contributing editors

William Wallis, Ph. D
Los Angeles Valley College

wallisBill Wallis was born in the American South and educated at Hendrix College, Southern Illinois University, the University of Nebraska (Ph.D.in Literary Criticism and Creative Writing, 1972), and the Hanover Conservatory (Opera Performance). In 1973, while a member of the faculty in Lincoln, he performed a supporting role in Napoleon, a grand opera that he co-authored. His opera The Vision, based on Lakota myth, story, and song, was set to music and performed as part of the American Bi-Centennial Celebration in the Great Plains.

Between 1978 and 1985, he worked as a stage director, then as a tenor singing operetta and opera in the European theater. After returning to the United States permanently in 1983, he began teaching and writing in Lincoln, Nebraska; and then Santa Barbara, California. He now lives in Los Angeles, where he is Professor and Vice-Chair of the Department of English at Los Angeles Valley College. In 1992, he performed the World Premier of Robert Chauls’s Song Cycle “Songs of Great Men and Death” at the founding convention of the Emily Dickinson International Society in Washington, D.C. He is a contributing editor for Shofar Magazine at Purdue University Press.

He has published twenty volumes of poetry and prose. His volumes Joshua (1994), Twins (1996), and Selected Poems 1969-99 (2000) were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Poetry Division. In 2006, his novel Hawk won the Benjamin Franklin Award in Popular Fiction of the Independent Publishers of America. His latest publication is a biography, Prairie Symphony, the Story of Charles Leonard Thiessen, which appeared in 2010. (His works are available on Amazon.com.)

He lives with his wife Leslie and their four children just off the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles, where he is a cycling enthusiast.


Poet's Corner - Column Three (Autumn 2012)

The ambient hours I am spending this late Spring over the endless revisions of a scattering of stories and poems that will become my next published volume—God willing and the creek don’t rise—in August of this year have yielded important impressions about this work: it is strong on image and description of environment, i.e. it has a strong sense of place—this is certainly good, since its working title is L.A., my Love.

The critiques of colleagues, with their gatekeeper standards and confused definitions of what is of “professional quality” (and thus “publishable”) as opposed to—horrible, horrible, most horrible—“amateur” are in the rearview mirror. Perhaps the term “amateur” should be defined. (Let us forget the term “attitude,” if you don’t mind, and retain our sanity.) In this country, at this time, an amateur is one who writes seriously without commission, and consequently does not support himself purely by writing. In a Capitalistic Democracy, the first rule of the marketplace is that demand determines production. Is there any “demand,” i.e. use for poetry and stories other than to assuage the fear of death?

By these criteria, I am an amateur. I pay my room and board by teaching at Los Angeles Valley College … yet I consider myself not only a very fortunate teacher, but a writer as well. The ambivalence inherent in my situation has led me to “be philosophical” in that I—faced with the skepticism, elitism, and occasional disdain of my colleagues—feel a need to analyze the “reasons” why I write, even more so why I publish, when it is so hellishly difficult, my job does not require it for advancement, and it takes so much time that might be better spent—as my colleagues imply—with family, or, well, doing something else.

Here is my very brief Philosophy of Publication.

First, where academic prose is concerned, I was trained in the tradition of teacher-as-model: I practice what I preach. This includes publishing essays and books related to my discipline. Not only do I do this, but I encourage my students to do it as well. Thus I encourage my students to violate a second sacred rule of American society: Never do more than is required.

Second, I have grown to understand that creative writing is a passion, an absolute necessity. Egotism? Healing? Sharing? Does it matter? It is a need that feeds itself from the air; the soul gasps for it and rests only when its well-tendered lines of words are in place … or shifting toward their place … or fading .... The young Hesse wrote (and I translate) in “On Entering Sleep”: “And the soul, free / to circle endlessly / in Night’s womb, thrives, / lives a thousand lives.” If you question the existence of the soul after reading this, why go on? Turn back. It’s okay.

Third, criticism should encourage excellence in writing and define traditional values in genre and literary form. Great criticism and great writing tend to complement and encourage each other, e.g. Aristotle’s Poetica is (almost certainly) a commentary of Sophocles’ dramatic formula for Oedipus Tyrranus. We are, at present, it seems to me, in an age of lousy criticism.

Finally, writers write, not matter where they find themselves; non-writers don’t. (Everyone should try it, I think, for fun.) The literary critic is special kind of writer, maybe writer-as-super ego. As a mere writer, I will share my new work with others in the Fall of 2012—which also happens to be the Autumn of my life—and hope they accept it as well-meant sharing of my soul. Do I care what they think? Of course, but I do not depend on their approval. The psyche is too powerful, the memory to insistent, and the mind too pure for such foolishness. The lettered mind has a life of its own, free from critical commentary.

Bill Wallis, 26 May 2012

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