A Writer at Work

BY: Chelsey B. Coombs

(Originally published in The News-Gazette, June 21, 2014)

Amy Hassinger sits at her built-in desk, completely straight in her chair, between two floor-to-ceiling white bookshelves that hold titles such as The New York Public Library American History Desk Reference, Stephen King’s On Writing, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and many years of The Best American Short Stories anthologies. Early morning light streams through the window that overlooks her Urbana neighborhood and bathes her freckled face and short brown hair. Her chocolate-brown dog, Hachi, nudges her hand, but she ignores him and furrows her brow. Her husband is at work and her kids are off to school, and the only sound in the room is Amy’s pen scratching on a legal pad.

She is a writer at work.

“Writing, for me, was always really hard,” she says. “I wasn’t one of these star writers who just right out of the gate was winning all the prizes and, to me, it was — and still continues to be — a real effort. But it was one of the only things I did that I felt fully, completely engaged in.”

At age 41, Amy is the author of two novels, “Nina: Adolescence,” which was called “truly penetrating” by Salon.com, and “The Priest’s Madonna,” which Library Journal said was “marvelously written and researched.” She has finished the “umpteenth set of revisions” on her newest novel, a three-year project, and is “letting it sit for a couple weeks” before sending it to her agent. She teaches in the University of Nebraska’s low-residency MFA in Writing Program and the University of Illinois’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and is raising two kids. She’s busy.

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Turning a Pipe Dream Into Reality

BY: Ryan Weber

(Originally published in The News-Gazette, July 6, 2014)

John-Paul Buzard builds what was for centuries the most complex machine civilization had ever introduced to the world. The modern world would issue in bigger, louder, taller and faster machines: steam ships, cars and telephones, and, later, airplanes and computers, including the black 4-inch touchscreen that constantly chirps in John-Paul’s pocket. Yet for all that these machines can do, they still can’t achieve what John-Paul’s can.

His machines speak the voice of God.

“The sound of a pipe organ,” he says, “is just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”

John-Paul builds church pipe organs. He has spent most of his life carrying on a centuries-old tradition that has seen its prominence fade. Organs are expensive and few churches can afford them today. But he carries on, believing that nothing else can affect people like his machines.

“The organ,” he says in his soft, thoughtful voice, “has a way of touching people’s souls.”

John-Paul, 59, was 5 years old when his dad told him there was no money in building organs. He was 6 when he knew he wanted to do it anyway, 13 when he assembled one from scrap wood and old spare pipes for a science fair, 16 when he played one at a recital, 21 when he met his wife, who today plays organs for a living, and 25 when he received his master’s degree in organ performance. At age 30, he opened John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders in a then-desolate and crime-ridden downtown Champaign.

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