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Pulitzer Prize nominee to delve into his autobiography at Baylor

Nov. 16, 2005

By MARILYN LIM, reporter

Most people at Baylor wake up blindly, flailing for the snooze button on their alarm clocks. Not Dr. Greg Garrett.

"When I get up in the morning, I say a quick prayer at the altar beside my bed just to say that I'm thankful for my life. And I pray that God will allow me to be a comfort to someone that day," Garrett said.

Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated English professor at Baylor, will deliver his sabbatical lecture "Writing the Spiritual Life: Crooked Lines" at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in 101 Carroll Science Building.

Garrett will spend the majority of the time reading a chapter from his autobiography.

But Garrett said he will also touch on "issues that come up when you try to write about life," such as self-disclosure, how to shape an interesting narrative and how to make a story universal.

He will also read selections from his new book Crooked Lines, which will be published September 2006.

Garrett took a university research leave in the spring to work on his spiritual autobiography.

"There came a point when I looked back at the radical change that had taken place in my own life and all at once I saw a story in it, a story that I thought would be interesting to other people besides myself," he said.

Garrett, who suffered from chronic depression for much of his life, was raised a Baptist but became a confirmed Episcopalian in 2003.

"Episcopalians believe in a more incarnational theology -- that the world is good because God made it, and that we can see God's hand in it if we're willing to seek God. The liturgy contains a weekly ritual confession and forgiveness. I never felt forgiven when I was a Baptist," Garrett said.

Garrett said his religious conversion helped him shape his autobiography.

"I just couldn't see the end of the story, which is always vital to me as I think about writing a story, until I began my seminary studies in 2004 and began to pursue ordination to the Episcopal priesthood," he said. "Then it all fell into place. I could see the shape of the story, and I knew I could write something that would be interesting and maybe even moving."

Garrett's novel, Free Bird, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2002.

Free Bird is the story of Clay Forester, a man who leaves his tiny Southern hometown to seek redemption on the road.

According to Garrett's Web site, he is drawn to characters "who are down and out and aren't at home anywhere." Forester seems to fit this profile.

"Some of us have better luck than others -- if you're born beautiful, rich or otherwise privileged, then life may seem better. But there are still plenty of sad, rich people on the planet," he said. "The archetypal story for me is a story that takes broken people and traces their progress toward wholeness and happiness."

Garrett said writing the novel was an inspirational experience for him.

"I wrote Free Bird the summer I lived in Santa Fe. I was in really bad shape that summer," Garrett said. "It was a great challenge to write, but reaching the end of it and seeing how Clay made peace with his life was a powerful moment for me."

"It gave me some hope and reminded me that if the finished story had that effect on me, it might be a help to other people as well," he said.

Free Bird was chosen by Publisher's Weekly and the Denver Rocky Mountain News as one of the best 2002 fiction debuts.

Garrett's other books including the novel Cycling and non-fiction books Holy Superheroes and The Gospel Reloaded, which he co-wrote with Chris Seay.

He has also published 40 short stories, essays, articles and reviews in numerous publications. Garrett's accolades include the William Faulkner Prize for Fiction and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education gold medal for non-fiction.

In 1994, he also was named outstanding Baylor faculty member by Baylor Student Congress and received the university administration's outstanding professor award in 1996.

Dallas alumna Angel Nguyen is a former student of Garrett's.

"I had Dr. Garrett for an English class, one of the university prerequisites. I'm not an English major and I thought I'd hate the class, but Dr. Garrett made it fun and interesting," she said.

Gatesville sophomore Monica Buth expressed interest in taking one of his classes.

"I've never had him before, but my friends told me take him for American literature. He seems to have a great reputation," Buth said.

For Garrett, teaching at Baylor is an opportunity to watch and be involved in the formation of young people.

"What I love is not just the intellectual exercise that takes place, but seeing people change and grow and come into their own," Garrett said. "I'm grateful that Baylor is a place where we can ask ultimate questions. It helped bring me back to a usable faith, and I think it helps our students as well."