Tagged with randy boyagoda

Trying to say God—Friday afternoon and evening

After lunch, I heardValerie Sayers Valerie Sayers talking about the genesis of her novel, The Powers, talking about the use of photographs, not only in the research for the book but in the final novel itself.

When asked about her timeline for her books, she said that she spends more time on them now, but when she first started out she had a two year timeline: the first year was dedicated to anxiety, research and procrastination; the second year was write write write.

The second session of the afternoon was “The future of Catholic literature in a secular age.” 
Dave Griffiths, Randy Boyagoda, Joshua Hren, Kaya Oakes, Lisa Ampleman

This is, along with a similarly titled talk tomorrow morning, to me the centerpiece of the conference.

I did find myself wishing that there had been a working definition of “Catholic literature” offered. Back in the ‘90s, I attended a talk by a Fordham University Jesuit at the New York Catholic Worker on Catholic literature where he defined it as literature which deals specifically with some point of Catholic doctrine and he considered a fair amount of what was considered in the popular imagination as Catholic literature as being instead just supplied with “Catholic furniture.”

There were some interesting observations made. Kaya Oakes’s “Pope Francis keeps telling us to take our faith to the margins. Why don’t we take our literature there too?” Randy Boyagoda’s observation that Roman Catholic (as opposed to merely Catholic) carries with it the implication of a mixture of sacred and secular; and later his suggestion that maybe we need to direct young Catholic serious about literature into internships in publishing/agenting so that they might be in a position to start influencing the direction of literature down the line.

Asked for their suggestions as to who represents the future of Catholic literature now, they offered the following:

  • Lisa Ampleman: Natalie Díaz, When My Brother Was an Aztec.
  • Kaya Oakes: Rebecca Brown, American Romances.
  • Joshua Hren: Glenn Arberry, Bearings and Distances
    Lee Oser, The Oracles Fell Silent
  • Randy Boyagoda: Elena Ferrante, Neapolitan Quartet.

After a wine andJessica Messman Griffith, Jonathan Ryan hors d’oeuvres reception, we had the launch from Loyola University Press of Jessica Mesman Griffith’s and Jonathan Ryan’s Strange Journey from which both Ryan and Griffith read excerpts.

This was followed byHeather King Heather King speaking and then a concert of sacred music from the Notre Dame Vocale and then after a bit of wandering to find a suitable venue, the open mic night which ran past midnight.

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Trying to Say God—Friday morning

The morning Randy Boyagoda egan with Randy Boyagoda’s talk, “Trying to say God without sounding like Marilynne Robinson.” Boyagoda’s thesis was that the first and primary purpose of literature i to increase charity and towards that end he did a dive into a novel by Mary McCarthy, The Group and a story by David Constantin, “The Loss.” This was followed by a reading from his upcoming novel, Original Prin, which sadly is to be published by a small Canadian publisher which means that it will be a challenge for me to get a hold of a copy when it comes out in the fall of 2018 (although I suppose it will be for sale when TTSG19 takes place in Toronto). One of my favorite moments from the reading was when Boyagoda read a line from his novel, “Anglicans are bashing you on Good Friday” and followed it with the comment, “That’s probable the best line I’ve written in my life.”

My second talk of the morning was Paula Huston’s “Lectio Divina: How an ancient monastic practice can Paula Hustonrevitalize literature.”

Huston proposed as a problem the idea that we are losing our ability to read deeply and well, citing as causes the internet, TV & movies and self-referntial reading, i.e., the idea that reading exists to make a personal connection with the material and being quick to dismiss work that seems unrelatable on the surface (I’m a bit ashamed to realize how much of myself I see in this latter category, although I think I’m getting better).

Her cure: simplify, practice solitude and silence and develop focus, this last being where the lectio divina comes into play. She proposes as a mode for reading to eliminate distractions, avoid making personal demands on the text, develop the ability to listen and proceed with anticipation. She also described how she applied the principles of the lectio to her writing practice where she would write blog posts inspired by photographs of nature. In this practice her guidelines were to confine herself to a tight framework, don’t think up a topic ahead of time, look at photos until one begins to “speak,” give the work total attention and don’t stop until she gets a surprise. 

The final talk of the morning was my first proper panel, with John Farrell, Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Jonathan Ryan on “Finding the sacred in the profane: The role of vulgarity in religious art.”

John Farrell, Rebecca Bratten Weiss, Jonathan Ryan

This was structured the way that I wish more panels were, as more of an onstage conversation than as a series of independent talks, although it felt like they might have benefitted from each member of the panel having his or her own mic since the passing of the microphone took away from some of the potential for spontaneity in the conversation. The discussion was wide ranging from Hieronymous Bosch to Thirteen Reasons Why. Jonathan Ryan pointed out that there are a number of “not suitable for church” passages in the Bible itself in defense of vulgarity and the essential earthiness of the incarnational reality of Jesus.

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