While perusing everything from Amish fiction to Zondervan's latest publications at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing this past April, I discovered what we here at Sojourners affectionately call the "Christian Literary Underground" -- a small group of literary magazines and independent book publishers that have "staked a claim in the publishing borderlands where grit and religious devotion, literary experimentation and spirituality, the quirky and the profound can meet and mingle, " according to Julie Polter. (Read Polter's full article on the Christian Literary Underground in "The Borderlands of Publishing " in our November 2010 issue ).
Lingering in what felt like dark and smoky corners of the pleasant conference center, this group of writers and readers believes that Christian writing can be both edgy and authentic -- true to the nature of faith without compromising literary merit. They were independent, a little snarky, and undeniably hip. In short, I wanted to be like them.
But let me warn you -- the Underground is elusive. Like early Christians doodling fish in the dirt, the folks of the Christian Literary Underground rely on subtle social cues to identify each other. So, after three days of careful sociological scrutiny, I have studied the habits of the Christian Literary underground and compiled seven essential tips for fitting in with the Christian Literary Underground scene. Try them out at a Christian writing festival near you!
- Be seen reading the grittier classics of Christian literature. Though Blue Like Jazz is an almost irresistible first choice, try for something more subtle, like Flannery O'Connor, J.D. Salinger, or T.S. Eliot. And when all else fails, The Brothers Karamazov is a sure-bet.
- Drink the fair-trade tea or coffee provided by the conference or festival, but eschew the plastic and Styrofoam cups. Bring your own mug, preferably a beat-up, stainless-steel, canteen sort of thing.
- Use a nice pen. While there's something charming and quintessentially literary about scribbling one's musings in a cheap notebook or legal pad, a nice, fine point pen shows seriousness, depth, and a certain precision of thought.
- To carry all the items described in #1, #2, and #3, you're probably going to need some sort of a bag. Not only do bags evoke a well-traveled aura generally admired in underground circles, but they also double as a metaphor for the baggage we all carry, a tangible reminder that even Christians live in earthly skin, full of weighty secrets.
- Look appropriately offended by tables of Amish fiction. If you have a secret passion for Amish folks with secret passions, now is not the time to show it.
- Ix nay on polo shirts, T-shirts with Christian-ese slogans, or anything that requires dry-cleaning. Try a vaguely vintage V-neck cardigan, skinny jeans, and glasses with thick frames. Corduroy and flannel always move an outfit in the right direction, as do earthy scarves.
- A well-placed swear word or tattoo would not be amiss. Remember, you believe that Christian literature is not all rainbows, butterflies, and Soup for the Soul.
Betsy Shirley is an editorial assistant at Sojourners.
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