I had and did the usual things -- childhood, schools, universities (St. Louis, Vienna, Loyola of Chicago), then embarked on a career in publishing in Chicago. Within a few years I was the head of the Biography & Fine Arts Department of the American Peoples Encyclopedia; when that was subsumed by a larger outfit and moved to New York, I stayed behind and moved into educational publishing, beginning at Science Research Associates (a division of IBM) and ending as Editorial Director of The Society for Vision Education (a division of the Singer Corporation).
In 1977 I walked away from SVE and this very successful career when it became clear that I was not going to able to do there what I really wanted to do...which was not entirely clear. A few months later I set my feet on a path that would change my life completely. It was a path made up of books -- or rather versions of a book that, after twelve years, would turn out to be ISHMAEL.
The first version, written in 1977-78, called MAN AND ALIEN, didn't turn out to be quite what I wanted, so wrote a second, called THE GENESIS TRANSCRIPT. Like the first version, this didn't satisfy me, so I wrote a third with the same title. THE BOOK OF NAHASH, abandoned unfinished, was the fourth version.
When I started writing version five, THE BOOK OF THE DAMNED in 1981, I was sure I'd found the book I was born to write. The versions that came before had been like rainy days with moments of sunshine. THIS was a thunderstorm, and the lines crossed my pages like flashes of lightning. When, after a few thousand words I came to a clear climax, I said, "This MUST be seen," so I put Part One into print. Parts Two and Three followed, and I began searching for the switch that would turn on Part Four... but it just wasn't there. What I'd done was terrific -- and complete in its own way -- but at last I faced the fact that the whole thing just couldn't be done in lightning strikes.
And so, on to versions six and seven (both called ANOTHER STORY TO BE IN). I knew I was close, and version eight was it -- the first and only version to be a novel and the first and only version inhabited by a telepathic gorilla named Ishmael.
ISHMAEL was a life-changing book. It began by winning the Turner Tomorrow Award, the largest prize ever given to a single literary work. It would come to be read in some 25 languages and used in classrooms from mid-school to graduate school in courses as varied as history philosophy, geography, archaeology, religion, biology, zoology, ecology, anthropology, political science, economics, and sociology.
But in 1992, when ISHMAEL was published, I had no idea what I might do next. My readers decided this for me. In letters that arrived by the bushel they demanded to know where this strange book came from, what "made" me write it. To answer these questions I wrote PROVIDENCE: THE STORY OF A FIFTY-YEAR VISION QUEST (1995).
But there were even more urgently important questions to be answered, particularly this one: "With ISHMAEL you've undermined the religious beliefs of a lifetime. What am I supposed to replace them with?" I replied to this with THE STORY OF B (1996).
The questions (and books) kept coming: Why did Ishmael have to die? This gave rise to MY ISHMAEL: A SEQUEL (1997), in which it's revealed that Ishmael was not only far from being dead but far from being finished with his work as a teacher. The question "Where do we go from here?" was the inspiration for BEYOND CIVILIZATION: HUMANITY'S NEXT GREAT ADVENTURE (1999), a very different kind of book.
With these questions answered (and 500 more on my website), I felt I was fundamentally finished with what might be called my teachings and ready to move on.
I had always taken as my guiding principle these words from André Gide: "What another would have done as well as you, do not do it. What another would have said as well as you, do not say it, written as well as you, do not write it. Be faithful to that which e