm and home near Mott, in southwestern North Dakota, interviewing him on the release of the novel Indian Affairs. A gracious host, he asked about coffee.

"Sure."

He took the grounds, stirred in water boiled on his kitchen stovetop, and handed me the mug.

I got, to my surprise, a gulp of not-yet-settled grounds—think French press without the press. Had I waited a while, I now know, the grounds would have drifted to the bottom. But I guess my eyes widened, for Woiwode chuckled and said, "That's cowboy coffee." Pastured horses and acres sown with organic oats surrounded us, and the coffee conjured the ruggedness of the Dakota plains.

Only now, twenty years later, reading his new collection of essays, it occurs to me that I also got a clue to Woiwode's writing. Words Made Fresh, like his coffee, comes with grit. And while Woiwode can send sentences aloft with elegance, he can also wield words like sharpened farm implements. Out of this collection of his eclectic and sometimes acerbic essays emerges a literary intellectual who roots himself to the soil, a poet who works a farm, a cultural soldier who spreads abroad a vibrant faith and steel-cut Presbyterianism.

Even the book's title harkens to the Christian faith that grounds Woiwode's craft. It is "meant to echo the incarnation," he explains in the preface to the volume. But he is interested in more than thoughts made graphic, words made flesh: "The title also issues an assurance that the following essays, which appeared in a variety of venues over the years, have been revised or reworked and otherwise brought up to date so that the words forming the phrases and sentences and thoughts in the paragraphs ahead have, indeed, been refashioned, made fresh."

All ten essays in this collection have appeared before, but only a reader with a freakishly broad range could have seen them all in their original iterations: Esquire, for instance, ...

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