Hillsdale’s past and present converged last Tuesday night as Greg Wolfe ’80 delivered a speech on conservatism and culture, drawing to a triumphant close a two-day festival recognizing his literary accomplishments.
“My story is a Hillsdale story,” he said. “My whole career has been an extended dialogue with the culture that nourished me.”
Wolfe is the founder and editor-in-chief of Image, a quarterly journal of art, faith, and culture, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Last Monday and Tuesday, the English Department hosted a two-day celebration of Image to commemorate this landmark, featuring poetry, a folk concert, songwriting, prose, and poetry workshops, and lectures from authors who have played a role in making Image a reality. Wolfe was presented with a distinguished alumni award, and his speech drew a crowd that packed Dow A&B and gave him two standing ovations.
In his speech, entitled “Conservatism and the Arts: A Lovers’ Quarrel,” Wolfe spoke of his time at Hillsdale and the events which led to the creation of Image. While in college, he hoped to make a career as a bastion of traditional thinking against the encroachments of liberalism, a culture warrior “like a Christopher Hitchens of the Right.”
“I wanted to write devastating book reviews of books by secular liberals,” he said with a smile.
Soon after graduation, however, Wolfe realized that he was not cut out for the destructive business of polemics, and, after a period of uncertainty, concluded that he wanted to support conservative culture by championing beauty rather than merely responding uglily to ugliness.
“What I thought was a nervous breakdown was really a nervous breakthrough,” he said. “The way to change culture is to put new, good culture into circulation.”
Wolfe’s talk served as a fitting capstone for the festival, and was well received by both the audience and the event’s coordinators.
Kathryn Wales, wife of assistant professor of theology Jordan Wales, said that Wolfe’s exhortation of beauty in conservatism was timely, necessary, and artfully stated.
“I’m still not recovered from how devastatingly good that was,” she said afterward.
Associate Professor of English Stephen Smith also praised the lecture for its emphasis on the cultural importance of appreciating beauty.
“Beauty has the power to save the world, as Dostoevsky pointed out,” he said. “We need to take as much care with the formation of artists as we do with other good things, because they hold one of the secrets of renewing the world.”
After the lecture, the event concluded with refreshments and conversation with the guests of the festival. According to those responsible for putting it together, Wolfe’s speech was a fitting end to a very successful celebration.
“I’m so happy, so happy for him,” Professor of English John Somerville said. “It all went so well, I would have to say better than expected.”