Author William Claassen will be speaking about his new book “Risks” on September 14 at the Columbia Public Library. One of Columbia’s many nationally recognized authors, Claassen has authored four books and one play in the last two decades, along with numerous articles. “Risks” is Claassen’s first true memoir, recounting a life spent traveling, learning and performing humanitarian works across the globe. Among many common themes that stand out in these books is the initial influence of Thomas Merton’s classic autobiography “The Seven Story Mountain” on Claassen’s life and how it led him to take a different path.
Claassen’s first work, “Alone in Community” was published in 2000. He writes that he was drawn to this monastic world through the works of Merton and asks: “Who or what called him (Merton) into religious community? Why would he choose such a life? How were his days structured?” In an effort to answer these questions Claassen recounts his travels to the Gethsemani monastery in the 1970s, where Merton lived and served in the last half of his life. But Gethsemani was just the beginning. Claassen also visited monastic communities in Spain’s Monasterio de Santo Domingo, a Buddhist monastery in Thailand and a Sufi community in Turkey.
“Another World” records his time at Assumption Abbey in the Southwest corner of Missouri. By telling about a Trappist monastery (in the tradition of Merton’s Gethsemani) that focuses on service and contemplation, the book remains vital today, examining the ancient Catholic traditions of monasticism, contemplative prayer and service through a modern lens. Fewer and fewer men are willing to submit themselves to the deprivation that a Trappist life brings, but those who do are often richly rewarded through the stark discipline and silence of the order. Claassen writes “it became clear to me that I — and no one else — was responsible for creating my own spiritual journey.”
“Journey Man: A World Calling” is Claassen’s third offering. In each chapter he describes experiencing a metaphorical “death and rebirth” while participating in far-flung travel. “Journey Man” unfolds chronologically, with the final chapter recounting his trip to the Southwest after a romantic break-up in 2006. Claassen has lived a remarkable life; in one year during the 1970s he is working on a Kibbutz and the next he is hitchhiking to Alaska during the American Bicentennial year. A few years later he has his Screen Actor’s Guild card and is acting professionally in New York City.
Claassen’s talk will happen on Wednesday September 14 from 7-8 p.m. in the Friends Room of the Columbia Public Library. Please join us for to hear more about his fascinating life.