Dominic Gideon is a freshman at Borromeo Seminary and takes classes at John Carroll along with 30 other seminarians. Gideon plans on majoring in English, aspires to be a published writer.
Last Thursday, as John Carroll University students were reveling like giddy grade schoolers for the first of their back-to-back snow days, I was wandering around the University of Southern California reveling in the warm weather and the gorgeous campus.
That night, I attended the opening of a historic conference on the future of the Catholic Literary Imagination. Now, what do those fancy words mean, and why was it so historic?
In December 2013, Dana Gioia, an internationally acclaimed and award-winning poet, published a passionate and provoking essay published in the journal “First Things” called, “The Catholic Writer Today.” In the lengthy dissertation, he brings to light the paradox in which members of the Catholic Church have retreated from the limelight of the cultural arts – more specifically literature – in the vastly Catholic populated United States.
Gioia is puzzled why Catholics are so dormant in society’s creative sector, while they take up almost one fourth of the population in the U.S. This phenomenon is brightly highlighted when compared with the dominant position Catholicism had in art, literature, music and so on in the past decades of our country.
It is important to understand the definition of a Catholic writer. Catholic creative writing – poetry, fiction. and creative non-fiction— is seldom explicitly religious or devotional. Rather, it is defined by the worldview, or imagination, with which the author is writing.
Probably the best example of a Catholic writer is Flannery O’Connor, a renowned fiction writer. Other names include Walker Percy, the Rev. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., Graham Greene and Claude McKay, among a long list of peers. These writers are shining examples of how one can permeate faith within one’s works without touching pious language or theologizing.
Today, there are unfortunately no Catholics at the forefront of creative literature proudly representing the faith. That being said, Catholic writers are certainly not all dead – they just don’t hold as strong of a position or as great a number in the current society.
Those literary artists of the Church who are still alive all came together in Los Angeles this past weekend to revive the deteriorated genus that is creative Catholic literature. Distinguished names such as Tobias Wolff, Julia Alvarez and Ron Hansen headlined as absolute speakers during the conference (Alice McDermott was scheduled but couldn’t attend). Sessions on poetry, faith and fiction, Jesuit literary imagination, numerous readings and many more were held to inspire and invigorate the attendees in their own writing.
However, the conference was much more than educational and inspirational – it was also aimed at forming a strong community and literary network among Catholics. The conference was a great excuse for Catholic writers to converse, collaborate and build up the Catholic literary imagination together. Leaders of the journals “First Things,” “Image,” and “Dappled Things” came to represent and hopefully grow the presence of publications with Catholic literature. Many authors and publishers advertised their books to the receptive assembly. Professors, students, priests, nuns, non-Catholics and others came together in the hopes of reinvigorating once powerful group in America.
So what do you have to do with this? Well we are the future – of the country, of the workforce, of the Church, of America’s literary readership. Buy these authors’ books, subscribe to the journals or even work to be one of the famous Catholic writers of our generation. This literature is more than just entertainment – its content is filled with redeeming themes and spiritual undertones displayed in a broken, yet beautiful world.
This conference marks a potential turning point in American literature and can very well go down in history it just depends if we keep the flames going or let them die.