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Harold O. Wilson

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Harold O. Wilson (born July 16, 1936) is an American novelist, short story writer, literary essayist/ critic, poet, drama writer, editor and radio host for Delmarva Public Radio. He has written two novels and 16 short stories. In addition, he has written eight literary essays and critiques, and numerous poems, and many professional articles as a rural development specialist. He is fiction editor for the Delmarva Review, a literary journal.


Early Years – 1950s - 1960s

Wilson earned a B.A. degree from Wake Forest University in 1958 and a MDiv from Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Massachusetts (now Andover Newton Seminary at Yale) in 1962.(website). Prior to entering the parish ministry, he taught French and history at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida for one year. (website) From there he returned to Massachusetts and took a position as parish minister at the Federated Church of Charlton (website), where he was ordained in the United Church of Christ in 1962.(Website) After five years in Charlton he moved to The Athol Congregational Church in Athol, Massachusetts. (website) During his time in the parish ministry, he was active in the anti-war movement, and the civil rights movement, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King in Boston and in Selma, Alabama.

When Wilson left the parish ministry in 1970, he gave this reason:

“While touring  the French pavilion at ‘Man and His World’ in Montreal, I was struck by a saying; ‘France, in other days a soldier of God, Today a soldier of humanity, Always a soldier of the ideal.’  In other days, I was a soldier of God until I realized that to be a soldier of God was impossible without being a soldier of humanity. Always, however, I will be a soldier of the ideal, or of that vision that led me to be a soldier of  humanity. This vision of justice and human freedom, this vision of peace and creative struggle led me into the parish ministry….It brought me to Charlton and Athol, and now the same vision leads me to a field of endeavor outside the parish ministry for a time. For me, at least, the fuel of the parish is not yet enough to make the ideal burst into flame.”

Community Development Years – 1971 – 2003

Massachusetts – 1971 -- 1977

Wilson then spent five years serving the housing needs of the rural poor as Executive Director of Rural Housing Improvement, Inc., a statewide non-profit housing development corporation in Massachusetts. He developed and managed multi-family projects and single-family homes and initiated and implemented expansion of the Section 23 program in rural Massachusetts through the Department of Community Affairs (website).  He was directly responsible for implementing and expanding statewide housing initiatives to reach rural communities, including expanding Massachusetts’ State Housing programs. He initiated the first mutual self-help housing program in the state. A program in which families band together and mutually build their own homes with mortgages from UDA’s Farmer’s Home Administration, FmHA (now the USDA Office of Rural Development) (website). He was personally responsible for the creation of the Massachusetts Office of Rural Development (then the FmHA) State Office located in Amherst, Massachusetts (website). The office serves Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. (website)

During this period, he also served as part-time minister of the First Church Unitarian in Athol (website).

Washington, DC – 1977 - 2003

In 1977 Wilson moved to Washington, DC to become the Executive Director of the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) (website).  At HAC, Wilson oversaw technical assistance and predevelopment lending to U.S. non-profit organizations developing low and moderate income housing and waste water facilities in rural areas.  He managed three regional offices and lending activity, and created its subsidiary, Rural Housing Services to implement a low-income tax credit program. During this 12-year term, he solicited private investments that doubled the HAC administrative budget and tripled the loan fund. In 1984, Wilson led the development and  publication of Taking Stock, HAC’s groundbreaking analysis of rural housing and  poverty. Researched and written by Linda Kravitz, this publication brought to national attention the rural  poor left behind by the community development and improvements of the 1970s.

As cochairman of the Rural Coalition, Wilson led in the development and establishment of the Carter administration's small community and rural development policy in 1979, (see photos of meeting  with President Carter.)

As Vice President for Development of the Cooperative Housing Foundation in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1989, he provided international technical assistance in Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Uganda. Wilson also developed a shelter program called “Shelter the World” designed to solicit private donations to supplement CHF’s housing loan programs around the world. He served as North American representative on the Executive Committee of the Housing Committee of the International Cooperative Alliance (website).  As Deputy Project Manager at PADCO for USAID’s Shelter Sector Reform Program, he provided assistance to resident advisors in the newly independent states, drafted terms of reference for new technical activities, and prepared program strategies and work plans for the four geographic subprograms, and the concept and development of new program initiatives and activities.

Wilson also served as a technical consultant at Fannie Mae supporting the activities of Special Project Assistance through underwriting, product management and asset management (website). He also played a role in the creation of the Multi-Family Housing Institute (website).

He also, served as Senior Program Director for Rural LISC (Local initiative Support Corporation), responsible for Training and Information, including policy development (website). Wilson retired from LISC in 2003 as Vice President for the Homeownership Center.  

