Being a Writer, Being Catholic

Sometimes the Twain Can Meet

In a recent talk to a group of Catholic writers, artists, and academics, book editor and journalist Paul Elie argued that the most distinctive thing about the contemporary Catholic writer is his or her "aloneness," and that any distinctively Catholic writing must come to terms with that fact. "What makes the Catholic writer feel so fixed in isolation? Why do we feel, each of us, that we are working alone in the dark?" Elie asked. The answer he gave was multifaceted and nuanced, but finally settled on the "nature of writing as much as the nature of American Catholicism today." Writing is first of all a solitary pursuit. The Catholic writer, like all writers, "hopes to make himself or herself understood to one other only. A single convert will do." Contrary to much of the communal rhetoric that attaches itself to the church, such an individual emphasis is not foreign to Catholicism. "The Catholic writer’s independence means, too, that this writer can focus on the individual person’s struggle with the act of faith," Elie said. "For many modern Catholics, the stumbling block to faith is religion, and even 'the faithful' have to ask themselves constantly whether religion is a way to God or stands in the way of God—if God exists."

My assessment of the problems facing the Catholic writer and my hopes for the future of fiction written by Catholics are slightly different from Elie’s, although I do not fundamentally dispute his...

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About the Author

Valerie Sayers, chair of the English Department at Notre Dame, is the author of six novels, including The Powers.