‘Hope’ author to return for visit, read autobiography

Writer, pastor and speaker Philip Gulley apologized if his enunciation seemed sloppy during a chat on a recent morning. He had just returned from a dental appointment and still felt a little numb.

Truth be told, Gulley is known nationally for fiction and nonfiction highlighting both humor and a serious bite — and plenty to chew on for serious examiners of the Christian faith.

A planned visit to Hope Elementary School on Thursday should feature more lightness than weighty matters. He expects to read segments of his 2009 comic, coming-of-age memoir, “I Love You Miss Huddleston and Other Inappropriate Longings of My Indiana Childhood” to third- through sixth-graders — and the public as well at 10 a.m.

The title is a reference to his real sixth-grade teacher, who now lives in Franklin.

“She got a real kick out of it,” Gulley, 53, said.

The work details his 1960s and 1970s childhood in Danville, where he lives today while serving as a Quaker pastor near Indianapolis. The book earned a spot as a semifinalist for the 2010 Thurber Prize for American Humor, the only such national honor for humor writing.

Gulley’s latest work, though, is the first in a new fictional series, “A Place Called Hope.” The serious novel, named after the Bartholomew County town after Gulley passed through years ago and felt inspired, reintroduces Gulley’s well-known character Quaker pastor Sam Gardner. The figure was a prominent part of Gulley’s popular and long-running Harmony series of books.

In the work, the minister finds himself accepting a pastorate at a fictional Friends church in Hope. Such comes after abruptly and unexpectedly finding himself performing a same-sex wedding ceremony and seeing controversy wed with misunderstanding.

Nancy Banta, a music aide at Hope Elementary School and one of the organizers of Gulley’s visit, mentioned that “A Place Called Hope” stood as only one reason for inviting Gulley.

“The title of the book did make it a little more enticing for us,” Banta said. “But he also has a very good sense of humor, and he comes across as very gentle; and I think that will help him connect well especially with the children.”

Gulley laughed when asked if he is as popular with youngsters as he is with adults, where his fans include celebrities ranging from South African religious leader and social activist Desmond Tutu to “CBS Sunday Morning” anchor Charles Osgood.

“I don’t really know (how students will react),” Gulley said, adding that he rarely sees such younger audiences. “We’ll have to see.”

At Hope Elementary, Banta already has read portions of “I Love You Miss Huddleston and Other Inappropriate Longings of My Indiana Childhood” to the students to familiarize them with the author’s work. They also have seen some of his “Porch Talks With Phil Gulley” TV segments from the “Across Indiana” series on area PBS stations.

Gulley, who last visited Hope in November, mentioned that “A Lesson in Hope,” his second installment in the Hope series, will be available in September. For now, he’s struggling to finish his nearly four-year work, “The Awakened Soul” for Random House, which originally wanted the manuscript in February.

The planned 2016 release is based on the work of late psychologist Abraham Maslow and his study of the fulfillment of human needs.

“The book is an effort to unpack what people look like when they’re super-alive,” Gulley said. “But it’s been an uphill slog.”

If you go

WHO: Writer, pastor and speaker Philip Gulley, reading selections from his nonfiction work, “I Love You, Miss Huddleston,” to Hope Elementary School third through sixth-graders and the general public.

WHEN: 10 a.m. Thursday.

WHERE: Gym of Hope Elementary School, 9575 N. State Road 9 in Hope.

ADMISSION: Free.

INFORMATION: philipgulley.com.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.