Celebrity memoirs often appeal to readers’ basest motives. They hope to discover some secret formula for success. Or they want to know whether the author took revenge on enemies or intimates. If the author is a public figure, readers are on the lookout for clues to an ideological bent or personal grievances that will make the author’s future decisions predictable.
"Isn’t that an off-brand religion?” One of my son’s soon-to-be-relatives asked this question when he was introduced as having grown up in a Mennonite family.
If Mennonites are off-brand to many Americans, then Pentecostals might be known as firebrands. The average person knows very little about either faith. Rhoda Janzen, who has moved from the former to the latter, brings awareness to both.
Leymah Gbowee's tranquil, relatively privileged life as a 17-year-old university student exploded in 1990 when war broke out in her homeland, the West African nation of Liberia. Today she is a spokesperson for women worldwide who are tired of war and want to build peace. Her memoir Mighty Be Our Powers tells the gripping story of the 21 intervening years.
Carlos Eire, having won the National Book Award in 2003 with his first memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana, must have felt author's anxiety as he approached the blank screen a second time. After fearing what he calls the Void all his life, he did what all great writers do—he turned light on it and made it an integral part of his story.
If Barbara Kingsolver's masterpiece The Poisonwood Bible has formed your image of Christian missionaries in the 20th century, you need an equal and opposite set of characters to round out (not replace) your historical, theological and literary imagination.
Along America's highways, wooden barns used to reign, and blue or white silos stood like sentries. Today those wooden barns and silos are decaying, their wooden ribcages emerging like skeletons after years of neglect, and slowly being replaced by low steel buildings. Under this seemingly innocuous change in architecture lies a great American drama.
"To make a prairie,” Emily Dickinson once wrote, “it takes a clover and one bee, / . . . And revery.” But “the revery alone will do, / If bees are few.” To make a great literary biography it takes a great subject, a biographer’s understanding—and reverie. In the new biography of Eudora Welty by Suzanne Marrs the ingredients are all there.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.