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In Praise of What Persists

By Joyce Renwick (short fiction) ISBN: 0-931181-12-7

A collection of 12 short stories by the late Joyce Renwick, Washington area writer/teacher, Bread Loaf nurse/scholar, University of Iowa student/teacher. The completed volume is a mix of her nursing stories and her other fiction, the first collection of Joyce's stories to appear in print.

Read a review of the book.

Read a 1995 interview with Joyce.

"Joyce Renwick lets us into the hearts, minds and souls of so many different characters. It is like having her back among us to read these moving and luminous stories. Thanks to Paycock Press, we have what persists now that she is gone, the stories that bear witness to the mystery and beauty and sorrow of being alive. Every page breathes with that wonder. In praise!" --Julia Alvarez

Joyce Renwick: A Biographical Note

“I’ve invented three spirit guides. Muses. They help me center myself, focus my energy when I begin to write, escape the world of traffic and newspapers and television to the world where I can write.”

Joyce Louise Titus (1942-1995) was born in Woodbury, New Jersey. Before she was able to read, Joyce was fascinated with words on a printed page—as a child she lay on the hallway floor copying newspaper headlines word for word. At the age of twelve she started writing poetry and short stories in a daily journal, which she kept until her death on August 14, 1995. She first published at the age of thirteen having won first place in a poetry contest.

Following the example of a favorite aunt, Joyce trained to be a nurse at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1963 she married Jack Arthur Renwick and had her first child, Lynne Robin, in 1964 and her second child, Susan Mary, in 1966. Due to her husband’s career with the Naval Investigative Service and later the Secret Service, Joyce moved six times in six years. She was divorced in 1975.

Deep down Joyce knew she was a writer disguised as a nurse. Her turning point came in the late sixties when Joyce was working in a nursing home. She met a woman who told her, “I cleaned my house for fifty years, was gone one week and it was dirty. What good was my life?” When asked about this in an interview Joyce said “I realized life is very short, that entire lifetimes pass quickly, that I had to do something now if I wanted to be a writer.” Joyce enrolled at the University of Virginia in 1970, transferring to George Mason University where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Individualized Study, which encompassed Nursing and English.

Joyce studied for a Masters in English at Middlebury College in Vermont and attended Bread Loaf Writing Conference for seven summers. To pay for her tuition she was on call twenty-four hours a day as the school nurse and lived in the infirmary. Joyce met her mentor, John Gardner, while studying at Bread Loaf. He taught her to “Just Tell The Story.” She had this motto hanging above her computer, typeset, and framed in bright yellow. She used to say this gave her such freedom, such permission to write. John Gardner was an inspiration to Joyce and, while at Bread Loaf, she interviewed him and many of the other writers (including John Irving) for a collection of interviews she called the Bread Loaf Dialogues. The Gardner interview was bought by NPR and broadcast nationwide.

Joyce received her MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. She moved to Maryland in 1985 where she taught Creative Writing and English at the University of Maryland, the U. S. Naval Academy, the Writers’ Center in Bethesda Maryland, and American University. While teaching, she wrote and published. Her short stories, interviews and reviews appeared in such publications as The Southern Review, Sewanee Review, The Crescent Review, The Mid-American Review, Newsday, The Houston Chronicle and Best American Short Stories and many more. Joyce was also very active in arts groups, woman’s groups and writer’s workshops. While in Maryland, she and her companion, poet Paul Grant, started the New River Readings to bring artists together. She began her own Writing Consultant Business at this time.

In 1991, after the D.C. area proved too crowded and noisy for her, Joyce moved back to Iowa, which she had always loved. Looking for beauty in everything, she seemed to find it in abundance in Iowa. Joyce continued her writing consultant business. She taught classes at the University of Iowa occasionally because she enjoyed it. She was active in the artist community and was a contributing editor to Mediphors, a Literary Journal of the Health Professions. Joyce did, however, bury her nursing shoes in her backyard in a ritual of farewell.

Involved with personal exploration and discovery, Joyce reached the point where she could expose her true feelings, in her living and in her writing. Through meditation, she entered a magical nourishing world, which encouraged new and rewarding directions. In an interview “The Beautiful and the Disturbing” by Joan Peternel (Writer’s Digest) Joyce explained, “I’ve invented three spirit guides. Muses. They help me center myself, focus my energy when I begin to write, escape the world of traffic and newspapers and television to the world where I can write. The Peach Lady is a kind of cartoon-like fairy godmother with rosy cheeks and a frilly hat and apron. She gives me peaches, mason jars, and jars of canned peaches. She’s at the entrance of the pit. She’s the messenger who takes me to the bottom of the pit, to the sun lioness, a powerful medusa-like character with great primitive powers. She’s fearsome, but I needed her when I wrote the horror in the nurse stories. I’ll need her for the novel, too. When I write of beauty or need comfort, though, I go to Alexis. She’s motherly, quiet. Her house has music and flowers, soft couches, a view on to the water.” A fourth Muse, Titus, emerged but Joyce never disclosed her characteristics. This spirit guide was inspiring Joyce to write her last work, which was autobiographical with some aspects fictionalized. Joyce’s Muses were facets of her personality, her higher self.

In the last two years of her life, Joyce began to paint. Instead of using canvas, she painted chairs to remind her of the people she loved. She would start with an idea then let go as a whimsical thread emerged, finding inspiration for new stories by the time she was finished. For Joyce “other things bring me joyfully back to writing.”

Joyce lived her art. As a teacher and writer, she shared her love of beauty, honesty, and language with many.

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