In the winter of 2002 I was apartment-hopping in New York City, and my previous (illegal) sublet called to say there’d been a message left on the answering machine for me from somebody named “Wyatt Purdy?” She wasn’t sure—it was the thickest Southern accent she’d ever heard, she said. I was an aspiring playwright, 9/11 had pretty much obliterated my day job (or my night job, rather, fiddling with charts and graphs inside a palatial investment bank), and Wyatt was calling to offer me a year to write in Tennessee.
I came to visit in the spring. I slept at Rebel’s Rest and gave a reading the next day in Convocation Hall, an oak-paneled, almost Elizabethan room with stained glass and oil portraits of Episcopal educators. (Am I mistaken in remembering suits of armor? If I am, it felt like a place to house such relics.) Wyatt had a dentist appointment in Nashville so he’d drive me to the airport himself, and for the next eighty minutes we shared reminiscences about Middlebury, Vermont, where I’d gone to college and where Wyatt had taught at Bread Loaf. He discussed Andrew Lytle, Allen Tate, and the Agrarians, and I pretended to understand. I said something pretentious about writing and vagabonding being synonymous, and I wondered if Wyatt was gently reproving me by remarking that many writers find their truest art by quarrying deep in their place of origin—or their adopted home, if they must.