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Pfeiffer University Alumna Writing Autobiography Of Paul—Of Peter, Paul, And Mary

When Jeanne Torrence Finley ’69 was majoring in English at Pfeiffer College, Dr. J. Griffin Campbell, one of her professors, read Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant–1263” aloud during a class on American poets. The poem reinforced her trust in what she calls “the mystical knowledge of particular poets to teach me something of the Divine.” 

That trust has only deepened with time, and to underscore the point, she’s helping Noel Paul Stookey, the “Paul” of the famed folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary, write his autobiography, which has a working title of For the Love of It All. She proposed the project to Stookey after learning more about his life and music, and they’ve been working on it since 2016.

Finley’s interest in Stookey began to take hold in 2015 when she was tasked with writing an article on interfaith understanding for FaithLink, an adult curriculum that connected faith and contemporary issues and events. The article in question was a response to terrorist attacks in Paris for which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility, prompting increases in anti-Muslim hate and violence across the globe.

During her research for the article, Finley learned that Stookey and his wife Betty, a United Church of Christ clergywoman, regularly presented “One Light, Many Candles,” a multi-faith program in word and song. Finley began to listen thoughtfully to Stookey’s more recent songs, finding in them what she has called “deeply reflective lyrics, occasional comic relief, profound but humble reverence, and beautiful melodies played by an accomplished guitarist.”

“I appreciated Noel’s eye for image, the rhythm of his words, his vocal interpretation, and the freshness of his metaphorical language, especially when it deals with spirituality,” she added in  “Strings,” a Finley/Stookey-written newsletter for fans that features posts on everything from the project’s beginnings to stories that do not appear in the book.

“As a progressive Christian sensitive to the hackneyed use and abuse of religious language, I noticed his avoidance of religious words and phrases that may carry a lot of negative associations for people skeptical of religion and spirituality. In addition, at the time my husband and I were still in deep grief over the loss of our 33-year-old daughter to cancer, and I found healing and hope in Noel’s music.”

In time, Finley published a review of a Stookey CD called “At Home: The Maine Tour” for Sojourners magazine.

“Wow! That was fun,” Finley remembers thinking after the review ran. “Noel’s music and story need to be shared with a wider audience. Wonder what would happen if I proposed a book?”

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