During this period, Wilson  conducted services in French for the Eglise Protestante Francophone De Washington, DC following the sudden death of its pastor Dr. Herbert Steinschneider in _____?(website)

The Writing Years – 2003 –  


On retirement from LISC, Wilson began writing short stories. Three basic themes are prominent in his fiction: the nature of time, the workings of the human mind, and the search for individual self-affirmation in an indifferent universe. In his hostile world bereft of purpose, his characters struggle to create their own meaning. Success is not always inevitable. And the self awareness of his characters engenders a sense of guilt, despair, and at the same time hope. In Wilson’s concept of time, every event in his stories progresses out of its own necessity. Time past and time future are all captured in the present moment.  Even in memory and mental illusion when time wants to flow backward it flows forward without relinquishing past or future; past and future forever remain a part of the present moment.

To express these themes and weave them into a coherent narrative, Wilson often calls on  biblical imagery, especially from the Old Testament. These ancient accounts, he says are the stuff of life. Mythology, theology, and scientific theory are also important elements that give depth to Wilson’s narrative.  

Wilson’s writing is sparse. It is meant to be pondered. Exposition is brief and direct. There is only the moment and the events of that moment. In A Touch of Salt, any exposition, any explanation of meaning, or reflection is little more than poetic comment. In the prologue to A Touch of Salt, for example, Sara Morgan, in her search in the Maine woods for the lost downed pilot for years missing, has fallen into a shallow ravine. Her leg is broken and she is lying on her back on a crude litter.  The guide on her search is a former Vietnam war medic. She is giving Sara a shot:

Someone crouches and she feels a pinch then a soft heaviness swell through her body. It is pulling her down now-down into a flat insensate whorl of shadows. There is still no pain and in the rising gloom all she wants is sleep.

And that is the  way it was…the earth without thought, the earth  without mercy, acting out of its own necessity, draws the woman down and down until she is swallowed in an underworld of shadows and apparitions, an underworld that doesn’t give the boon of sleep.

And so the major theme of the novel is set. A Taste of Salt is in fact a myth about the nature of time bound up in a journey into mythology’s underworld. Like any myth, its meaning is left open for the reader to feel, and to piece together for themselves.

Literary Essays and Reviews

In his literary essays and reviews, Wilson seeks out the universal element that gives the work its depth and significance.  Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, for example, has been reviewed and discussed by a number of great writers. In his essay “Entropy and the Arrow of Time in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain,” Wilson points out:

Even though the narrative is linear and fairly easy to follow, the substance of the novel is extremely complex. An abundance of themes and ideas are analyzed, dissected and put on display for the reader. This complexity of thought has proven fertile ground for academics. Concepts both real and imagined have appeared on their examining tables: disease and its enhancement of the appearance of health (a little fever brings an attractive blush to the cheeks); disease as a mark of “belonging;” the coming of age of Hans Castorp; the role of alchemy in his development; modern man’s search for “insight” that will give meaning to life; the inference of homoeroticism in the relationship of the two cousins; and even the latent homosexuality in Mann himself expressed in his diaries.

In his review, Wilson bypasses these academic concerns and looks at the concept of entropy (give link to definition)  and the arrow of time (link) as the major structural element in the novel. In fact, he argues that it may even be the dominant theme of this complex work by Mann.  Wilson writes:

Clearly there is much to think about in The Magic Mountain, but here I have narrowed my interest to the concept of time that permeates the novel. In fact I would argue that this is a “time novel,” a Zeitroman in the sense that time defined by the growth of entropy constitutes the basic tone and structure of the work or what I call its “underpainting.”  

The purpose of this essay then, is not to worry over the individual ideas and symbols that abound in the novel as interesting and edifying as that may be, but to discuss the story’s underpainting and to identify the layers of semitransparent glazes given substance, resonance and vibrancy by the arrow of time as defined by entropy, the measure of disorderliness in the universe. In closed systems, that is, systems that do not react with outside influences entropy tends to increase slowly or remain constant. In our analysis, the Berghof is a closed system and I argue in this essay that entropy in the sanatorium either increases or remains constant.

Wilson  gives the same care and meticulous  thought to all of his literary essays  and reviews, a number of which are published in the Delmarva Review (website) and in The Tidewater Times (website).


Wilson’s poetry speaks of melancholy—a brooding sense that awakens our consciousness and reminds us that we are alone in our singularity. “Pay-Day Afternoon” offers a good example:

She paused, doorway-framed in silhouette,

Her legs shimmering behind a white skirt

Diaphanous in the backing sun.

Inward she floated from the bright light,

Her thighs goldenedged

Glistening in the receding beam.

And we, heads turned up, wheezing, stifling a cough,

Having known the ends of our sentences choked to silence,

The ends of our days bitten off with broken teeth,

Followed this—fortune’s gift with unbelieving eyes.

And she, in the dim-pub-light, no longer shimmering

Moved into the bar-haze twisting an errant curl of auburn hair,

And curling the strand of auburn hair about her finger,

Gently tucked it behind an ear.

And we, still staring, remembered other

Golden thighs on silken beaches,

Other curling tresses spilled on dark tables leaning in

To touch an arm, complete a thought.

Silhouettes now, all

Shards of memory floating back-lit in the haze

Impossible to piece together.

But hinting yet at what was.  

