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A Conversation with Lewis Hyde, Erikson Scholar in Residence at Riggs, Summer 2014

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by Aaron Beatty

Lewis Hyde, Erikson Scholar“It has been a pleasure to be in a community where there is an ongoing conversation about how the past effects the present,” remarked Lewis Hyde, a recent Erikson Scholar. Interestingly, the book Lewis Hyde is working on explores the function of forgetting elements of the past as we craft our present personal narratives and make sense of, and find meaning in, the lives we live. Hyde is specifically interested in how “forgetting” memories related to trauma can play a role in gaining control over invasive or persistent thoughts that make it difficult to engage in life. 

Hyde’s first association with the Austen Riggs Center came a few years ago through an “Arts in Mind” program, a New York City based conversation series, created by Joshua Wolf Shenk in collaboration with Riggs’ Erikson Institute for Education and Research. The Arts in Mind series linked top artists ranging across the literary, visual, multi-media and performing arts whose work touches on mental health issues to psychodynamic thinking about creativity. After speaking with Riggs staff members and learning about the program and the Erikson Scholar residency, Hyde reflected on the work he was engaged in, saw that there was a meaningful overlap with the work at Riggs, applied to be an Erikson Scholar and was accepted. 

When Hyde reflected on his experience as an Erikson Scholar, he remarked on both the “solitude that is useful” and his belief that “ideas are better cultivated in conversation.” He went on to say that what makes Riggs an interesting and unique place for a scholar is “at the end of the day, it is about the patients, which provides a groundedness to the conversations people have.” 

Hyde has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Lannan Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1991 he was made a MacArthur Fellow. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including the Kenyon Review, the American Poetry Review, the Paris Review, and The Nation. 

For six years, Hyde taught writing at Harvard University where, in his last year, he was director of the creative writing faculty. He has taught at Kenyon College since 1989 where he is currently the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing. He and his wife, Patricia Vigderman, divide their time between Gambier, Ohio and Cambridge, Mass

When asked about why he became a writer, he stated simply that “there were topics that drew me to write.” This is not only a fact of his history, but also how he teaches his creative writing students to write, charging them not to complete pre-fabricated exercises, but to find what they want to write, to find a way to what matters. 

For more information on Lewis Hyde, visit his website at: www.lewishyde.com.

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