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.