And she, sliding white-skirted onto a barstool,

Half-turned and looked upon the open room,

A parenthesis in the cadence of time.

And we, the object of her gaze,

Exposed by the returning light,

Averted our eyes and gave up the dream.

The Queen Anne’s Arts Council (website) has recognized Wilson’s poetry with several awards.

Radio Days – 2013

In May 2013 Wilson began a monthly program called Delmarva Today: Writer’s Edition  on Delmarva Public Radio (website). The program is an interview format featuring authors and others  involved with writing. Over the years the content has evolved beyond the topic of writing and now includes topical  issues such as free speech in the digital age, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and global warming. Notable speakers include: Middle East expert Bruce Riedel, Psychologist Mary Brinkmeyer, and internationally known poet Luisa Igloria. Faculty from Salisbury University (website) also participate in the program from time to time.

Wilson also hosts Delmarva Public Radio’s quarterly drama program, “Delmarva Radio Theatre.”  Many of the actors on the program are members of the Community Players of Salisbury (website). The plays Wilson produces are often the adaptation of short stories from the Delmarva Review, or his own short stories.  


Wilson is married to the former Marilyn Ann Coons of Savannah, GA. They have two children: a daughter, Lee Slater, PhD, Senior Lecturer of World Cultural Studies  in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, and a son Grant Wilson, PhD, astrophysicist in the Astronomy Department at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA. Wilson and his wife live on Kent Island on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Wilson’s theology and philosophy, as well as his writings, are primarily influenced by Paul Tillich, Baruch Spinoza, Albert Camus, Andre Malraux and the French existentialists of the 1950s and 1960s, in addition to American novelists of that period. In the current era, his thought is influenced by science writers Sean Carroll and Steven Pinker.


The Night Blooming Cereus and Other Stories

A Taste of Salt

Short Stories

Habits of Devotion – published on website

A Kiss for Gertrude – published on website and adapted as a radio drama

Iced Tea – published  on website

Tea at Four – published on website and adapted as a radio drama  

O’Mama and the Great Leap Forward – published on website

Desultores – published on website

Desire – published on website

Sekhmet – published in Free State Review

Uncle Walter – published on website

Mirabelle and the Christmas Miracle

The Princess of the Garonne – published on website and adapted as a radio drama

Vietnam Morning – from a chapter in A Taste of Salt

Caesar’s Tomb – Published in The Night Blooming Cereus and adapted as a radio drama

The Chosen -- Published in The Night Blooming Cereus

Infidelity -- Published in The Night Blooming Cereus

The Blood of the Lamb -- Published in The Night Blooming Cereus

Literary Essays and Reviews

Hard-Boiled Anxiety. Karen Huston Karydes – published in Delmarva Review and The Tidewater Times

Disparate Voices – A critical Analysis of Sue Ellen Thompson’s THEY -- published in Delmarva Review and The Tidewater Times

Entropy and the Arrow of Time in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain – published on website

Another Look at Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – published on website

Time and a Different Look at J.D. Salinger’s For Esmé—With love and Squalor – published on website

Farms Not Bombs – The Saving of Kent Island – published in Kent Island  Heritage Society Newsletter

A Book Out of Time – Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman -- published in The Tidewater Times

Reflection on Aging – The Boer War – published on website

Poetry – Published on Wilson’s Website

God Was Lonely


St. Mary’s River


Winter Red

Pay-Day Afternoon

The Art of the Kill – From a chapter in The Night Blooming Cereus

Egypt Girl

Senior Lecturer of World Cultural Studies

Director of WCS Program

Dept. of World Languages and Cultures

Old Dominion University

Mary Flannery O'Connor (March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964) was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist. She wrote two novels and thirty-two short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries.

She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a sardonic Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and supposedly grotesque characters, often in violent situations. The unsentimental acceptance or rejection of the limitations or imperfection or difference of these characters (whether attributed to disability, race, criminality, religion or sanity) typically underpins the drama.[2]

Her writing reflected her Roman Catholic faith and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics. Her posthumously compiled Complete Stories won the 1972 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and has been the subject of enduring praise.

Margaret Eleanor Atwood CC OOnt FRSC FRSL (born November 18, 1939) is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, teacher and environmental activist. She has published seventeen books of poetry, sixteen novels, ten books of non-fiction, eight collections of short fiction, eight children's books, and one graphic novel, as well as a number of small press editions in poetry and fiction. Atwood and her writing have won numerous awards and honors including the Man Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Governor General's Award, and the National Book Critics and PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Awards. Atwood is also the inventor and developer of the LongPen and associated technologies that facilitate the remote robotic writing of documents.

As a novelist and poet, Atwood's works encompass a variety of themes including the power of language, gender and identity, religion and myth, climate change, and "power politics."[2] Many of her poems are inspired by myths and fairy tales which interested her from a very early age.[3] Among her contributions to Canadian literature, Atwood is a founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize and Writers' Trust of Canada.

Harold O Wilson[edit]

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