Pure Act
The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax
by Michael N. McGregor

“A fond biography of an unworldly man…vivid and engaging.”

The New York Times

“Drawing on his friendship with poet Robert Lax (1915–2000) and his close readings of Lax’s writings, McGregor eloquently offers the definitive biography of a too often forgotten figure who influenced a number of writers and crafted spirituality out of his deep commitment to love, poverty, and justice.”

Publishers Weekly

“Pure Act is a book to own. Beautifully written, there is wisdom within its pages.”


“Pure Act, in its offering of a detailed recounting of [Robert Lax’s] life and an acute presentation and analysis of his too-neglected poetry, gives him to us: the gift of a human being unlike any other.”

C. K. Williams

“A thoroughly researched and compassionate look at the remarkable life of Robert Lax. Those who know him only as a close friend of Thomas Merton will be delighted with the person they find in these pages: an influential poet, a voice for peace, a wanderer and seeker after truth. Many sought Lax out at his Patmos home; McGregor has made his wisdom available to all.”

Kathleen Norris, best-selling author of The Cloister Walk and Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

“Tender, thorough, meticulous, an act of fine and generous and wonderfully sharp-eyed sharp-eared witness. The riveting mystic Robert Lax would have been delighted at the care and reverence with which Michael McGregor celebrates and resurrects and delves an extraordinary American’s many-layered life.”

Brian Doyle, author of Mink River

“This grace-filled biography is a book I have for years been hoping someone might write, and now, thanks to Michael McGregor, this has become an answered prayer. With grace and insight McGregor bears witness to the evolution of a great artist who is seamlessly connected to his art.”

Jim Forest, author of Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment and Living With Wisdom: a Biography of Thomas Merton

“Pure Act is much more than a biography. It’s a real and full and personal meditation on life, and on what a life is for.”

Karen Fisher, author of A Sudden Country

About the book

Pure Act tells the story of poet Robert Lax, whose quest to live a true life as both an artist and a spiritual seeker inspired Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, William Maxwell and a host of other writers, artists and ordinary people. Known in the U.S. primarily as Merton’s best friend and in Europe as a daringly original avant-garde poet, Lax left behind a promising New York writing career to travel with a circus, live among immigrants in post-war Marseilles and settle on a series of remote Greek islands where he learned and recorded the simple wisdom of the local people.  Born a Jew, he became a Catholic and found the authentic community he sought in Greek Orthodox fishermen and sponge divers.

In his early life, as he alternated working at the New Yorker, writing screenplays in Hollywood and editing a Paris literary journal with studying philosophy, serving the poor in Harlem and living in a sanctuary high in the French Alps, Lax pursued an approach to life he called pure act—a way of living in the moment that was both spontaneous and practiced, God-inspired and self-chosen.  By devoting himself to simplicity, poverty and prayer, he expanded his capacity for peace, joy and love while producing distinctive poetry of such stark beauty critics called him “one of America’s greatest experimental poets” and “one of the new ‘saints’ of the avant-garde.”

Written by a writer who met Lax in Greece when he was a young seeker himself and visited him regularly over fifteen years, Pure Act is an intimate look at an extraordinary but little-known life.  Much more than just a biography, it’s a tale of adventure, an exploration of friendship, an anthology of wisdom, and a testament to the liberating power of living an uncommon life.