A profound meditation on accepting, and celebrating, one’s solitude.
Whether seeking more time for solitude or suffering what seems a surfeit of it, readers will find the best of companions here. Fenton Johnson’s lyrical prose and searching sensibility explores what it means to choose to be solitary and celebrates the notion, common in his Roman Catholic childhood, that solitude is a legitimate and dignified calling. He delves into the lives and works of nearly a dozen iconic “solitaries” he considers his kindred spirits, from Thoreau at Walden Pond and Emily Dickinson in Amherst, to Bill Cunningham photographing the streets of New York; from Cézanne (married, but solitary nonetheless) painting Mont Sainte-Victoire over and over again, to the fiercely self-protective Zora Neale Hurston. Each character portrait is full of intense detail, the bright wakes they’ve left behind illuminating Fenton Johnson’s own journey from his childhood in the backwoods of Kentucky to his travels alone throughout the world and the people he has lost and found along the way.
Combining memoir, social criticism, and devoted research, At the Center of All Beauty will resonate with solitaries and with anyone who might wish to carve out more space for solitude.
About the Author
Fenton Johnson is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction. He teaches at Spalding University, contributes to Harper’s magazine, and has been featured on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He lives in San Francisco, California, and Tucson, Arizona.
In this lyrical yet finely argued book, Johnson sets out to show that being alone — so different from loneliness, its direct opposite, in fact — is absolutely essential to the creative life...meticulous, loving prose.
— Kathryn Hughes
A work of staggering tenderness, intelligence and beauty…a new vision of self, community and home. This achingly honest and gorgeously written book should come with a warning: It will change you.
— Harriet Lerner, PhD, author of The Dance of Anger
I love Fenton Johnson’s sensibility. It’s a joy and a balm to see the world through his eyes—and to rediscover solitude as our deepest and most powerful source of creativity and spirituality, even for people who are coupled.
— Susan Cain, author of Quiet and Quiet Power
A fluid pastiche of memoir, social critique, literary criticism, mystical insights, and philosophical reflections...poetic yet profoundly accessible.
— Brian Bromberger
In studies of the lives of beloved artists, and in beautiful meditations on his own life, Fenton Johnson encourages us to understand solitariness as consecration, a fecund, rich condition for the pursuit of beauty. Fenton Johnson’s writing is so companionable and wise that it enacts what it counsels…it converts sterile loneliness to creative solitude.
— Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness and What Belongs to You
A treasure that I didn’t know I was looking for, one that unearthed and validated buried truths. This small book is incredible, both profound and humane…And yes, it is deeply beautiful. Fenton Johnson is one of our great writers.
— Rabih Alameddine, author of The Angel of History and An Unnecessary Woman
Part memoir, part critical study of writers and artists, part queer manifesto, At the Center of All Beauty is about Fenton Johnson’s effort to live deliberately, which in his case means alone... This is a beautifully written book... Reading At the Center of All Beauty, I came to see that each of us, single or coupled, has access to an interior life, a center of beauty, if only, as Johnson forcefully argues, we are not afraid of silence, of listening, of solitude, and what it has to teach us.
— Daniel Burr