According to James Wood, the most influential commentator on the contemporary novel, "Christian fiction" is an oxymoron—assuming, that is, that "fiction" here means the major leagues and not some lesser form of the art, beneath Wood's notice. Helen Vendler, Wood's counterpart in the domain of poetry, agrees. "We"—we who have tasted the forbidden fruit of modernity—have been permanently disabused of the illusions of faith, and Christian faith in particular.

The 2,000 or so people who gathered this past weekend at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the Festival of Faith & Writing would beg to differ. Starting late Thursday morning and ending Saturday night with Frederick Buechner's magnificent lecture and reading, festivalgoers heard fiction-writers and poets for whom faith and writing are inextricably connected: Bret Lott, Katherine Paterson, Leif Enger, Luci Shaw, Li-Young Lee, Scott Cairns, and dozens more.

One of the principles of the event is to mix the famous, the well-known, and the not-yet-known. (Kudos to Paraclete Press for inaugurating this year a fiction prize for new and emerging writers.) Since I started attending, just a few months after the first issue of Books & Culture appeared, each time I have come home with a list of writers to read—and a stack of books from the festival array. (Several people told me that Silas House, a young writer who read from his novel A Parchment of Leaves, belongs on that list.)

As in festivals past—this is an every-other-year happening at Calvin—the definition of "writing" was expansive, as it should be. So the menu featured all sorts of writers: essayists and preachers (Barbara Brown Taylor was one of the keynoters), memoirists (there was long book-signing line for Lauren ...

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