Quotes by Robert Hellenga

"He doesn't believe in talking too much about art, especially while you're looking at it. The pressure to appreciate is the great enemy of actual enjoyment. Most people don't know what they like because they feel obligated to like so many different things. They feel they're supposed to be overwhelmed, so instead of looking, they spend their time thinking up something to say, something intelligent, or at least clever."

"Fussing over food was important. It gave a shape to the day: breakfast, lunch, dinner; beginning, middle, end."

"It took him half an hour to reach the little mission chapel. From his position on his back in the river he could see just the tip of the steeple, but for the most part he gazed upward at the constellations. Rudy knew his constellations, because each one of his daughters had done a science project on them and they'd spent hours lying on their backs in the middle of the Edgar Lee Masters campus looking up at the sky. As the river bent to the south, he could see Virgo and Centaurus coming into view. At first they reminded him of true beauty, and he was overwhelmed. He knew that this heart-piercing ache, however painful, was the central experience of his life and that he would have to come to terms with it. No one - not Aristotle, not Epicurus, not Siva Singh - would ever convince him otherwise. But then it occurred to him that Virgo and Centaurus were just as arbitrary as the rudimentary classification system he'd used for his books - Helen's books. There were a lot of stars left out of the constellations, and nothing to stop you from drawing the lines in different ways to create different pictures. He wanted to lift his wings and fly, but he didn't have the power. He could only let the river carry him along."

"All I know is that my life is filled with little pockets of silence. When I put a record on the turntable, for example, there`s a little interval-between the time the needle touches down on the record and the time the music actually starts-during which my heart refuses to beat. All I know is that between the rings of the telephone, between the touch of a button and the sound of the radio coming on, between the dimming of the lights at the cinema and the start of the film, between the lightning and the thunder, between the shout and the echo, between the lifting of a baton and the opening bars of a symphony, between the dropping of a stone and the plunk that comes back from the bottom of a well, between the ringing of the doorbell and the barking of the dogs I sometimes catch myself, involuntarily, listening for the sound of my mother`s voice, still waiting for the tape to begin."

"People say that God works in mysterious ways when they really mean that life, or something in their own lives, doesn’t make any sense, but I think that’s wrong. I think it means that we can’t make any sense out of life until we give up our deepest hopes, until we stop trying to arrange everything to suit us. But once we do, or are forced to . . . That’s what’s mysterious."

Books by Robert Hellenga

  • The Italian Lover
  • 331 ratings
  • October 17th 2007 by Little Brown and Company

    (first published September 24th 2007)

  • Blues Lessons
  • 215 ratings
  • January 7th 2003 by Scribner

    (first published 2001)

Robert Hellenga
  • Robert Hellenga

  • Date of birth: August 05, 1941
  • Died: July 18, 2020
  • Born: in The United States.

  • Description: In a discussion of his teaching interests, Hellenga said that he was "very interested in the nature of literary experience, which is affective as well as interpretative. What is this experience like? Why do we value it so highly?"

    Hellenga advised readers to pay attention to feelings as well as interpretations. "The heavy emphasis we place on interpretation has pushed questions about the affective dimension of literary experience to the periphery of literary studies. I'd like to nudge them a little closer to the center."

    Hellenga joined the Knox faculty in 1968 and continued to teach long after his formal retirement in 2005. His wide-ranging academic interests encompassed composition and writing of fiction and poetry, Malory, Milton, English Renaissance and Romantic literature, literary criticism, and classical mythology. He also served as director of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest Florence Programs in 1982-83.

    In an interview with The Knox Student in 2014, Hellenga said that he began writing fiction only after joining the Knox faculty. He sat in on writing courses taught by colleague Robin Metz, the co-founder of Knox’s Program in Creative Writing, and eventually began publishing short fiction, followed by his first novel, The Sixteen Pleasures, in 1994.

    Hellenga graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 1963, and he earned a doctorate from Princeton University in 1969.

    His critically acclaimed novels also included Snakewoman of Little Egypt, selected as one of the best books of 2010 by Kirkus Review and The Washington Post; and The Fall of a Sparrow, which won best fiction awards in 1998 from Publishers Weekly and the Los Angeles Times.

    In a review of Love, Death & Rare Books, Booklist wrote, “All of Hellenga’s novels revel in the details of their protagonists’ occupations, and this one is no different: it is an ode to physical books, their smell and feel, but also to the idea of both living life and reading about it, not choosing one over the other.”

    Among Hellenga’s many awards are the Society of Midland Authors Award for Fiction, National Endowment for the Arts Artist's Fellowship, PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, Illinois Arts Council Finalist Award, and six Illinois Arts Council awards for fiction.