MaryAnn McKibben Dana named recipient of Distinguished Writer Award Reply

By Emily Enders Odom

MaryAnn McKibben Dana, a writer, pastor, conference leader, and highly sought-after speaker, has been named the recipient of the 2016 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award byMaryAnn McKibben Dana the Presbyterian Writers Guild.

Dana—author of Sabbath in the Suburbs, a Chalice Press bestseller for two years running—has a robust presence on social media, and has been commenting on life, ministry, theology, and culture on her blog, The Blue Room, for more than 12 years. She will receive the prestigious award at the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s General Assembly luncheon June 23 in Portland, Oregon.

Named for the late David Steele—Presbyterian poet and essayist best known for his “Tuesday Morning” column in The Presbyterian Outlook—the distinguished writer award is given biennially to a Presbyterian writer who has blessed the church with his or her writing over the course of a career.

“[MaryAnn] is a voice that speaks to our modern situation and does so with grace and dignity, a love for the church and its people, and a prophetic word for those with ears to hear,” wrote Rebecca Page Lesley, pastor of Green Acres Presbyterian Church in Portsmouth, Virginia, in nominating her for the honor.

Dana, who most recently served as pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, Virginia, was featured on PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly for her work on Sabbath. Her writing has appeared in TIME.com, The Washington Post, Religion Dispatches, Journal for Preachers, and The Christian Century, and for three years in a monthly column for Presbyterians Today. Her next book, tentatively titled Improvising with God, is under contract with Eerdmans and will be published in 2017.

“We are especially thrilled to honor MaryAnn with this award named for the late David Steele, who also delighted in experimenting with new forms of writing and modes of communication,” said William Lancaster, who, with Emily Enders Odom, co-chaired the selection committee.

Dana, who lives with her family in Reston, Virginia, also served as co-chair of NEXT Church for two years, a movement within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that “seeks to call forth vital ministry for our changing cultural context.” She is a mother of three, a “haphazard knitter,” and an occasional marathoner.

“For once, the writer is at a loss for words,” said Dana upon being informed of the honor. “I couldn’t be more honored and humbled to be in the company of other Distinguished Writer Award recipients—people whose work I’ve read and admired for much of my adult life. I am especially touched that my colleague and fellow Columbia Seminary alum, Becca Page Lesley, took time out of her busy life and ministry to nominate me for this honor. I’m surprised, touched and grateful.”

Previous winners include Kathy Bostrom, Katherine Paterson, Fredrick Buechner, Ann Weems, Eugene H. Peterson, Gustav Niebuhr, Marj Carpenter, Gayraud Wilmore, Eva Stimson, Kathleen Norris, Bill Tammeus, John Buchanan, Doris Betts, and the late Vic Jameson.

 

Nominees sought for best Presbyterian writer 1

By Emily Enders Odom

The Presbyterian Writers Guild (PWG) is accepting nominations for its 2016 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award. Deadline for nominations is February 1, 2016.

The award is given biennially in even-numbered years to recognize the cumulative work and influence—regardless of genre or subject matter—of a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) writer. The award will be presented at the PWG luncheon at this summer’s 222nd General Assembly (2016) in Portland, Oregon.

Previous winners include The Message author Eugene H. Peterson, The Christian Century editor/publisher John M. Buchanan, former Presbyterian News Service director Marj Carpenter, former Presbyterians Today editor Eva Stimson, children’s author Kathleen Bostrom, novelists Doris Betts and Katherine Paterson, poet Ann Weems, Kansas City Star columnist Bill Tammeus, African-American religious historian Gayraud Wilmore, essayists Kathleen Norris and Frederick Buechner, and journalists Gustav Niebuhr and the late Vic Jameson.

The award is named for R. David Steele, a Presbyterian pastor best known for his whimsical books of poetry and thought-provoking column, “Tuesday Morning,” in The Presbyterian Outlook.

Nominations for the award should include the writer’s PC(USA) affiliation, list of published work, and a 100-word essay describing why the nominee is deserving of the award. Contact information for both the nominator and the nominee must be included with each submission.

