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Frederick Buechner

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Frederick Buechner

Frederick Buechner
Frederick Buechner as photographed in 1950 by Carl Van Vechten
Frederick Buechner photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1950
Born Carl Frederick Buechner
(1926-07-11) July 11, 1926
New York City
Occupation Author, Presbyterian minister
Nationality American
Alma mater The Lawrenceville School
Princeton University
Genre Novel, short story, essay, sermon, autobiography, historical fiction
Notable awards O. Henry Award, the Rosenthal Award, the Christianity and Literature Belles Lettres Prize
Spouse Judith Buechner

Carl Frederick Buechner (born July 11, 1926) is an American writer and theologian. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of more than thirty published books.[1] His work encompasses different genres, including fiction, autobiography, essays and sermons, and his career has spanned six decades. Buechner's books have been translated into many languages for publication around the world. He is best known for his works A Long Day's Dying (his first work, published in 1950); The Book of Bebb, a tetralogy based on the character Leo Bebb published in 1979; Godric, a first person narrative of the life of the medieval saint, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1981; Brendan, a second novel narrating a saint's life, published in 1987; Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner (1992); and his autobiographical works The Sacred Journey (1982), Now and Then (1983), Telling Secrets (1991), and The Eyes of the Heart: Memoirs of the Lost and Found (1999). He has been called "Major talent" and "…a very good writer indeed" by the New York Times, and "one of our most original storytellers" by USA Today. Annie Dillard (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek) says: "Frederick Buechner is one of our finest writers." [2]

Buechner's work has often been praised for its ability to inspire readers to see the grace in their daily lives. As stated in the London Free Press, "He is one of our great novelists because he is one of our finest religious writers."[3] He has been a finalist for the National Book Award[4] Presented by the National Book Foundation and the Pulitzer Prize,[5] and has been awarded eight honorary degrees from such institutions as Yale University[6] and the Virginia Theological Seminary.[7] In addition, Buechner has been the recipient of the O. Henry Award,[8] the Rosenthal Award, the Christianity and Literature Belles Lettres Prize, and has been recognized by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.[9] He is continually listed among the most read authors by Christian audiences.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Education and military service 1.2
    • Literary success and teaching 1.3
    • Path to ordination 1.4
    • Exeter 1.5
    • Vermont and the Alphabet of Grace 1.6
    • Faith and fiction: The Book of Bebb, Godric, Brendan 1.7
    • Buechner's Sacred Journey: Memoirs 1.8
  • Buechner in Bermuda 2
  • Tributes and legacy 3
  • Buechner Writer's Workshop at Princeton 4
  • The Buechner Institute at King University 5
  • In the media 6
  • Bibliography 7
    • Published works 7.1
    • Secondary literature 7.2
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Early life

Carl Frederick Buechner, the eldest son of Katherine Kuhn and Carl Frederick Buechner Sr., was born on July 11, 1926 in New York City.[10] During Buechner's early childhood the family moved frequently, as Buechner's father searched for work. In The Sacred Journey Buechner recalls: "Virtually every year of my life until I was fourteen, I lived in a different place, had different people to take care of me, went to a different school. The only house that remained constant was the one where my maternal grandparents lived in a suburb of Pittsburgh called East Liberty…Apart from that one house on Woodland Road, home was not a place to me when I was a child. It was people."[11] This changed in 1936, when Buechner's father committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, a result of his conviction that he had been a failure.[10] Immediately afterwards, the family moved to Bermuda, where they remained until World War II forced the evacuation of Americans from the island. In Bermuda, Buechner experienced "the blessed relief of coming out of the dark and unmentionable sadness of my father's life and death into fragrance and greenness and light."[12]

Education and military service

Buechner then attended the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, graduating in 1943. While at Lawrenceville, he met the future Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Merrill; their friendship and rivalry inspired the literary ambitions of both.[13] As Mel Gussow wrote in Merrill's 1995 obituary: "their friendly competition was an impetus for each becoming a writer."[14] Buechner then enrolled at Princeton University. His college career was interrupted by military service in World War II (1944–46), but he returned to graduate with a degree in English in 1948. Upon graduation, he returned to the Lawrenceville School as a teacher of creative writing.

