Professor of English
Phone: (805) 565-7174
Office Location: Reynolds Hall 104
MWF 9:15 - 10:20
TuTh 10:00 - 11:50 AM
and by appointment
Renaissance Literature, Creative Writing
Paul Willis has taught at Westmont since 1988. He was born in Fullerton, CA, and grew up in Corvallis, OR. After majoring in Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, he took an MA and a PhD in English at Washington State University. Before coming to Westmont, he taught at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA, and at Houghton College in Houghton, NY.
His wife, Sharon, is an RN at the Health Center here at Westmont, and they have two grown children. Paul and his wife like to backpack in the Sierra, and they in fact met on a winter mountaineering trip in Yosemite. One thing he enjoys about Santa Barbara County is the wilderness of the San Rafael Mountains.
- 1985: Ph.D., English, Washington State University, Pullman, WA
- 1977: B.A., cum laude, Biblical Studies, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Paul has published numerous poems in journals such as Poetry, Ascent, Wilderness, and Christian Century. His most recent collections of poetry are Say this Prayer Into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013), Rosing from the Dead (WordFarm, 2009), and Visiting Home (Pecan Grove Press, 2008). With David Starkey, he has edited In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare (University of Iowa Press, 2005).
Paul’s essays, reviews, and short narratives have appeared in Books & Culture, River Teeth, Image, and Redwood Coast Review. Some of this work is collected in his first book of creative nonfiction, Bright Shoots of Everlastingness: Essays on Faith and the American Wild (WordFarm, 2005).
Paul has also published a four-part eco-fantasy novel, The Alpine Tales (WordFarm, 2010).
Honors and Awards
- 2011-13 Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara
- 2009 and 2010 Featured by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac
- 2006 ForeWord Magazine award for best essay collection of 2005
- 2005 Included in The Best Christian Writing 2006 (Jossey-Bass)
- 2004 Included in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004 (Houghton Mifflin)
- 2002 Small Poetry Press Chapbook Award winner, selected by Jane Hirshfield
- 1999 Included in The Best Spiritual Writing 1999 (HarperSanFrancisco)
- 1996 Included in The Best American Poetry 1996 (Scribner)
- 1993 Christianity Today Critics Choice Award in Fiction
- 1992 Evangelical Press Association Fiction Award
Much of Paul’s writing has to do with the outdoors. One of his best experiences at Westmont was to see the first of The Alpine Tales adapted and performed as a play by the Theatre Arts Department. He is active in the local poetry community, and gives invited readings and workshops around the country. Every January he organizes a community reading in Los Padres National Forest of the poems of William Stafford.
Paul Willis regularly teaches Renaissance British Literature, Shakespeare, and Milton. He enjoys helping students find beauty and challenge in older language and an older culture. His PhD dissertation was on Shakespeare’s use of forest settings as mysterious places of transformation. Sometimes, he says, the classroom can be a forest too.
In Studies in Literature, the author he most frequently assigns is David James Duncan, the Northwest novelist who has written The River Why and The Brothers K. These novels, he says, test our faith in unique ways, and invite us into a richer sense of community.
Paul also teaches Advanced Composition and Creative Writing. In Advanced Composition, he wants to help students reflect on their own experiences in disciplined and meaningful ways. His creative writing courses are given over to poetry and fiction. He particularly enjoys inviting poets and writers of note to visit campus every year to read their work and talk with his students.