Bret Lott is the next endorser I'll focus on in this series that I started last week with Luci Shaw. Bret is the author of 14 books, both literary fiction and nonfiction, the former editor of The Southern Review, and professor of English at The College of Charleston. While I've briefly met Bret a couple times, I don't personally know him. He started teaching in the SPU MFA program the year I graduated. Fortunately, though, I had the opportunity to hear him speak as a guest faculty lecturer and as the keynote speaker at a Glen Workshop. Since I don't know him, it speaks all the more highly of his generosity and kindness that he would read my manuscript, particularly over the busy Christmas season, and offer his good word about it.
My first reading of Lott's work was Jewel, the 1991 novel that became an Oprah Book Club selection. Actually, I didn't read it; I listened to it as an audiobook when driving alone one gray day from Minneapolis to Chicago. I remember sitting in my car at a rest stop, tears on my cheek, listening through to a chapter's end. Since that reading/listening experience, I've come to learn more about Bret Lott, and, importantly, to learn from him about writing and how to be a writer of faith. He cares passionately about writing with integrity: integrity in the use of words; integrity in the way words are used in the context of faith and art; integrity in terms of whether the end result of the words will be a blessing to the reader. Read his books on writing – Letters and Life: On Being A Writer, On Being a Christian and Before We Get Started – and it's not hard to feel the energy of that integrity.
It's interesting to find that Bret's writing rubs up so often against the topic of work, as in labor and jobs. It's one reason I reached out to him to consider endorsing Finding Livelihood. His father was a working man – worked "for Nehi, for RC Cola, for the food brokerage" – who always showed "his children, the importance of doing our best, and the proof of that labor: his provision for our family." In Letters and Life, Lott writes: "So is it at all a surprise that the first book I ever wrote, my first novel, was about an RC Cola salesman who finds a kind of solace in his work, and that throughout all I have written there runs a thread of salesmen, and cashiers at grocery stores, and firemen and plumbers and work and work and work?" As he makes clear, writing is the work given to him; I'll add that he does that work superbly.
Here are some passages I commend to you from Letters and Life and Before We Get Started:
"Here is our truest beginning point of an understanding of the creation of art by the Christian: the created world has a moral order to which we must submit, and through that submission and only through that submission will harmony and beauty and truth even begin to be approached by us who profess to practice art. Further, we do not commit art in a vacuum but are a part of society—of humanity—at large, and therefore we indeed have a role in that society, a role that can and will contribute to the harmonization of human activity at large. We have been blessed to be a blessing." (from Letters and Life)
"And then, in the writer’s answer to whatever has called him to write, and in his willingness to look at each word with fear and trepidation coupled with faith that speaking it will be an act in obedience to what has called him to speak it, those words will line up, will breathe, will become the vast army of sentences that will take up residence in the new Israel every story, novel, essay, and poem ought to be." (From Before We Get Started)
You can learn more about – and from – Bret in this video interview with John Wilson, editor of Books and Culture, filmed after the publication of Letters and Life. Towards the beginning of the interview, they talk about the theme of work that shows up in his writing.
I hope you'll visit Bret's author page on Amazon and pick out something wonderful to read!
Finally, here's what Bret wrote about Finding Livelihood:
"This is an absolutely timely book, and an absolutely beautiful one too. Ms. Nordenson examines what it means to work, and does so in a lyrical, practical, moving, and spirit-filled way. In giving us her personal stories and universal observations, we are given as well the means by which, in these difficult days, to make sense of what it means to work. I like this book a lot for its voice and vision, and especially for its hope."
[Photo: Bret Lott, used with permission.]