The New Critics and the Barbarians

Thomas_Stearns_Eliot_by_Lady_Ottoline_Morrell_(1934)The poet and writer Dana Gioia penned an essay for the December 2013 issue of First Things titled “The Catholic Writer Today: Catholic Writers Must Renovate and Reoccupy Their Own Tradition.” The essay does not inspire much confidence in the state of “Catholic” writing at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Our own Gregory Wolfe wrote a response published in Image issue 79, called “The Catholic Writer, Then and Now.” Mr. Wolfe’s essay consists in a broadening of the discussion to all Christian writers (Jews too). It also contains a strong pushback against Gioia’s mostly negative assessment.

In pushing back, Wolfe argues, against Gioia, that the problem is not so much that we lack good writers of faith, but that there is a general cultural unwillingness to recognize these writers of faith for what they are. Writers of faith, in short, are producing as many brilliant works of art as they ever were. It’s the public discussion that has gone silent.

In essence, Wolfe flips Gioia’s argument on its head. For Gioia, the primary factor in the decline of Catholic writers (and Christian writers more broadly) comes from the fact that the writers themselves “ceded the arts to secular society.” [Read more…]

Conference Envy: A Survival Guide

Sad Web SurfingYesterday I was running around the park in a T-shirt with a birthday party full of seven-year-olds. Today, I walked downtown through a flurry of hard, tiny pellets of snow that I couldn’t escape from. It was a little like the experience of going to bed a happy, underpaid writer and waking up the next day as a miserable, underpaid writer who is staying home while everyone else you know is traveling to a conference.

No matter where you look online, you’re getting smacked in the face with these niggling little reminders that you’re here dealing with laundry and kids and deadlines and your friends are off brown-nosing editors and eating dinner in absurdly large groups and developing inside jokes and memories that you’re going to be outside of the next time you get together.

You can complain to and commiserate with the three or four other people you know who aren’t at the conference, but you’re aware that it’s petty and fruitless, so you stop after a few hours and just try to avoid the Interwebs for a few days—which means that, no, you didn’t see that video of Trump as Lex Luthor or whatever it was. [Read more…]

Comfort and Dis-ease

By Stina Kielsmeier-Cook

Comfort croppedWhen I was in college my theology professor, lecturing on the Kingdom of God, turned to me and asked, “So, Stina. When you are older and own a home and have a perfectly good kitchen and dining room and so on, I want to know: Will you spend thousands of dollars updating it? Redoing it?”

When I was the invincible age of twenty-two, the thought of having thousands of dollars to spend on anything—let alone owning a real home—seemed a million years away. And what a silly question: Of course I wouldn’t spend my fictitious money on frivolous home renovation projects. I wouldn’t settle for a domesticated life of fine things.

We were talking about the Kingdom of God, after all. About upside-down priorities—of the last, first. Of giving all that we had to the poor. I never imagined myself wanting comfort; I who grew up with it and never knew life without it. My head and heart were fixed on higher, nobler things.

“No,” I replied to my professor, my voice bold before my classmates. I looked around importantly. “No, I would never do that.”

I smile to myself now as I remember that moment, as I sit here, molded into the couch. My back is sore from carrying my infant all day, from lifting my preschooler in and out of the bucket swing at the park. I grab a box of Honey Bunches of Oats from the top of the fridge; I burrow my hand inside for a fistful of comfort.

Comfort, comfort. I didn’t realize how much I would want comfort, how quickly I would seek it out. [Read more…]

Brush With a Famous Writer

By Ann Conway

airportI was walking down a concourse in the Philly airport when I looked up to see the Famous Writer staring down at me. Actually at first glance I was sure I was looking at the British actor, Bill Nighy. But it was not. It was him, a well-known literary writer who had moved to Maine ten years ago.

I was stunned, but kept on walking to the food court, where I ate a seven-dollar hot dog and thought about the writer. It was strange to see someone famous, especially someone from Maine. I was already back there in my mind, feeling safe with all the stolid types waiting at the nearby gate.

I knew he traveled far and wide; his writing was all about looking for something—the American soul? About this, I was not sure. But I knew the search was his concern.

I had considerations about him. I had last seen him at a reading I attended years before when I lived in Portland. Perhaps that was how he remembered me, although the reading was full of other middle-aged women. Later I read one of his short stories, in which he remarked, “Women who go to lectures always want something.” [Read more…]

Ray Bradbury Lives Forever

martian_chronicles_250On Labor Day weekend in 1932, a twelve year-old boy from Waukegan, Illinois, having just emerged from a family funeral, noticed a carnival tent by the shore of Lake Michigan and went to investigate. He had heard of a magician there named Mr. Electrico, who sat with a sword in hand on an electric chair with current passing through him, making his hair stand on end.

When Mr. Electrico stood up to knight the boy, making the current pass to him, he shouted: “Live forever!”

Ray Bradbury told this story about his childhood hundreds of times, insisting that the experience set him on the path to becoming a writer-magician, a teller of fantastic tales.

On one level this is a story about vocation—a baptism by electricity—but it is also a story about time and eternity, death and resurrection—themes that would preoccupy Bradbury over a writing career that spanned seven decades.

In all the tributes that have been paid to Bradbury since his death in June 2012—from lengthy newspaper obituaries to blog posts—one aspect of his life and work has been conspicuously missing: the centrality of faith. [Read more…]


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