Wojtasik, Ted

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WOJTASIK, Ted

PERSONAL:

Male. Education: Columbia University, M.F.A. (fiction writing); University of South Carolina, Ph.D. (American literature).

ADDRESSES:

Office—St. Andrews Presbyterian College, 1700 Dogwood Mile, Laurinburg, NC 28352. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Author and educator. St. Andrews Presbyterian College, Laurinburg, NC, assistant professor, chairman of creative writing department.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Silver Angel Award, Excellence in Media, 1997, for No Strange Fire.

WRITINGS:

No Strange Fire (novel), Herald Press (Scottsdale, PA), 1996.

Collage (novel), Livingston Press (Livingston, AL), 2004.

Contributor to books, including The Emergence of Man into the Twenty-first Century (poetry anthology), edited by Patricia A. Munhall, Jones & Bartlett Publishers (Sudbury, MA), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS:

Ted Wojtasik, a professor of creative writing at St. Andrews Presbyterian College, explores the community lives and deeply held faith of the Pennsylvania Amish in his first novel, No Strange Fire. The book is based on a March 1992 case in which several simultaneous fires set in Amish areas of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, destroyed seven barns, killed dozens of cows, and damaged a schoolhouse, resulting in more than a million dollars in damages and losses. The grandson of a local Amish bishop was charged, though neither was a practicing Amish at the time, reported Louis J. Kern in Utopian Studies. According to Kern, in real life, "the break in the case came when the fiancée of the accused arsonist testified that she had been with him when he set the buildings on fire with a propane torch."

The story as told by Wojtasik, however, is not so easily wrapped up as the media reportage of the actual incident. Structured like a whodunit mystery novel, No Strange Fire depicts the tremendous suffering and loss of the Amish community following the setting of several arson fires, one of which results in the death of a young Amish boy. Worse, Jacob Hostetler, the grandson of a respected bishop, disappears shortly afterward, casting grave suspicion on his possible involvement. Hostetler left the community earlier to live a less-restrictive life, and both the Amish community and members of law enforcement suspected his involvement. "The thought that such senseless and brutal destruction might have been visited on them by an insider, intimately known to all, is too horrible to contemplate," Kern remarked. While the police search for Hostetler, the Amish leave retribution up to God.

Melissa Hudak, writing in Library Journal, called the mystery elements of No Strange Fire "first-rate," but commented that "the real strength" of the novel lies in Wojtasik's portrayal of the "fascinating, minute details of Amish life." Booklist critic John Mort remarked that the author's depiction of the Amish "as admirable, though imperfect, people is intimate and wonderfully informed," while Kern concluded that No Strange Fire "presents the human side of Amish life with grace and dignity in the format of a lively historical novel."

Wojtasik's second novel, Collage, offers the story of Yugoslavian American Zeljko Matecic, nicknamed Zee. Zee is many things at once, a collage of his own making: a professional archivist at the National Archives; a gay man who has come out during a time when AIDS has become an epidemic; an artist who works in collage; and a lover who goes into mourning when he discovers that the man he still loves has perished of AIDS. During the day, Zee catalogues journals and letters from Robert Edwin Peary's expedition to the North Pole in 1909. At other times, he ponders his grandfather's political past and escapes into the familiar world of his collages. Throughout, he seeks the answer to a recurring question: "What do you say to a young man dying?" His search for the answer forms a running thread through the book.

Wojtasik structures Collage as a series of separate narratives, a technique that, "if a bit studied and self-conscious, still manages to be effective," a PublishersWeekly reviewer noted. Zee "can only make sense of his world by piecing things together in a patchwork way," the reviewer also commented. Booklist critic Ray Olson observed that "Wojtasik's literary exploitation of collage keeps [the book] absorbingly challenging throughout."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 1, 1996, John Mort, review of No Strange Fire, p. 304; April 15, 2004, Ray Olsen, review of Collage, p. 1428.

Library Journal, April 1, 1997, Melissa Hudak, review of No Strange Fire, p. 80.

Publishers Weekly, February 16, 2004, review of Collage, p. 147.

Utopian Studies, winter, 1999, Louis J. Kern, review of No Strange Fire, p. 244.

ONLINE

Wallingford Public Library Web site,http://www.wallingford.lioninc.org/ (August 30, 2004), "Ted Wojtasik."*