Literary success and teaching

During his senior year at Princeton, Buechner received the Irene Glascock Prize for poetry, and he also began working on his first novel and one of his greatest critical successes: A Long Day's Dying, published in 1950. Of this first book Buechner says,

"I took the title from a passage in Paradise Lost where Adam says to Eve that their expulsion from Paradise "will prove no sudden but a slow pac'd evil,/ A Long Day's Dying to augment our pain," and with the exception of the old lady Maroo, what all the characters seem to be dying of is loneliness, emptiness, sterility, and such preoccupation with themselves and their own problems that they are unable to communicate with each other about anything that really matters to them very much. I am sure that I chose such a melancholy theme partly because it seemed effective and fashionable, but I have no doubt that, like dreams generally, it also reflected the way I felt about at least some dimension of my own life and the lives of those around me."[15]

The publication of A Long Day's Dying catapulted Buechner into early and, in his own words, "undeserved" fame. Buechner's dense, reflective style was compared to Henry James and Marcel Proust, and he was hailed as one of the rising stars of American literature. In a long and distinguished career, A Long Day's Dying continues to be one of Buechner's most successful works, both critically and commercially (it was reissued in 2003). However, his second novel, The Season's Difference, published in 1952, in Buechner's words, "fared as badly as the first one had fared well."[16] The contrast between the success of his first novel and the commercial failure of the second was starkly visible, and it was on this note that Buechner left his teaching position at Lawrenceville to move to New York City and focus on his writing career.

Path to ordination

In 1952, Buechner began lecturing at New York University, and once again received critical acclaim for his short story "The Tiger," published in Union Theological Seminary in 1954, on a Rockefeller Brothers Theological Fellowship.[17]

While at Union, Buechner studied under such renowned theologians as Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and James Muilenberg, who helped Buechner in his search for understanding:

"I wanted to learn about Christ – about the Old Testament, which had been his Bible, and the New Testament, which was the Bible about him; about the history of the church, which had been founded on the faith that through him God had not only revealed his innermost nature and his purpose for the world, but had released into the world a fierce power to draw people into that nature and adapt them to that purpose... No intellectual pursuit had ever aroused in me such intense curiosity, and much more than my intellect was involved, much more than my curiosity aroused. In the unfamiliar setting of a Presbyterian church, of all places, I had been moved to astonished tears which came from so deep inside me that to this day I have never fathomed them, I wanted to learn more about the source of those tears and the object of that astonishment."[18]

Buechner's decision to enter the seminary had come as a great surprise to those who knew him. Even George Buttrick, whose words had so inspired Buechner, observed that, "It would be a shame to lose a good novelist for a mediocre preacher." [19] Nevertheless, Buechner's ministry and writing have ever since served to enhance each other's message.

Following his first year at Union, Buechner decided to take the 1955-6 school year off to continue his writing. In the spring of 1955, shortly before he left Union for the year, Buechner met his wife Judith at a dance given by some family friends. They were married a year later by James Muilenberg in Montclair, N.J., and spent the next four months traveling in Europe. During this year, Buechner also completed his third novel, The Return of Ansel Gibbs.

After his sabbatical, Buechner returned to Union to complete the two further years necessary to receive a Bachelor of Divinity. He was ordained on June 1, 1958 at the same Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church where he had heard George Buttrick preach four years earlier. Buechner was ordained as an evangelist, or minister without pastoral charge. Shortly before graduation, as he considered his future role as minister of a parish, he had received a letter from Robert Russell Wicks, formerly the Dean of the Chapel at Princeton, and now serving as school minister at Phillips Exeter Academy; Wicks had offered him the job of instituting a new, full-time religion department at Exeter. Buechner decided to take the opportunity to return to teaching, and to develop a program that taught religion in depth.


