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Thoughts on the 2008 Christy Awards

Jeffrey Overstreet has posted the complete list of 2008 Christy Award nominees at his site. I had a chance to meet Jeffrey at last year’s City of the Angels Film Festival, where he was hosting a panel discussion. I recently finished reading his Through a Screen Darkly and thoroughly enjoyed it. He’s a wonderful writer, so I was thrilled to see him nominated twice.

But I must admit a degree of confliction whenever I see these types of awards. Like The Dove Awards (for Christian music), the Christy Awards exist, in their own words, “to recognize novelists and novels of excellence in several genres of Christian fiction.” The Christy’s are kind of the Christian equivalent of a National Book Critics Award or a Pulitzer. It is believers honoring their own.

Is this a good thing? Well, yes and no.

At one time, it could be argued that Christian Fiction was second rate, an inferior product churned out for uncritical Christian readers. I don’t think that’s the case any more. The authors I have read on the list (not many, admittedly) — Athol Dickson, Stephen Lawhead, Lisa Samson, Charles Martin, and Jeffrey Overstreet — are all terrific writers who could hold their own against anyone. And, as many have pointed out, the boundaries of Christian Fiction have ever-so-slowly expanded. So in one sense, the Christy’s are honoring excellence in a field that is still relatively new and, possibly, in need of such recognition.

But on the other hand, I often wonder that awards like the Dove and the Christy do little to actually further our Christian witness or win us “airtime” in the secular marketplace. Some will say that’s not the objective anyway, that these books are aimed at church-goers. But this means we’re, potentially, just talking to ourselves and we’ve lost the ear of the culture at large. Face it, excellence in Christian Fiction only matters to Christians.

So while I’m excited to see these authors excelling in their craft and being recognized by a larger critical body, I wonder that awards like this inevitably perpetuate an “us and them” mentality, and keep us insulated in our own little Christian culture. Kind of like winning the annual Pie Contest at the company picnic, it’s a great accomplishment… if you never leave the company picnic.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Katie Hart April 30, 2008, 12:47 PM

    I think it’s interesting, though – many of the authors whose books are nominees, especially the ones you mentioned, have gained or are gaining recognition outside of the Christian subculture. Will a Christy add to that recognition? No necessarily, but I don’t believe it will hinder.

  • Mike Duran April 30, 2008, 1:13 PM

    Hmm. In the long run, you’re probably right, Katie. Nevertheless, some artists do intentionally distance themselves from the Christian subculture. In a post entitled Genre Redux , I referenced Mute Math’s battle to keep themselves from being marketed as a Christian band. The article in the Tuscon Weekly said:

    “Mute Math started being labeled as a Christian rock band; they started getting shows that were only geared toward a Christian audience; and the more Word Records, the Christian division of Warner Bros., marketed them as a Christian band, the more doors Mute Math saw slamming in their faces. Rock journalists would type ‘Mute Math’ into Google, and links to Christianity Today and a site called JesusFreakHideout would pop up. Subsequently, no one in the secular world of music journalism would write anything about the band.”

    So while the Christy’s may not detract from a book’s longevity (especially w/in the Christian community), who can say how many “doors” are being shut because of the Christian Fiction label? Something to think about. Thanks for your comments!

  • Nicole April 30, 2008, 2:14 PM

    Few well-written “Christian” novels would win anything in secular “awards” contests unless they became very ecumenical, and, believe me, Mike, some of them have. I don’t have a problem with Christian “awards” from the standpoint of honoring our own, but in this case, if I’m not mistaken, the publisher has to pay to submit the entrants to this contest, and if one chooses not to enter, some fine books can fail to be recognized. Also the grouping is sometimes odd. When you put River Rising in with Comes A Horseman, something is definitely off with the categories.
    Secular houses have distinctions and parameters in their ranks. Established authors who wrote secular literature but had a profound experience with the Lord, switched to writing Christian literature because they could no longer include the sexual and language graphics in their writing (Francine Rivers to name one).

  • Athol April 30, 2008, 3:47 PM

    Hi Mike. Your comment form blacked out the bottom of my comment, so maybe that part won’t show up. I hope not. Anyway, here’s what I wanted to say…

    May God bless every Christian author who is trying to reach out to unbelievers, but while we are commanded to be “salt and light” to the world, evangelism also includes those who help prepare disciples. I do try to get the gospel in my novels somehow (sometimes only symbolically) but my mission is to write about Christian themes for Christian readers in the hope that I can help them become better children of the Lord. That’s the best reason to write “Christian fiction” in my opinion. Fiction published in the Christian market with the intention of being “salt and light” is mostly preaching to the choir. Although I know for a fact some unbelievers end up reading those novels, and a few are led to Christ by them, it seems to me a Christian author interested mainly in reaching the lost would have better results outside the world of Christian publishing, under the secular radar so to speak, for the very reason of “type casting” that you mention. Other Christian authors like me do not intend to erase the boundaries of Christian fiction, as it is defined above. We’re here for the church, and we’re here to stay. So the Christy Award is mainly a way to encourage “discipleship focused” authors, and believe me, it is encouraging!

    As for Nicole’s comment, I think they put RIVER RISING in the suspense category because they had no other category it matched better. When you write novels like mine, you get that a lot. I tend to ignore genre and just do my best to tell an interesting and meaningful story. Some form of suspense is always there, so that’s where the try to fit me in. A secular award might have the same problem.

  • Mike Duran May 1, 2008, 1:43 AM

    Thanks for visiting, Athol. I agree that evangelism and discipleship are on the same continuum and that Christian Fiction can work on both levels. My concerns, and I think the concerns of others, is that by aiming almost entirely at church-goers, we have inadvertently narrowed the boundaries of what Christan art is or is expected to be. Subsequently, an author’s stories, as good or well-crafted as they may be, because they are not openly evangelistic or aimed at believing audiences, may not be considered christian. No doubt the Christy’s are a great encouragement for the representative publishers and authors. I’m just wondering if, in the long run, these types of awards perpetuate a faulty understanding of Christian art. Congratulations again on your nomination and thanks for dropping by!

  • Nicole May 1, 2008, 2:30 AM

    “I’m just wondering if, in the long run, these types of awards perpetuate a faulty understanding of Christian art.”

    Mike, who are you referencing in this comment? If those in the secular world of writing “art”, it’s debatable if they even have an inclination to understand anything to do with what Christians have to say creatively or otherwise.

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