Wednesday, May 26, 2004

"WILL YA STILL READ ME, WHEN IT'S '64?"

I go to a lot of writers conferences that are called "Christian", but which in fact could be called, "Non-Catholic Christian" writers conferences. Catholic writers and publishers tend to be mostly absent on the speaker's rosters and generally absent in the rosters of attendees. I don't think this is from any real sense of exclusion as I am friends with many of the conference organizers, and they have impressed me as being wonderful, godly people. I think it is mainly a problem of promotion - they don't tend to advertise their events in Catholic circles. There is also a little bit of style concerns - the way Evangelicalism tends to pray and worship is not the way most Catholics pray and worship.

The other problem comes from the fact that Catholics don't have anything like the gallumphing marketing elephant of the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) to make writers into little sub-cultural phenomena. I've been to both the overwhelming overkill of the CBA annual convention and the teency weency "Is that all there is?" of the Catholic Marketing Network conference, and there really is no comparsion.

It is an interesting meditation as to whether it is necessary to start up a "competing" network of Catholic Christian conferences. I think it is necessary because topics of interest to Catholics would not be acceptable to most of the CBA publishers. I would always rather integrate than innovate, but I just don't think Catholics would go to a conference that doesn't have "Catholic" in the title. Maybe I'm worng? Maybe we should try an interdenominational writers conference that will have room for both sides of the worship aisle?

Well, anyway, I was chatting with a friend writer recently about getting together a Catholic writers conference next year, but then we hit on a problem. Who would be the star writers whom we could invite, who would attract legions of Catholic writers out of their solitude and onto airplanes, and then to a faraway city for a convention? Who are the Catholic writers today whose work will be read in fifty or a hundred years? Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor, Tolkien and Chesterton were all stars while they were alive. People knew they were great. Who are the great writers today, whose work will last? I am thinking primarily fiction here, although even non-fiction circles would make for an interesting debate. My sense is, there is a lot of assimilation and identification going on with writers who say things we like, but there isn't a lot of great writing going on. So, I put the question out, who are the great writers today who we could identify as Catholic? And be careful... Just because someone has written a few books for Ignatius Press, does not make him a great novelist. Au contraire. t is always a red flag to me that these writers wouldbe published by a Catholic house. The great Catholic writers of the past were absolutely commercial in the secular marketplace.

So, where are they? Who would you come to a Catholic writers conference to see?

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