Lutheran book club chooses Schultz's The Madhouse Nudes
SALEM, Va. - It may raise a few eyebrows: The newly-formed Lutheran Writers Book Club is recommending a novel called The Madhouse Nudes, by a National Endowment Award-winning author, to six million American Lutherans.
“It's a little unexpected,” says author Robert Schultz, professor of English at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. “When some people hear that members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are being recommended a book about a painter who specializes in the female nude, they hear the word 'evangelical' and think of the religious right and its problems with the NEA and all that. But the ELCA is a mainstream, traditional church. And it's got a lot of NPR-listening, literature-reading members.”
The Lutheran Writers Project formed in October 2007 and launched its book club to recommend literary works by Lutheran writers to Lutheran readers. The LWP, in its mission statement, says it aims “to engage and renew the imagination of the Lutheran church” and “to recognize and celebrate the literary gifts of writers who engage the Lutheran imagination” (www.lutheranwriters.org). Though not formally affiliated with the Lutheran church, its organizers are members of the ELCA who live across the country, teach at church-affiliated liberal arts colleges or enjoy reading groups within their home congregations.
Asked how he feels about the label “Christian author” or “Lutheran writer,” Schultz hesitates. “Authors usually resist labels,” he says. “I try to write literary fiction, and I think literature has to confront experience in a spirit of exploration, and not with a set of answers. A novel that set out to support a fixed set of beliefs would probably be deadly. The value of art is that it is not an illustration of settled issues but a probing out into disputed terrain. It refreshes our senses and enlivens our reflections, including 'religious' reflections.”
“But can artists really slip out of their points of view, their personal histories as Christians or Buddhists or pilgrims or atheists when they write?,” wonders Schultz, who was raised in the Lutheran church, baptized and confirmed, and has taught for over 20 years at two Lutheran colleges. “However undecided and venturesome I may try to be when I write, I recognize that concepts of grace, forgiveness and communion have helped to shape my sensibility.”
The Madhouse Nudes, Schultz's first novel, appeared in 1997 and explores “the madhouse of American contemporary sexuality,” Schultz says. “We're a little crazy when it comes to sex,” he says. “We've got Puritanism and pornography, prudery and childish voyeurism. And even the church, with its wonderful story of incarnation, is fairly queasy about the human body.”
The novel follows painter John Orway who moves from New York to a small Iowa town and hires two local women as models. “It is a book about a man looking at women,” according to the author, “but it's also a book about the body-about the human experience of living an embodied life.”
“The main character has had almost no experience with religion,” Schultz says. “Other characters take him to church at one point, so I get to show his reactions to the congregation and its rituals through innocent eyes. Sometimes he's moved and sometimes he's dismayed.”
The Madhouse Nudes is the Lutheran Writers Book Club recommendation for July and August 2008.
Roanoke College, an independent, co-educational, four-year liberal arts college in Salem, Virginia, combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a classic, undergraduate setting. Roanoke prepares students for their futures through its commitment to providing a true classic college experience. Roanoke is one of just 276 colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society. The Princeton Review names Roanoke as one of the “best in the Southeast.”
For additional information, call the Roanoke College Public Relations Office at (540) 375-2282.
Released: July 28, 2008
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