Andrea Ivanov-Craig Talks About New Book, Moving Toward Redemption
Andrea Ivanov-Craig, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of English and scholar of Catholic short-story writer Andre Dubus. Her research of Dubus spans nearly two decades. She recently published her book, Moving Toward Redemption: Spirituality and Disability in the Late Writings of Andre Dubus (1936–1999).
As a scholar of 20th century film and literature, what drew you to Dubus' work and legacy initially, and what about him has held your attention for so long?
My research started in 1989, when I was introduced to Andre Dubus in a graduate course on American literature. As part of the course, our professor intended for our class to publish a book on contemporary American short story authors. One of my assigned chapters was on Dubus. Eventually, that project fell apart, but I was deeply invested in Dubus’ life and work, so I continued my research.
As a professor at APU and a member of the Conference on Christianity and Literature, I continued to present on and research Dubus for many years. After one sabbatical and a few course releases, I decided that I had collected and written enough material for a book. The actual drafting, securing of permissions, and editing process took more than two years. The result was Moving Toward Redemption.
At age 50 Dubus was permanently injured in a highway accident. According to your research, how did that accident change the direction of his life and work?
Dubus lost the use of both his legs in an accident on I-95 in Massachusetts. While assisting the passengers of a stranded vehicle, an oncoming car swerved into their lane of traffic. One passenger did not survive; however, Dubus pushed the other out of the way, saving her life. Unfortunately, he was struck by the vehicle. Both his legs were crushed below the knees. His right leg was amputated above the knee, and he never recovered use of his left. Dubus began using a wheelchair when attempts to fit him with a prosthesis failed. Sitting still in his chair provided time for reflection, causing him to reexamine his life and losses. These reflections led to three major life-changes: he was reunited with his children; he developed a concern for the rights of people with disabilities; and, in addition to continuing to write fiction, he wrote highly personal and powerful essays.
During the process of writing Moving Toward Redemption, I had the privilege to meet and interview most of Dubus’ family, which provided me with unique insights into how his accident affected his home life. According to his children, the accident led to a reinvigoration and revival of Dubus’ relationship with them. He took time away from his writings to invest in his family.
Andre Dubus III, his son, said that it made Dubus more present. His daughter Suzanne said that it gave her back her father.
Despite the positive changes at home, Dubus also faced new challenges. He realized how unfairly individuals with disabilities can be treated and with that awareness came bitterness. The themes of disability and rejection became prominent in his writings as he examined the elements of loss and suffering in his earlier works. Somewhere in that process, he discovered a hope for redemption. In his later works, his longing for physical movement became a metaphor for a movement toward redemption. He created two collections of intensely personal nonfiction essays—Meditations from a Moveable Chair and Broken Vessels—that capture his reflections. A strongly convicted Roman Catholic, Dubus’ writings became a vessel for searching out the presence of God in the struggles of everyday life.
What do we learn about suffering and redemption from Dubus’ work?
One of the lessons Dubus teaches us is persistence. Through dealing with his loss of movement and severe clinical depression, he never gave up his art. There is something exemplary about not letting suffering take away what you love.
Dubus describes cultivating gratitude. He sees his “crippling [as] a daily and living sculpture of certain truths: we receive and we lose, and we must try to achieve gratitude”—a statement upon which one of my chapters rests. That phrase speaks of the utility of admiring beauty and searching for the good. This is not only an aesthetic of disability, but also a Christian aesthetic because it holds that each day’s battles can be fought in a way that recognizes the will of God for redemption. Moving Toward Redemption most obviously touches on Dubus’s themes of gratitude and perseverance. Dubus’s life story, pieced together from his essays, tells us about continuing one’s vocation despite suffering and loss.
Dubus’s work insists that tragedy in every circumstance implies a possibility, or a suggestion, of hope. It is important to remember that although Dubus wrote many beautiful things, he was not a saint. He was bitter and angry about life in some respects. He was justifiably upset by the injustices people living with disabilities suffered—particularly in the early 90’s when he was new to experiencing life from a very different point of view. He wrestled with grief, longing, and despair. Yet, at the end of it all, he received two MacArthur Genius Grants, wrote incredible works, and never abandoned his trade. His last collection of essays, entitled Meditations From a Movable Chair, and his last collection of short fiction, Dancing After Hours, proclaim a celebration waiting at the end of darkness. Dubus did not deny his losses, but searched within the darkness for a pinhole of light. In Dubus’ writing, as in Christianity, tragedy is not the end of the story.
Posted: April 4, 2017