Wellspring’s Director, Preston Browning, Jr., co-founded the retreat in 1999 with his late wife Ann Hutt Browning, whose spirit and vision made Wellspring the refuge for artists it is today. After Ann’s death, Preston continued to direct the running of the retreat in her stead. Find out more about Wellspring House here.

Preston Browning, Jr.

preston july 2013_EditedPreston is the Director of Wellspring House. A retired English professor, for almost thirty-five years he taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago, specializing in twentieth-century American fiction. He is the author of Affection and Estrangement: A Southern Family Memoir, published in 2009, and of Flannery O’Connor, published in 1975 by Southern Illinois University Press and reissued in 2009 by Wipf and Stock Publishers under the title Flannery O’Connor: The Coincidence of the Holy and the Demonic in O’Connor’s Fiction, and Struggling for The Soul of Our Country (Wipt&Stock, 2016), $28.00, if ordered from author. He has written several articles on O’Connor and other contemporary writers, including the “black humorists” of the fifties and sixties and Walker Percy. His poetry has been published in Phase & Cycle, Poetry East, The Lyric, Collision, Pikestaff Forum, Thorny Locust and Mother Earth News, and his translations of Guatemalan and Nicaraguan poetry have appeared in several journals, including Mother Earth News. Two recently published essays are “American Global Hegemony Versus the Quest for a New Humanity,” which appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of The Ecozoic Reader and Struggling for the Soul of One’s Country: American Pathologies and the Response of Faith Cross/Currents (Winter 2005).

With a Ph.D. in Religion and Literature from the University of Chicago, Preston has interests ranging from contemporary writing about spiritual quest (Kathleen Norris, author of The Cloister Walk and Amazing Grace, is a favorite), to the fiction of such writers as Tillie Olsen, Flannery O’Connor, Louise Erdrich, and Ursula LeGuin (one of his most popular courses at UIC was entitled “Love and Sexuality in 20th Century American Women Writers”), to American diplomatic history.

Twice in the eighties and four times since moving to Ashfield, Preston has visited Nicaragua, also visiting Guatemala on numerous occasions since 1999.  In the early seventies, Preston and wife Ann spent an academic year in a small village in the southwest of France, where their two older daughters attended the local school, and during the academic year 1977-78 their entire family (three daughters and a son) was in Macedonia, then a part of Yugoslavia, where Preston was a Fulbright lecturer in American literature at the university in Skopje. (Again their children attended local schools and learned to read, write and speak Macedonian, a south Slavic language.)

Praise for Affection and Estrangement

“‘Fierce with reality’: The phrase comes from Florida Scott Maxwell’s The Measure of My Days, a journal she published in her eighties about laying claim to the events of her life. Preston Browning’s Virginia memoir appears late in his life and it, too, achieves much of that lovely ferocity. Reading Affection and Estrangement makes us, too, ‘fierce with reality,’ thanks to the memoirist and his stunning stories.” – Janet Varner Gunn, author of Autobiography: Toward a Poetics of Experience and Second Life: A West Bank Memoir.

“Preston Browning’s family memoir is warm and evocative. The heart of it lies in Browning’s reflections on that vanished way of life, and on his mother and father. When the author is actively present on the page, either in characterizing himself in those days, or in probing the mystery of his parents’ relationship (that ultimate mystery for us all) or explicitly interpreting Southern culture–that’s when the book really comes alive. The final chapter, ‘Legacy: The Land That Formed Me,’ is noteworthy for its nuance in examining that culture–more than nuance, complexity, a willingness not to discount the force of either side of a paradox.” – Richard Todd, author of The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity.

“I was immediately engrossed by Preston Browning’s Affection and Estrangement. It is beautifully written, compelling, full of the wonder of old times, childhood horrors, the lasting/perpetual crisis of human life. From the final chapter, ‘Legacy: The Land That Formed Me,’ I learned a great deal about the South, about my mother’s family, and about myself.” – Elaine Neil Orr, teacher in the MFA Program in Writing at North Carolina State in Raleigh and author of Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life.

Affection and Estrangement: A Southern Family Memoir is available from iUniverse (1-800-288-4677), Barnes & Noble or Amazon and is priced at $20.95.


Preston is assisted in the running of Wellspring house by Writers-in-Residence Sarah Colwill-Brown and Jonathan Escoffery. Another vital member of the Wellspring team is our housekeeper Judie Isabella, who, as Preston noted in the Acknowledgments section of Struggling for the Soul of Our Country,”keeps the dust kittens and cobwebs at bay,” among many other duties.


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