Earlier this year, it was announced that the first annual Aquinas Award for Fiction would be awarded to Lucy Beckett for her novel The Leaves are Falling. Ignatius Press Marketing director Anthony Ryan traveled to Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee to accept the award on her behalf.
The award was the idea of Catholic literary biographer, editor, and critic Joseph Pearce. Since 2014 he has been the director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College. He has written often about the need for fostering Catholic writers. Ignatius Press Novels interviewed him by e-mail about the Aquinas Award, his work at the Center for Faith and Culture, and Catholic fiction today.
How did the idea for the Aquinas Award for Fiction come about, and what do you hope it will accomplish?
Pearce: After I took over as Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College I was looking for ways in which the Center could serve as a catalyst for a new Catholic literary revival. It seemed that launching the Aquinas Award for Fiction would serve in this way as a means of encouraging Catholic novelists and their publishers.
The first Aquinas Award for Fiction went to our own Lucy Beckett, honoring her novel The Leaves are Falling. What qualities found in her book made it worthy of the award?
Pearce: I should make it clear that I am not one of the judges of the Aquinas Award and am therefore not able to speak in that capacity, nor can I speak on behalf of those judges who thought Lucy Beckett’s book the best of all the novels submitted. I can say, however, that I have been a longtime admirer of her work, which is always well-written, with well-woven storylines that are enlivened by her formidable knowledge of European history and culture.
You are the director of the Aquinas College Center for Faith and Culture. What is the mission of the Center?
Pearce: As mentioned above, I hope that the Center for Faith and Culture will serve as a catalyst for a Catholic cultural revival. Apart from the Aquinas Award for Fiction, we have also launched two national high school essay contests which will be held annually. The Shakespeare essay award is presented at our annual Shakespeare Celebration in April and the Tolkien & Lewis essay award is presented at our annual Tolkien & Lewis Celebration in September. We have been very encouraged by the sheer number of high school students who have entered these contests and hope to see the number of participants from across the country continue to increase in future years. Apart from these initiatives, the Center is also sponsoring a pilgrimage to Ireland next June, which I will be leading, and we host nationally-known speakers to address our monthly events on campus. All in all, it’s very exciting!
You have said a number of times that there is a revival of Christian literature happening now; the problem is that it is largely undiscovered. What can Catholic and Christian readers do to promote the new generation of writers?
Pearce: Catholics need to understand that they can make a real difference to our society with every dollar that they spend. They need to know that every dollar spent is a vote cast for the sort of society we want to see. Every dollar spent badly leads our society in the wrong direction, making us part of the problem instead of part of the solution to the culture’s malaise. One way that ordinary Catholics can help to change society for the better is to spend their hard-earned cash where their heart and faith is by purchasing the books being written by this exciting new generation of Catholic authors. Catholic readers should stop swimming in the polluted mainstream and should discover the new Catholic novels being published in the well-spring of this developing literary revival. They should check out the new fiction being published by Ignatius Press and other publishers, including the new, small publishers dedicated to publishing Catholic fiction.
In contrast to the previous generation of Catholic authors, who were writing works accepted by a mainstream audience, many Catholic authors today are harder to find. Is it inevitable that our current authors will be lesser-known?
Pearce: Yes it is, at least for the time-being. The fact is that overtly Christian writers, such as Chesterton, Waugh, Tolkien and Lewis, were considered part of the mainstream culture. Chesterton wrote regular columns for secular newspapers and C. S. Lewis broadcast regularly for the BBC. Today the secular fundamentalist culture is so intolerant of Christianity and traditional morality that Christian writers are being excluded from the public square and from access to mainstream publishers. I honestly believe that an overtly Christian story, such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, would be rejected by mainstream publishers today, even though it’s one of the top ten bestselling books of all time. Such is the pride and anti-Christian prejudice with which our world is currently afflicted.
Many Catholic readers are dubious about modern writers and prefer to read the classics. While reading the classics is absolutely essential for a well-rounded intellectual formation, an exclusive focus on them can mean a reader is missing out on a new writer—and more crucially, not giving a worthy writer the kind of support that helps them carry on the Catholic literary tradition. What kind of advice would you give to someone seeking to introduce friends to a new writer?
Pearce: It is indeed very important that Catholics read the classics, which is why Ignatius Press publishes the Ignatius Critical Editions, of which I am honoured to be series editor, but we need to remember that civilization is manifested as a continuum. Each new generation is called to be inspired by the classical tradition and to use this inspiration to bring forth new fruits in its noble tradition. If we wish civilization to continue to flourish, we need to read the old but we also need to read the new which is inspired by the old. This is the advice I would give to anyone seeking to introduce others to the new exciting writers that are active today.
Has the search begun for the next Aquinas Award winner?
Pearce: We will officially launch the quest for next year’s Aquinas Award winner in January, at which point we will invite publishers and authors to submit any works of fiction published since the beginning of 2015. Those wishing to jump the gun, so to speak, are welcome to send submissions to me, care of Aquinas College in Nashville, and I’ll ensure that they are submitted to the judges at the appropriate time. Those wishing to remain patient should watch for the official announcement, in January, of next year’s award.
Want to learn more about Aquinas College and the Center for Faith and Culture? Visit their website here.