Send nominations by February 1 to Bill Lancaster, co-chair of the selection committee, by email or by mail to 105 Rapid River Trail, Greenville, SC 29615.

 

 

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An interview with Kathy Bostrom

62Kathy Bostrom, recipient of the Presbyterian Writers Guild’s 2014 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award and other prestigious writing awards, has published numerous articles and more than three dozen books, most for children. Her books have sold several million copies and have been translated into 17 languages. Bostrom served as pastor of Wildwood Presbyterian Church in Chicago Presbytery for 22 years and now lives and writes full-time in Carlsbad, California. She responds to 3 questions asked by the Presbyterian Writers Guild:

  1. Whose writing has most influenced your work?

Frederick Buechner’s elegant and eloquent storytelling and his imaginative way of sharing biblical stories and concepts captivates me. I’ve read nearly everything he’s written, attended his lectures, and even had the audacity to hand him one of my early essays and ask him to read it. He sent it back to me with comments. I cringe to think how nervy I was, but he was so gracious and kind that I have resolved to always treat writers who approach me for help with the same spirit.

Barbara Brown Taylor was a later addition to my repertoire, but I poured through her sermons when I served as a pastor. As I now focus on my vocation as a writer, I’ve been drawn to the honesty and depth of her memoirs. I read Leaving Church for the second time when I found myself struggling with leaving ministry to devote myself to writing.

Katherine Paterson, as a writer and a person, has been my muse for writing children’s books. I interviewed her for a book I wrote on Newbery Medal authors and will never forget her willingness to give her time to a newbie author. We’ve kept in touch sporadically over the years and she is consistently gracious. Her love for children and for writing about tough and painful issues, even in the face of criticism, inspires me and makes me proud to be an author of children’s books, too.

Even though I’ve given up the dream of being The Next Frederick Buechner or Barbara Brown Taylor or Katherine Paterson, they have all inspired me to be Kathleen Long Bostrom, writer in her own right.

  1. In what ways has writing for children inspired your own faith?

I love the spiritual depth of children. They have an awareness of the divine that leaves me in awe. They aren’t yet jaded by the world, nor are they afraid to ask questions. My Little Blessings series with Tyndale began with a question a little girl at church asked me one Sunday morning: “Is God a boy or a girl?” I put a lot of thought into that answer, which became my first accepted book, What Is God Like? It’s been a great exercise for me as a pastor and writer to try to convey theological and spiritual truths for 6-year-olds. It’s made me think through my own understanding of faith.

We have much to learn from children. They are so resilient! They accept the traumas of the world far better than adults. They recognize death as part of life. They ask questions. They embrace the moment. Children embrace God, and the world, with open arms. They are my greatest inspiration in writing and in my faith journey.

  1. Do you have a vision for the Presbyterian Writers Guild?

The Guild has been a major part of my life as a writer, from introducing me to my first editor and my current agent, to encouraging me along the way, to honoring me with the David Steele Distinguished Writer Award in 2014. I count many of the Guild board members as my friends.

Vic Jameson, one of our deeply beloved Guild members, honored us with a bequest in his will that truly saved us as an organization. We are in a healthy place now. Our work continues to unfold as society changes and we are trying to stay current and viable. We seek ways to connect with new writers and encourage those who seek publication. Conferences are valuable but expensive to run and to attend, so we are trying to discover other ways to be a visible presence. We need to keep coloring outside the lines and trying new ventures. My vision is that in decades to come, the PWG will be strong and vital and visible. It’s up to all of us who are members to make this happen for future generations of writers.

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BuchananAn interview with John Buchanan

John Buchanan, who received the David Steele Distinguished Writer award for his contributions as a church writer, is a former moderator of the General Assembly and is widely known in church circles for his work as editor of The Christian Century. He is the former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He responds to 3 questions asked by the Presbyterian Writers Guild.

