When I worked in bookstores, one of the most agitating parts of my job was standing in the fiction section with a great novel and realizing it didn’t go in the fiction/literature section but in the “gay fiction” or “African American fiction” center. While I understood that sometimes people wanted to be able to find books with characters that represented those people groups, I also knew that by dividing out these books it meant that many readers – especially those who were straight and white – would never read books from those other sections. It cracked my heart a little to know that divisions of this sort often kept people from knowing the joy of great writing, no matter the characters’ demographic identity.
Even now, I bristle at categories of all sorts. I am my father’s daughter in this way. Be they the labels of politics or gender or the borders that define geography, I find such ways of defining to grate against something innate in me; they irritate the core-deep part of me that longs for the ideal of unity, for the lamb and the wolf lying together. I value difference a great deal – cultural, ethnic, geographical, physical – and yet, I don’t want us to driven apart by our differences but to celebrate them together.
Perhaps this is why I am so resistant to labels for myself as a writer and for my writing, particularly when it comes to my faith and my writing life. I am a Christian by faith tradition, and my faith is very dear to me. But I am not a Christian writer. I don’t write books that are only for Christians or for the purpose of converting others to this faith – that practice would go against much of what I believe about both my faith and writing. Yet, my faith affects everything about how I see the world, and thus, it is still a part of my writing life in a very real way.
Friends and I talk about the Christian writing world quite often. Many of the people I love most in the world write from an overtly Christian point of view for an overtly Christian audience, and in many cases, the fact that they are that specific in their focus garners them a larger, more regular audience than I have. I love that for them because that way of being a writer is true for them, right for who they are in the world.
It’s just not right for me.
For me, writing is about being as big and open as I can be, about saying whatever it is I need to say in whatever way I find best for whoever needs it, regardless of their faith tradition or nationality or sexual orientation or political party. This work is my vocation, my calling, my ministry if you will . . . to speak truth and love broadly and boldly for whoever will hear.
Sometimes I wish that I was more of a niche writer, that I wrote for the Christian market, that I wrote in one genre on one topic because then marketing and topics would be simpler. But if I made that choice, I would be going against the way I’m called to write, and this way of writing – for one and all who want what I have to say – is an act of faith, just in a less overt way than for others.
So friends, whether you are called to write for a particular group of people or feel the need to write broadly across categories and people groups, be affirmed. Say what you need to say for whom you need to say it and say it with joy. The people who need your words will find them.
If you are looking for a beautiful, thoughtful book for this holiday season, may I suggest you pick up Kelly Chripczuk’s lovely collection of poems Between Heaven and Earth. Many of the poems come out of the Christian scriptures, but they are universal, quiet moments of introspection about the way life breaks through in gentle moments. It would be a beautiful holiday gift for you or someone you love. Order your copy here.