It’s been quite a weekend. I have had the privilege of visiting the University of Notre Dame (also known as “my old stomping grounds”) for three days. By myself. It was great.
So before I gush about how excited I am to hug my kids again, you might want to know what on earth was so exciting it could get me on an airplane for the first time in 10 years?
A number of equally excited people joined me in South Bend this weekend for the “Trying to Say God” conference…basically a bunch of Catholics-who-happen-to-be-writers and writers-who-happen-to-be-Catholics (and people who consider themselves to be both with equal ferocity) trying to scratch out a vision for what “Catholic literature”* was, is, and will be.
*This is maddeningly hard to define, and I’m not going to try. If it includes some component of “Catholic” and some component “writer,” for now, it counts.
I will not bore you with the details…yet. First, the take away.
If you looked into any of the essays I posted here, you know the debate. If you didn’t, here’s the jist: Why isn’t anyone today being Flannery O’Connor??? (That means: writing literary, challenging fiction with Catholic sensibilities and themes which is published by the major publishing houses and read by the multitudes. No pressure.)
There are myriad answers to the question, but I’d like to focus on a different angle of it. What we found this weekend was that the writers are out there. I think the readers are out there. At least, I know a few in my own small friend group. Why can’t the writers and readers find each other?
Well, here perhaps I can help. For the eight or so of you who still read this on occasion, I will share some of the amazing authors I met or heard about this weekend. I will make the effort to find the small Catholic presses, the literary journals, and yes, the chapbooks of whoever is working toward goodness, truth, and beauty in their writing.
Will you join me?
So that’s my manifesto…and here is installment #1. Probably the longest one I’ll ever do, since I have three days worth of awesome to lay out for you. So here goes.
I was privileged to hear a reading by Randy Boyagoda from his forthcoming book Original Prin. It included pickleball. I was sold. The bad news is, it doesn’t come out until Fall 2018. I will be holding my breath. He does have two previous books, Governor of the Northern Province and Beggar’s Feast.
After hearing Suzanne Wolfe speak, I’m also ready to pick up Confessions of X. And get a subscription to Image, to which I arrive at shamefully late.
I am currently working on Valerie Sayers’ The Powers and loving it. Be aware it is not as fast-paced as some novels, but I fell in love with the grandma at once, and was bowled over to read about the Catholic-worker wanna-be and his encounters with Dorothy Day. Who writes about that?!? Valerie Sayers does. I’m only three chapters in…but I’m recommending it anyway.
David Russell Mosley’s On the Edges of Elfland sounds like a party to me. Starting to realize I may have all my reading for the rest of the year planned out after this post…
A great surprise was to find that my friend from Baton Rouge, Karen Ullo, was not only at the conference, but on the panels and selling her book. It’s not for the faint of heart, but Jennifer the Damned follows an orphan vampire raised by nuns. “Why a vampire book?” I asked. “Because no one deals with the importance (and implications) of the Church in these vampire stories.” Karen does. Be warned: it is scary. I might let Craig read this one. But if you want horror with depth, this might be the book for you.
I have been trying to add poetry to my diet, but wasn’t sure where to look. Problem solved! The bookstore sold out of Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine, so I am ordering it. I was on the verge of tears three times listening to her insights from studying images of the Annunciation, and the poems which they inspired for her.
I skipped it, unfortunately, but many people were blown away by Natalie Diaz’s talk. Check out When My Brother Was an Aztec.
Children’s/ Middle Grade/ YA
Amy Cattapan has written a highly-acclaimed book on teen suicide, Angelhood, which she hopes will succeed in opening up conversations about such a difficult topic between teens and their parents. Again, haven’t read it (yet), but Amy is amazing. Excited to get to this one.
Heather King delivered a beautiful, encouraging, kick-in-the-pants address for the conference. I can recommend her post here unabashedly, and I can’t wait to read more of her gorgeous writing in Parched, Redeemed, or Shirt of Flame.
Ken Garcia has a memoir coming out soon called Pilgrim River about finding God in the wilderness. His reading at the conference included a geologist who cursed in geological terms…my favorite might have included the words “tiny precambrian brain.” I was rolling.
The Strange Pilgrims blog duo, Jessica Mesman-Griffith and Jonathan Ryan are coming out with Strange Journey: How Two Homesick Pilgrims Stumbled Back into the Catholic Church. Again, the reading was wonderful, and I’m looking forward to the rest. This is not your grandmother’s come-to-Jesus story.
Other Stuff worth checking out
Film: In Pursuit of Silence (forthcoming)
Image (literary journal)
Dappled Things (literary journal)
Sick Pilgrims (blog thingy)
Wiseblood Books (publisher)
So. I guess that’s a start. Looks like I will be busy. There are amazing, holy (well, mostly holy – like any of us!), engaging writers out there in the Catholic world. Come, read their stories with me, and be transformed!