  1. Whose writing has most influenced your work?

John Updike, more than any other. Over the years, I have read a lot of what he wrote. I was going to say everything, but he wrote voluminously and I doubt that anyone read it all. His novels caught me first. The Rabbit series will, I think, be read for years as a thoughtful portrait of American culture in the late 20th century. I used to wait eagerly for Updike’s newest book and have two shelves of them. Roger’s Version became a rich source of material and eloquent quotations for sermons and lectures and produced knowing laughter every time I used them to speak to clergy. Running throughout Updike’s writing is a strong current of orthodox Christian doctrine. It’s really quite close to the surface: creation as expression of God’s goodness, original sin, repentance, forgiveness, redemption. It’s all there, including the church. I loved his poetry as well, and his books of essays and criticism make for simply good reading. His influence was in teaching me to compose sermons carefully, choosing words intentionally, editing and rewriting right up to preaching time, even editing, scratching out, rewording between services. His selection of words is perfection.

Frederick Buechner has also been my literary companion and teacher along the way. I watched carefully as he crafted sentences, sometimes extending just a phrase or two beyond the natural stop. He did it in his preaching as well, very effectively.

  1. How has your work at the Christian Century affected your faith?

Working at the Christian Century for 12 years has been a wonderful reminder of several things a busy parish pastor is inclined to forget: the global community of Christian scholarship, for instance–the theological education, research, writing, translating, exegesis, arguing, contending that has gone on for 20 centuries and continues today. Augustine, I believe, attributed Christianity’s  success to out-thinking everyone else in the ancient world. There is still nothing quite like the sustained scholarly inquiry and work that continues in institutions of theological education all over the world. And working at the Century has reminded me of the depth and diversity of Christianity in our own contemporary culture.

  1. What Scripture passages do you think the PC(USA) most needs to listen to today?

Kurt Vonnegut said that the meek inheriting the earth was the best idea anybody ever had. I agree. So, Matthew 5:1-10 for starters. Then Mathew 25, when Jesus clearly says that we are judged on the basis of the love we extend to those who need us. Finally, the Last Supper discourses in the Gospel of John, when Jesus tells his friends that their love for one another will be the way the world will know God. I think about that a lot as we keep finding reasons to separate from one another. Every time it happens I wonder what the world sees of the gospel.

Here’s what your DUES can do Reply

By Bill Lancaster

Small amounts add up to a lot for your Presbyterian Writers Guild. Your $25 annual dues payments make it possible for the Guild to carry on all its work.

With the help of your dues, the Guild publishes The Writer (this electronic newsletter), supports a website, offers a biennial General Assembly Luncheon, sponsors webinars, and gives prestigious awards. Two of these awards, the David W. Steele Distinguished Writer Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award, are funded by dues. The PPC First Book Award is now funded by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

The General Assembly Luncheon brings many members together, gives us an opportunity to draw others into the fold, and provides a setting for hearing world-class writers speak about their work.

The webinars bring experts in electronic publishing, marketing, and writing to your computer to assist you in your writing endeavors. These can be life-changing events in our fast-changing publishing world.

The Distinguished Writer Award allows us to recognize outstanding authors such as Eugene Peterson in 2009-2010, John Buchanan in 2011-2012, and Kathleen Bostrom in 2013-2014. This award carries a monetary grant of $1,000, plus travel and expenses to General Assembly.

The Lifetime Achievement Award allows us to honor singular writers who have shown greatness over a lifetime of work.

The PPC First Book Award allows us to lift up emerging authors and showcase their first book.

The Writer supplies guidance for effective writing and gives members a place to share news about their latest publications and accomplishments.

Through your $25 annual dues, you belong to this group of distinguished Presbyterian writers, receive support for the art and craft of writing, and CONTRIBUTE to the awards the Guild is able to give.

Your dues allow the Guild to support writers as they seek to express beauty, truth, and faith through writing.

You will receive an email soon with a way to pay your 2015 dues electronically through PayPal.

If you prefer to pay by check, please send $25, payable to the Presbyterian Writers Guild, to Emily Enders Odom, Vice President, 308 N. Chapman St., Greensboro, NC 27403. And while you are at it, share with other members news of your writing by including a note with your check, and do send us any new email or other address changes.

