As the widely-admired and critically-acclaimed writer Frederick Buechner approaches his 90th birthday on July 11, the new book Buechner 101 seeks to highlight his legacy for a new generation of readers, many of whom already know him from widely shared quotes on social media. Published by The Frederick Buechner Center, and curated by Anne Lamott, the volume samples his essays, sermons, and excerpts from memoirs and novels. The book also features tributes by admirers such as Lamott, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Brian McLaren.
Lamott considers Buechner “America’s most important living theologian,” and says she has been “foisting” his books on friends for thirty years. “I think I can be a pest in my insistence that anyone interested in God, grace, meaning, and truth needs to immerse his or herself in his memoirs, essays, novels and sermons.”
As Buechner turns 90, he has a strong presence on social media. More than 1.6 million people follow his Facebook page, and more than 282,000 people follow Buechner’s Twitter feed, both managed by The Frederick Buechner Center. His famous definition of vocation is one of his most frequently quoted lines, on social media and elsewhere: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
One of the most important writer-theologians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Buechner is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a Pulitzer-nominated writers’ writer. His first novel, A Long Day’s Dying, published not long after his graduation from Princeton University, received enthusiastic reviews. He then surprised all who knew him by entering Union Theological Seminary, where he studied under Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich.
A prolific writer for six decades, Buecher has published more than thirty books in a variety of genres: fiction, autobiography, theology, essays, and sermons. Among his most beloved works are The Book of Bebb, a tetralogy based on the character Leo Bebb; Godric, a first person narrative of the life of the medieval saint, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1981; Secrets in the Dark, a collection of sermons; four volumes of memoir, The Sacred Journey, Now and Then, Telling Secrets, and The Eyes of the Heart; and his best-selling book, Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner.
Running through Buechner’s rich body of work is a timeless call to pay attention to what it means to be human, a message that continues to resonate with readers living amidst the dehumanizing tendencies of the modern world. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “From [Buechner] I have learned that it is only when I give my full attention to what it means to be human that I am granted a glimpse of what it means to be divine.” Other Buechner themes include listening to your life, faith despite doubt, hope through grace, the search for meaning, our shared human story, sinners as saints, and what it means to follow Christ.
Writers influenced by Buechner include his former student, John Irving, who thanked him in the acknowledgements to A Prayer for Owen Meany: “I acknowledge….how much I owe to the writing of my former teacher Frederick Buechner…[His] correspondence, his criticism of the manuscript, and the constancy of his encouragement have meant a great deal….” Reviews have lauded his work as “entrancing…poetically rich…a singularly graceful synthesis of memoir and theological [perspective]” (Washington Post); and “elegant, understated and elegiac…” (Publishers Weekly). The New York Times described Buechner’s nonfiction work as “detective autobiography” for its depiction of the author’s journey toward (in Buechner’s own words) “the continuing dim spectacle of the subterranean presence of grace in the world.”
Anne Lamott captures the essence of Buechner’s ability as a writer, confessing herself blown away by how he manages to be “both plain and majestic at the same time.”
“Frederick Buechner continues to touch the lives of millions with his compassionate insight into the human condition, and his explorations of faith, grace, and hope,” says Brian Allain of The Frederick Buechner Center. “Buechner 101 celebrates his legacy by offering new readers the opportunity to dip into the deep well of his wisdom, experiencing a taste of his work in several genres. Anne Lamott and other reliable guides offer context for those who may be encountering Buechner for the first time.”
The Frederick Buechner Center is in the midst of compiling video interviews with a range of writers, thinkers, clergy, and journalists speaking about Buechner’s legacy and influence on their work. Those videos will be available on the Center’s website, frederickbuechner.com, a rich resource for all things Buechner. The Center maintains Buechner’s social media presence on: