Jim Grimsley presents 2018 Hobson Lecture at Chowan University
“I dreamed of being a writer from the time I started reading books because books were a world I could get into and control, and I couldn’t control the world around me,” said North Carolina author Jim Grimsley as he presented the 2018 Mary Frances Hobson Lecture at Chowan University, April 2, 2018. His lecture explored the concept of truth and his attempts to understand and influence it through his own writing.
Jennifer Newhouse, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Hobson course instructor, introduced Grimsley and described his style of writing as one that explores the life beyond our polished exteriors. “He knows that we do not read to hear about that perfect person,” she said. “His stories take us to the inside, to the reality of our lives. He writes about tragedy, heartbreak, cruelty, betrayal, and we find our way in through his characters.”
Grimsley lectured about the meaning of truth and the fallacy of post-truth as it influences his writing. He explained he was certain of things when he was younger, he was confident that he knew or was coming to know the truth. Yet, as he matured he reached the belief that he hardly knows anything at all. “Many old certainties have vanished. I used to believe all people are good. I have a hard time saying that these days, even though I still believe it. Stating the words makes me remember all the contradictions about people, all the ways that they are not good,” said Grimsley.
Grimsley explained that the mere act of speaking is what causes his doubt. He is required to state things directly when he speaks. Contrarily, when he writes he has the ability to sneak up on the truth. He can tell the truth from a slant which allows him to present several layers of it, all at once, and view it from all angles without actually claiming it as his own. He said that is why he began writing when he was young, “I had an instinct that telling the fiction that becomes true was the right path for me. That is why I still write.”
“The word truth has fallen out of fashion, and it is often stated these days that we are living beyond truth. We are told truth is really a matter of point of view. I don’t believe in the idea of post-truth,” Grimsley contends. Mankind, he noted, has struggled over the concept of truth for such a long time that it should demonstrate how vital a concept it is. If it did not exist, at some point people would have stopped fighting over it. He went on to say that part of him believed the world should be approached from a different lens, “It’s not that I don’t believe in goodness anymore or truth or possibility. It’s not that I’m not hopeful, it’s just, I suppose, that I want to keep quiet about it all, contemplate it all, and avoid throwing empty words into a world that’s already so full.”
Ending his lecture, Grimsley read a short story he wrote a few years ago, although it is still relevant today. The story, titled “What Happens to People Like Us”, depicts a small town that was simultaneously the target of two senseless acts of violence (a bombing and a school shooting). Characters ponder why this happened and if the incidents are related. An abusive, alcoholic father struggles with his own guilt from the past and present as the story unfolds to illuminate those responsible for tragedy may be closer than we think. Grimsley orated, “There is nothing left to say except to repeat the formula, that things like this don’t happen to people like us, that ours is a peaceful place and none of us deserved such a tragedy.”
The Mary Frances Hobson Lecture and Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Arts and Letters is awarded annually by Chowan University to recognize the distinguished achievement of a person in the field of arts and letters. Preference is given to Southern writers and poets or those authors whose work relates to the South. The recipient, who receives a medallion and monetary gift, presents a lecture entitled “The Mary Frances Hobson Lecture,” which is open to all area residents, Chowan University students and personnel, and all enthusiasts of the arts and letters in the region. Initiated in 1995 by the Hobson Family Foundation of San Francisco, the award serves as a memorial to Mary Frances Hobson (1912-1993), a journalist and poet, who was the first woman to receive the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in journalism from the University of North Carolina.