At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life (Paperback)
“A treasure that I didn’t know I was looking for.” —Rabih Alameddine, author of The Angel of History
Fenton Johnson’s lyrical prose and searching sensibility explore what it means to choose solitude and to celebrate the notion that solitude is a legitimate and dignified calling. He delves into the lives and works of nearly a dozen iconic solitaries he considers his kindred spirits, from Thoreau at Walden Pond and Emily Dickenson in Amherst, to the fiercely self-protective Zora Neale Hurston. The bright wakes these figures have left behind illuminate Fenton Johnson’s journey from his childhood in rural Kentucky to his solitary travels in America, France, and India. Woven into his musings about better-known solitaries are stories of friends and family he has lost and found along the way.”
About the Author
Fenton Johnson is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction. He teaches at Spalding University, contributes to Harper’s magazine, and has been featured on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He lives in San Francisco, California, and Tucson, Arizona.
I love Fenton Johnson’s sensibility. It’s a joy and a balm to see the world through his eyes—and to rediscover solitude as our deepest and most powerful source of creativity and spirituality, even for people who are coupled.
— Susan Cain, author of Quiet and Quiet Power
In this lyrical yet finely argued book, Johnson sets out to show that being alone—so different from loneliness, its direct opposite, in fact—is absolutely essential to the creative life.… Meticulous, loving prose.
— Kathryn Hughes
A work of staggering tenderness, intelligence and beauty…a new vision of self, community and home. This achingly honest and gorgeously written book should come with a warning: It will change you.
— Harriet Lerner, PhD, author of The Dance of Anger
[A] flexible and forgiving approach to the subject of solitude.… [A] thoughtful exploration.
— Geoff Wisner
A fluid pastiche of memoir, social critique, literary criticism, mystical insights, and philosophical reflections.… [P]oetic yet profoundly accessible.
— Brian Bromberger
“In studies of the lives of beloved artists, and in beautiful meditations on his own life, Fenton Johnson encourages us to understand solitariness as consecration, a fecund, rich condition for the pursuit of beauty. Fenton Johnson’s writing is so companionable and wise that it enacts what it counsels… it converts sterile loneliness to creative solitude.
— Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
Part memoir, part critical study of writers and artists, part queer manifesto, At the Center of All Beauty is about Fenton Johnson’s effort to live deliberately, which in his case means alone.… This is a beautifully written book.… Reading At the Center of All Beauty, I came to see that each of us, single or coupled, has access to an interior life, a center of beauty, if only, as Johnson forcefully argues, we are not afraid of silence, of listening, of solitude, and what it has to teach us.
— Daniel Burr
In a tone that’s warm, philosophical but familiar (this could be a conversation over tea or bourbon), Johnson touches on topics as varied as traveling alone, world religions, his parents and the Trappist monks next door, the monastic life, time as an illusion, the practice of celibacy, the gift of silence. It is a book for our times.
— Christine Wald-Hopkins
A case Johnson makes through his quiet, heart-full prose is that solitude is a wellspring for creativity that we would do well to pay more attention to. It is a message I didn’t know how desperate I was to hear so magnificently articulated until I read it.
— Chris La Tray
In these times of enforced solitude, what better book to shelter in place with than this one, which squarely places you At the Center of All Beauty.
— Camille Cusumano