In September 1958, the Buechners moved to Exeter. There, Buechner faced the challenge of creating a new department and academically rigorous curriculum that would challenge the often cynical views of his new students. "My job, as I saw it, was to defend the Christian faith against its "cultured despisers," to use Schleiermacher's phrase. To put it more positively, it was to present the faith as appealingly, honestly, relevantly, and skillfully as I could."[20] During his tenure at Exeter, Buechner taught courses in both the Religion and English departments, and served as school chaplain and minister. Also during this time, the family grew to include three daughters. For the school year 1963-4, the Buechners took a sabbatical on their farm in Rupert, VT, during which time Buechner returned to his writing; his fourth book, The Final Beast, was published in 1965. As the first book he had written since being ordained, The Final Beast represented a new style for Buechner, one in which he combined his dual callings as minister and as author.

Buechner recalls of his accomplishments at Exeter: "All told, we were there for nine years with one year's leave of absence tucked in the middle, and by the time we left, the religion department had grown from only one full-time teacher, namely myself, and about twenty students, to four teachers and something in the neighborhood, as I remember, of three hundred students or more."[21] Among these students was the future author John Irving, who included a quotation from Buechner in the preface of his book A Prayer for Owen Meany. One of Buechner's biographers, Marjorie Casebier McCoy, describes the effect of his time at Exeter as follows: "Buechner in his sermons had been attempting to reach out to the "cultured despisers of religion." The students and faculty at Phillips Exeter had been, for the most part, just that when he had arrived at the school, and it had been they who compelled him to hone his preaching and literary skills to their utmost in order to get a hearing for Christian faith."[22]

Vermont and the Alphabet of Grace

After nine years at Exeter, and the successful establishment of the Religion Department, the Buechners felt that it was time for a change. In the summer of 1967, the whole family moved to their farmhouse in Rupert to live year-round. Buechner describes their house in Now and Then:

"Our house is on the eastern slope of Rupert Mountain, just off a country road, still unpaved then, and five miles from the nearest town…Even at the most unpromising times of year – in mudtime, on bleak, snowless winter days – it is in so many unexpected ways beautiful that even after all this time I have never quite gotten used to it. I have seen other places equally beautiful in my time, but never, anywhere, have I seen one more so."[23]

There Buechner realized the challenge of writing without the structure of school life around him. He describes the creation of his next novel, The Entrance to Porlock, as follows: "…the labor of writing which was so painful that I find it hard, even now, to see beyond the memory of the pain to whatever merit it may have."[24] However, in 1968, Buechner received a letter from Charles Price, the chaplain at [25] Thence came the idea to write about the everyday events of life "as the alphabet through which God, of his grace, spells out his words, his meaning, to us. So The Alphabet of Grace was the title I hit upon, and what I set out to do was to try to describe a single representative day of my life in a way to suggest what there was of God to hear in it."[25] This process showed Buechner a way out of the frustration he had felt while writing The Entrance to Porlock: by drawing on his own experience, he found the means to convey his thoughts through his writing.

Faith and fiction: The Book of Bebb, Godric, Brendan

It was about this time, when Buechner was giving the Noble Lectures, that he came across the character that proved so significant in his later career:

"I was reading a magazine as I waited my turn at a barber shop one day when, triggered by a particular article and the photographs that went with it, there floated up out of some hitherto unexplored subcellar of me a character who was to dominate my life as a writer for the next six years and more. He was a plump, bald, ebullient southerner who had once served five years in a prison on a charge of exposing himself before a group of children and was now the head of a religious diploma mill in Florida and of a seedy, flat-roofed stucco church called the Church of Holy Love, Incorporated. He wore a hat that looked too small for him. He had a trick eyelid that every once in a while fluttered shut on him. His name was Leo Bebb."[26]

