Faith & Fiction


New Wednesday night study will focus on one’s faith and various works of fiction. Beginning on April 20, we’ll be reading short stories and creative essays with religious themes and reflecting together from 6-7 PM. Each week will involve a little homework (don’t be scared!) and a willingness to talk about how each week’s text resonates with you! It’ll be accessible, relaxed, and hopefully a lot of fun. This unit will last until Wednesday, May 18. Join us!

Week 1 (April 20) | Jhumpa Lahiri, This Blessed House from her 1999 collection of short stories Interpreter of Maladies 

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri is celebrated for her depiction of immigrant and Indian-American life, yet her poignant stories also capture universal themes of longing, loneliness and barriers of communication. She was born in London in 1967 and raised in Rhode Island. Her Bengali parents, a teacher and a librarian, took their family on regular trips to Calcutta, India to visit extended family. Lahiri completed her B.A. at Barnard College, and from Boston University she earned M.A. degrees in English, Creative Writing, and Comparative Literature and the Arts, as well as a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies.

Lahiri’s debut collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, was published in 1999 to critical acclaim. Several of these stories had previously appeared in the New Yorker, and she was the recipient of an O. Henry Award for the title story. Lahiri’s characters are often immigrants from India or children of immigrants who deal with issues of cultural displacement, marital troubles and issues of identity. While many of these stories are set in the United States, Lahiri’s time in Calcutta is evident in her occasional use of Indian locales.

 

Week 2 (April 27) | John Berryman, Eleven Addresses to the Lord

John Berryman was born John Smith in McAlester, Oklahoma, on October 25, 1914. He received an undergraduate degree from Columbia College in 1936 and attended Cambridge University on a fellowship. He taught at Wayne State University in Detroit and went on to occupy posts at Harvard and Princeton. From 1955 until his death in 1972, he was a professor at the University of Minnesota. Berryman was brought up a strict Roman Catholic in the small Oklahoma town of Anadarko, moving at 10 with his family to Tampa, Fla. When the boy was 12, his father shot himself outside the boy’s window. This event haunted him throughout his life and recurred as a subject in his poetry. After his mother remarried, John took his stepfather’s name. After his death, Recovery, an account of his struggle against alcoholism, was published in 1973.

Week 3 (May 4) | Ocean Vuong, The Weight of our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, & Visible Desperation 

Ocean Vuong is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection, Time is a Mother, out from Penguin Press (2022), and the The New York Times bestselling novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press 2019) which has been translated into 36 languages.  A recipient of a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Grant, he is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, aNew York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize.

Vuong’s writings have been featured in The AtlanticGrantaHarpersThe NationNew RepublicThe New YorkerThe New York TimesThe Paris Review, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as a 2016 100 Leading Global Thinker, Ocean was also named by BuzzFeed Books as one of “32 Essential Asian American Writers” and has been profiled on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” PBS NewsHour, Teen Vogue, InterviewPoets & Writers, and The New Yorker.

Born in Saigon, Vietnam and raised in Hartford, Connecticut in a working class family of nail salon and factory laborers, he was educated at nearby Manchester Community College before transferring to Pace University to study International Marketing. Without completing his first term, he dropped out of Business school and enrolled at Brooklyn College, where he graduated with a BA in Nineteenth Century American Literature. He subsequently received his MFA in Poetry from NYU.

He currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts where he serves as an Associate Professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at UMass-Amherst.

**Just a quick heads up that this essay deals with language around suicide.**

Week 4 (May 11) | Emory Gillespie, Read This, See If It Helps  

Emory Gillespie is the minister of First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. She teaches Religion and Literature at Cornell College and has published articles in the Wapsipinicon Almanac, Lectionary Homiletics and Journal for Preachers. Emory enjoys her family; Bob who at this moment is fly fishing, Tom Henry who is practicing with his rock band in the basement and Raina, who has two mice. Emory aspires to publish her two novels.

Week 5 (May 18) | William Stafford, Ask Me

For our next and final session, we’ll read Ask Me by William Stafford, a 20th-century American poet from the Midwest. A pacifist and one of “the quiet of the land,” as he often describes himself, Stafford is known for his “unique method of composition, his soft-spoken voice, and his independence from social and literary expectations,” according to a writer for the Poetry Foundation.

Optional Additional Reading  | Lessons From My Mother, James Wood

James Wood has been a staff writer and book critic at The New Yorker since 2007. In 2009, he won the National Magazine Award for reviews and criticism. He was the chief literary critic at the Guardian, in London, from 1992 to 1995, and a senior editor at The New Republic from 1995 to 2007. His critical essays are collected in “The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief”; “The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel,” which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and “The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays.” Wood is also the author of the novel “The Book Against God”; a study of technique in the novel, “How Fiction Works”; and a collection of essays, “Serious Noticing: Selected Essays, 1997-2019.” His latest novel, “Upstate,” was published in 2018. He is a professor of the practice of literary criticism at Harvard University.

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