Thank you for your continuing support of the Guild!

Bill Lancaster is treasurer of the Presbyterian Writers Guild.

“These boots were made for writing” Reply

Kathy Bostrom is congratulated by J. Barrie Shepherd at the Presbyterian Writers Guild lunch

Kathy Bostrom is congratulated by J. Barrie Shepherd at the Presbyterian Writers Guild lunch

2014 Distinguished writer talks shoes

By Eva Stimson

Kathleen Bostrom sees parallels between shoes and writing.

“Sometimes we writers have to try on a lot of shoes until we find the ones that fit,” she said June 19 at the Presbyterian Writers Guild lunch at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 221st General Assembly. She said it took some years for her to find her niche as a writer. Bostrom, whose works have been translated into 17 languages around the world, received the Guild’s 2014 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award.

Bostrom said she first tried on “the soft leather shoes of a poet.” She tried the running shoes of a short story writer, then the hiking boots of a novelist, and then the “sensible sturdy shoes of a nonfiction writer.” None of these felt right.

“The shoes I ended up going back to time and time again were the playful shoes of a children’s book writer,” she said. After four-and-a-half years and hundreds of rejection letters, Bostrom finally had her first children’s book accepted for publication.

“Once I found the shoes that fit best, I poured my energy into writing for children.” When writing for children, she said, “I become like a child myself.”

Bostrom confessed that at various times in her career she had the audacity to wish she could be the next Frederick Buechner or the next Katherine Paterson or some other writer she admired. But a woman in her congregation gave her some advice: “You don’t have to worry about filling someone else’s shoes. Your own fit just fine.”

Bostrom challenged listeners: “Go out and do a little shoe shopping. Experiment with a variety of styles. But remember, your shoes fit just fine.”

The distinguished writer award is named for the late David Steele, Presbyterian poet and essayist best known for his “Tuesday Morning” column in The Presbyterian Outlook. The award is given biennially to a Presbyterian writer who blessed the church with his or her writing over the course of a career.

Previous winners include Katherine Paterson, Fredrick Buechner, Ann Weems, Eugene H. Peterson, Gustav Niebuhr, Marj Carpenter, Gayraud Wilmore, Eva Stimson, Kathleen Norris, Bill Tammeus, the late Vic Jameson, John Buchanan and Doris Betts.

Bostrom, who served as co-pastor of Wildwood (Ill.) Presbyterian Church for 22 years, has published numerous articles and more than three dozen books, most for children. Her book Who is Jesus? was a finalist for the 2000 Gold Medallion Award and What About Heaven? was nominated for the People’s Choice Award.

Bostrom’s books have sold several million copies in the 16 years since her first book was published. Sales of her “Little Blessings” series total more than 3 million in the U.S. alone and have been printed in 17 languages, the most recent of which is Indonesian. Italian translations of her books can be found in the Vatican bookstore in Rome.

Robert John Andrews accepting his award for Best First Book

Robert John Andrews accepting his award for Best First Book. Photos by Jerry L. Van Marter.

At its luncheon, the Presbyterian Writers Guild also honored Robert John Andrews, a pastor in Danville, Pennsylvania, as recipient of this year’s Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) First Book Award for Nathaniel’s Call, his novel set during the Civil War. The award honors the best first book by a Presbyterian author published during the calendar years of 2012–2013.

Andrews’ book, self-published in 2012, was selected from among 17 entries in a variety of genres to receive the biennial award. His novel is told from the point of view of a Presbyterian chaplain and a physician attached to a Pennsylvania regiment during the Civil War.

Andrews has been the pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville since 1989. He has been moderator of Northumberland Presbytery and writes a weekly column for the Danville News.

Accepting the award, Andrews said, “I love fiction—could be because I’m a preacher.” He said what he enjoys about fiction writing is “the power of truth being conveyed and getting into the minds and hearts of characters and influencing their motives.” He added, “My aim in fiction is to have readers put the book down and exclaim, ‘That was religious!’”