Novel Thoughts blog

Catholic Literature’s Bill of Health

January 20, 2015 10:01 am | 1 Comment

Over at Catholic World Report, Carl Olson talks with Dana Gioia (we talked about him here previously) about the upcoming “Future of the Catholic Imagination” conference that will be held in February at the University of Southern California. Says Gioia:

We are bringing hundreds of writers, teachers, and intellectuals together from around the U.S. and Canada. The sheer creative and intellectual brainpower we’re gathering is enormous. It would be foolhardy to predict the results. What I hope is that each of our literary pilgrims finds something important, something they need. That will mean different things for different people, but the outcomes will certainly include new friends, new contacts, and new opportunities.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Meanwhile, over at Ethika Politika, Artur Rosman interviews Gregory Wolfe, editor-in-chief of the fantastic Christian literary journal IMAGE. He’s also slated to be at the conference mentioned above. Wolfe is skeptical of the idea that there is a decline in Catholic literature:

What concerns me is the way that ideology has infected the business of criticism so that politically driven critics have a vested interest in the narrative of decline. Just to stick to the debate about Catholic literature: Does anyone actually know what the Catholic press said about Flannery O’Connor when her books were first appearing? From what little I’ve seen, it wasn’t pretty. Or how about Graham Greene? I have a long enough memory to laugh at the conservative Catholics who extol Greene nowadays because I remember how vitriolic conservative Catholics were in their denunciations of Greene as a Communist stooge back in the 1970s when he was alive and well and still publishing novels.

Read more here.

One thing both men seem to agree on is that Catholic and Christian writers need to move away from looking back and attempting to create a sort of inorganic pastiche of older forms, with Gioia saying that “As a writer and a Catholic, I’ve been deeply concerned by the retreat of Catholic writers and artists from the cultural mainstream”, and Wolfe saying “What makes me want to drink vodka out of a cat dish (to steal a phrase from Anne Lamott) is the type of critic who expects the art of her time to be made according to the model of a past time.”

Piers Paul Read also addressed some of these issues in his book of essays, Hell and Other Destinations:

The Catholic writer has to acknowledge that today’s non-Catholic reader may be put off his fiction by his Catholicism… Of course such an orthodox Catholic author may have his loyal following among his own Catholic community. Should he be content with them? The disadvantage here is two-fold. He is preaching to the converted. He is hiding his light under a bushel. The specific insights afforded by his faith will not reach those who do not share it: his art will be lost to the wider world.

Second, his work might not be appreciated even by the kind of Catholics who share his belief. In Britain and America there is seldom a correlation between piety and literary sophistication. Many Catholics were shocked by the novels of both Waugh and Greene. Greene was severely criticised by the then Archbishop of Westminster for The End of the Affair and his novel The Power and the Glory was placed on the Index in Rome. Waugh, who generously donated his foreign royalties to the local churches, on occasion had them returned by bishops shocked by the sexual candour of his novels…

It’s a conversation that can go on and on, and should go on and on.

What say you all?

John Herreid

John Herreid

John Herreid is catalog manager at Ignatius Press. In addition to catalogs and ads, he has also worked on the cover design for many Ignatius Press books and DVDs. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and four children.

Tags: Artur Rosman Carl Olson Catholicism Dana Gioia Gregory Wolfe IMAGE Journal literature Piers Paul Read

1 Comment

  1. January 20, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    If you don’t get hate mail when you publish a Catholic novel, you should be disappointed. Fan clubs, like electric fans, are generally air propelled by spin flowing through empty spaces.

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