The Book of Bebb tetralogy proved to be one of Buechner's most well-known works. Published in the years from 1972–1977, it brought Buechner to a much wider audience, and gained him critical acclaim (Lion Country, the first book in the series, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1971). Of writing the series, Buechner says: "I had never known a man like Leo Bebb and was in most ways quite unlike him myself, but despite that, there was very little I had to do by way of consciously, purposefully inventing him. He came, unexpected and unbidden, from a part of myself no less mysterious and inaccessible than the part where dreams come from; and little by little there came with him a whole world of people and places that was as heretofore unknown to me as Bebb was himself."[26] In this series, Buechner experimented for the first time with first-person narrative, and discovered that this, too, opened new doors. His next work, Godric, published in 1980, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Like Leo Bebb, Godric, a 12th-century English saint, tells his story in the first-person, and Buechner took great care to recreate the sounds and rhythm of his speech.

" Godric came as mysteriously alive for me as Bebb had and, with him, all the people he knew and the whole medieval world he lived in. I had Godric narrate his own life, and despite the problem of developing a language that sounded authentic on his lips without becoming impenetrably archaic, and despite the difficulties of trying to recapture a time and place so unlike my own, the book, like Lion Country before it, came so quickly and with such comparative ease that there were times when I suspected that maybe the old saint himself was not entirely uninvolved in the process, as, were I a saint and were somebody writing a book about me, I would not be entirely uninvolved in the process either."[27]

In Brendan, published in 1987, Buechner once again drew inspiration from the life of a complex man of faith in a bygone era. Experimenting further with the narrative technique Buechner employed to such dramatic effect in Godric, Brendan interweaves history and legend in an evocative portrayal of the sixth-century Irish saint as seen through the eyes of Finn, his childhood friend and loyal follower. Buechner's colorful recreation of the Celtic world of fifteen hundred years ago earned him the Christianity and Literature Belles Lettres Prize in 1987.

Buechner's Sacred Journey: Memoirs

The process of writing Godric once again indicated a new path for Buechner: the writing of his own autobiography. To date, this includes four volumes: The Sacred Journey (1982), Now and Then (1983), Telling Secrets (1991), The Eyes of the Heart (1999). Buechner has thus far published over thirty works, and continues to write more; his latest book, Yellow Leaves, was released in 2008.

In 2007, Buechner was presented with the lifetime achievement award from the Conference on Christianity and Literature.[28]

Buechner in Bermuda

Frederick Buechner's lifelong love affair with Bermuda began with his family's escape from the trauma of his father's suicide. In Telling Secrets, Buechner described "the blessed relief of coming out of the dark and unmentionable sadness of my father's life and death into fragrance and greenness and light."[12] Bermuda was "a place where healing could happen in a way that perhaps would not have been possible anywhere else and to a degree that—even with all the endurance, will, courage we might have been able to muster had we stayed [in New Jersey]—I do not think we could ever have achieved on our own."[29] For a child who had never known familial stability even before his father's death, Bermuda became home. As Buechner explained, "In that never-never land, that Oz of an island, where we had no roots, I found for the first time a sense of being rooted."[30] "All in all it seems to me, looking back, that I lived there with a greater sense of permanence than any place we had lived earlier."[29]

But for the young Buechner Bermuda was also a new world of "magic and mystery,” his own personal Land of Oz.[31] It was Prospero's island from Shakespeare's The Tempest come to life in all its spellbinding wonder.[32][33] It was an island of "brightness and peace"[34] that enabled him finally to see those closest to him as "creatures of our own new legends,”[35] the place where he discovered a best friend in his younger brother, Jamie, as they fished off the terrace of their salmon colored house in Paget—The Moorings, flew kites over the water in the harbor, and braved the pedagogical oddities of the Warwick Academy.[36] It was on this island that was "more dreamlike than any other place I have known since or ever hope to know"[33] where, sitting beside the girl whose mouth turned up at the corners on a crumbling stone wall at Salt Kettle, Buechner first felt the "sweet panic and anguish" of Eros.[37] And so, for those magical years before the outbreak of World War II, Buechner lived like a "king" in Bermuda[38] "with a sense of the magic and mystery of things greater than I had ever experienced this side of Oz."[32]

