Interview with Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans’ book Evolving in Monkey Town is on the shortlist for creative nonfiction.

Summary from Goodreads:
In Evolving in Monkey Town, Rachel Held Evans recounts her experiences growing up in Dayton, Tennessee, a town that epitomized Christian fundamentalism during the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. With fearless honesty, Evans describes how her faith survived her doubts and challenges readers to re-imagine Christianity in a postmodern context, where knowing all the answers isn’t as important as asking the questions.

Why do you write creative nonfiction?
Because fiction intimidates me.

What are the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith into your story?

For me, the biggest challenge in writing about my faith is that it is always changing. Like a lot of twenty-somethings, I’m going through that quarter-life reevaluation of things, struggling through some difficult questions about life and faith and Christianity. So rather than sharing these grand spiritual insights with my readers, I find myself writing about the highs and lows of the faith journey, the view from wherever I happen to be. As it turns out, this ever-evolving approach to faith is a bit more universal than I originally thought, because readers seem to really connect with the idea that faith is less about certainty and more about risk. So the challenge is also the benefit. I’ve made my readers feel less alone in the journey, and now I feel less alone too. And isn’t that the point of writing? To feel less alone?

Favourite book – favourite movie – favourite TV show?

To Kill a Mockingbird, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Arrested Development

How do you feel about blogging? Do you have a blog?

I’ve been blogging for about three years at http://rachelheldevans.com and I absolutely love it. Blogging gives me the chance to interact with readers in a way that really informs and strengthens my writing. It’s a bit like conducting a little focus group three times a week. I get to test out my ideas to see which ones stick and which ones flop. It’s not always representative of my best writing, but the blog keeps me disciplined and reader-focused…and as a first-time author, it has given me a platform I might not otherwise have.

Tell us about a book that epitomizes quality [Christian] faith-driven lit

I was going to say “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller, but then I saw that it’s nominated in the same category as “Evolving in Monkey Town.” 🙂 Having lived south of the Mason Dixon my entire life, I’m a big fan of Southern lit – particularly the work of Harper Lee, Flannery O’Conner, Wendell Berry, and Walker Percy. Southern writers have a way of highlighting the religious hypocrisy of their characters and their culture while remaining unconditionally compassionate toward them through it all. I love that. And I think it epitomizes what good faith-based literature should look like.

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  • Rachel’s work is an example of honesty over artistry. That’s not to say it isn’t well-written: it is. But the power comes from her personal account of a growing faith. She is also an astute observer of people. I am looking forward to the day she publishes a collection of vignettes of the people in her town, in the traditions of Edwin Arlington Robinson or Thornton Wilder. Go ahead, give her the prize!