• William Woolfitt - Faculty Spotlight for Frontpage
    Dr. William Woolfitt, Faculty Spotlight

    Dr. William Kelley Woolfitt is Assistant Professor of English at Lee University, specializing in creative writing. His first book of poetry won the Texas Review Breakthrough poetry contest (Beauty Strip, 2014), and his second book, Charles of the Desert, a biographical cycle depicting the life of a French hermit-missionary to Algeria, is coming out this year from the distinguished Christian publisher Paraclete Press. He’s published over a hundred poems individually in a wide variety of journals (including such spirituality-focused outlets as Image, Christianity and Literature, The Christian Century, and The Wayfarer), as well as thirty-five short stories.

    Will has received the Plattner Award in fiction from Appalachian Heritage, first place in the Epiphany Editions fiction chapbook contest, three Pushcart poem nominations (for “St. Teresa of Avila Compares the Soul to a Palm Cabbage,” “The Tales Told About Sister,” and “The Foot Washer”) and the Howard Nemerov Scholarship at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference. Recently Pennsylvania State University, from which he received his MFA in 2009 and his PhD in 2012, invited him back for a reading on campus as one of five recent graduates to have published a book of poetry.

    In addition to his own sterling and prolific output, Will has found time to maintain a blog, Speaking of Marvels, featuring many interviews with writers of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Similarly, skyping with creative writers features frequently in his creative courses at Lee; he helps those writers become more widely known, and he provides his students many different models for a lifestyle lit by creative writing. He’s also faculty sponsor of Lee’s own creative writing journal, the Lee Review, and on the board of Lee’s annual Writers’ Festival. In these ways he leads and serves a writing community broader than his own interests.

    That leadership-in-service may summarize Will’s identity on campus best. His writing and teaching consistently push past a notion of writing as mere self-expression, push forward toward a creative vocation for the benefit of others. Will is interested in what other people have to say, in other people’s voices and stories. His PhD dissertation examined a range of African-American, Native American, and Appalachian writers. Much of his poetry and his fiction is made up of other people’s voices (a Native American surviving the 1838 removal, a haunting face in a photograph from a book about poverty, a name in a newspaper clipping), all part of his broader project to uncover histories that have been silenced and erased.

    And he turns that quiet, deliberate care for other people’s voices in the direction of his students, trying to help each find his or her own distinctive way of writing: what to say, how to say it; what’s encoded by God in a particular individual’s creative DNA. Whether he’s teaching freshman rhetoric, Introduction to or Advanced Poetry, Introduction to or Advanced Fiction, Writing Practicum, Travel Writing, or African-American Literature, he invites his students steadily and inflexibly to tend their own words, and the words of other people, with great care.

    Will embodies the kind of redemptive service that writing can do. As such, he lives near the heart of Lee’s mission to be and to develop people at once professionally competent and passionately engaged in reaching the forgotten, the voiceless, the hurting, with a love that only God can bring.

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