Alan Wilson Watts, the popular and highly respected teacher of Eastern philosophy to Western students, was born born in Chislehurst, England in 1915. He moved to America in 1938 when he began his Zen training in New York. Later he attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, from which he received a master’s degree in theology and in 1945 he became an Episcopal priest. He left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies and pursued his growing fascination with Eastern spirituality.
Watts went on to write more than 25 books and articles through which he expanded upon his personal philosophy on life and his belief in the importance and benefits of Eastern spirituality to Western Society.
A Committed Corresponder
Alan Watts was the only surviving child of Laurence and Emily Watts who doted on him and encouraged him to develop his intellect.
Throughout his life Watts was a keen letter writer; even from his time when his parents, who were of meagre means, sent him to St Hugh’s School near Chiselhurst and then at the age of thirteen to The King’s School, Canterbury. Over the years he corresponded with a wide range of people on a diverse range of subjects with recipients including such luminaries as C G Jung, Henry Miller, Gary Synder, Aldous Huxley, Reinhold Niebuhr, Timothy Leary, Joseph Campbell, and James Hillman.
Alan Watts had seven children by two marriages His first child, Joan was born in 1938 the year he moved to America to avoid the developing World War in Europe, and his second, Anne, was born in 1942 – the same year he became an Anglican priest.
Now, some forty years after his death in October 1973, his daughters Joan and Anne have collated and edited a compilation of their father’s correspondence in The Collected Letters Of Alan Watts.
Opening with Alan’s first letter home to his parents whilst attending boarding school in 1928, through to his final missive in July 1973 – just a few months prior to his death, their book reveals the thinking processes of an author whose popularity grows increasingly over the decades.
Not only have Joan and Anne Watts edited this publication but they have also added their own memories and reflections on the major events that transpired in their fathers life. For the pair of them this close examination of their father was, in itself, an illuminating process for, as Anne states in the Preface to this book, “These Collected letters give the most complete and vibrant perspective into Alan”s very full, rich life ever published. They enable us to follow the development of his mind, philosophies, and personality. We get to witness his brilliance, his kindness, and his foibles.”
Alan Watts, in my view, is popular today because he represents a free intellectual spirit that resides within us all but which our society suppresses through its constant striving for conformity.
This collection of his letters reveals Alan Watts thinking processes as they unfolded at that most crucial point – before they become subjected to editorial assessment and a publishers constraints. In this regard they reveal a quality to him that does not fully emerge in his writing but which does occasionally express itself through some of his unscripted lectures.
As a corresponder Watts is judicious in his letters content. The result is that at no point does this publication feel laboured. Neither does it become bogged down in the minutiae of his life – which is just as well given that the book is six hundred pages long.
For followers of Watts Work who enjoy the deep sense of personal engagement that made him such a good communicator this book will equal – or even surpass, your expectations. Not only does this collection of letters offer a very real insight into the man himself but it also presents a unique perspective regarding events that forged his life and which conditioned his thinking.
In addition this book is also notable for displaying a consistent theme throughout which is of the important part that the Watts family, close friends, and associates as a whole played in Alan’s life. Whether it is the sheer sense of love and devotion Alan demonstrates to his parents or the warm and fond personal anecdotes interjected by his daughters about their father, this is a powerful reminder of an era when personal correspondence was nurtured by the sender and cherished by its recipient. I believe this book demonstrates how these values forge a higher quality of personal and family relationship than are found today.
The Collected Letters Of Alan Watts is, therefore, a book into which you sense your own human qualities becoming drawn and expanded through the sheer sense of magnetism that Watts exudes. His sense of sociability and evident enjoyment gleaned through sharing his heart and intellect with those he connected with is delightful, engaging and fascinating.
There is no doubt that this is mightily impressive book and followers of Watts will absolutely love it!