Bermuda has been a part of Buechner's writing ever since, from the appearance in his first poetic dabblings at Princeton of the kites he and his classmates on the island flew on Good Friday[39] to the pivotal events he touchingly recounts in his soul-stirring memoirs. Even the longings of his fictional characters whose recollections of the "gorgeous smell" of "cedar wood and kerosene stoves and sun-tan oil and horse" and the narrow-gauge trolley with the wicker armchairs[40] echo Buechner's own happy memories of his personal Land of Oz.[41][42][43][44]

Bermuda was also a key source of literary inspiration when Buechner wrote The Storm, which combined elements of Shakespeare's The Tempest with his knowledge of Bermudian life and social structures. A key character in the book was reputedly based upon a socialite living in Hamilton in the 1980s. [citation needed]

As the literary ambassador of pre-World War II Bermuda, Buechner offers readers a vivid guided tour of an enchanted time, recounting in exquisite detail its sights and sounds and smells and tastes: cedar-laden, salt-sweet air; houses of sky blue and rose, lemon yellow and lavender, and pastel green; rain moving in curtains across the harbor; pale pink coral beaches; flat, sweet yellow buns; skies full of gulls; rum swizzles on the balcony at Twenty One; miles of coral roads, their chalky smell drying in the rain after a storm; the battered ferry chugging along with its stern nearly awash under a load of bicycles; the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages, the carriages' fringed roofs, the chime of their bells. For Buechner, this lush detail is all part of the “sense of another time that I will carry with me to the end of my time.”[45]

The images he internalized from those formative years in Bermuda—the "priest trudging down the sun-drenched Bermuda lane, and the man with the beard who met all the ships when they docked and searched all the faces"—would, over time, prove foundational to Buechner's faith as well.[46] Bermuda was, in a way, his family's salvation, "the promised land of pre-World War II Bermuda that we reached through the wilderness and bewilderness of our first shock and grief."[47] It was also a time in Buechner's life marked by intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth and exploration. Bermuda is therefore central to Buechner's theology as he came to view his deliverance in that enchanting isle "as a gift that implies a giver,” an example of that "crazy, holy grace" that sends us experiences not by mere accident of chance but to "open our hearts as well as our eyes."[48] It was in Bermuda that Buechner "caught some bright foreshadowing" of "the secret place of the Most High" that he believed "dwells in all of us as the image of God and in which . . . some part of all of us dwells."[49] This is why, when Buechner's character Rooney in The Final Beast is asked to pick one word to describe the power of Bermuda, she says "life . . . . It had the smell of life to me."[40] Buechner found a new life in Bermuda. It marked a new beginning for him, emotionally and spiritually. "In the midst of all that [the fields of Easter lilies and Bermuda onions, the white coral roads, the pink coral beaches, the aquamarine, turquoise and celery green of the Gulf Stream waters, the fragrant air], for me, everything that had come earlier vanished without a trace."[41]

In fact, despite the evocative imagery of Bermuda throughout Buechner's autobiographical work, his writing actually underrepresents the island's profound and lasting significance to him, in part because conveying the wonder of this magical world that so captivated his imagination, the feeling that has stayed with him all of his life of "living there and breathing that air,” proved a difficult undertaking.[50]

The legacy of Buechner's time in Bermuda has, however, manifested in other respects in his writing and in his life. While he often refers to the natural beauty of Bermuda's island landscape—the "unutterable, blinding blue-green flash of the ocean" and its "unkempt greenness"[45] —and its idyllic island charms—the "narrow-gauge Toonerville Trolley of a railway with wicker armchairs for seats" and the pastel houses "with their blinding white roofs stepped to catch the rain"[51] —the distinctly British flavor of pre-World War II Bermuda also instilled in him an enduring love of English custom and culture. Amidst the sounds and textures Buechner recalls from his days in Bermuda, he writes of "the sound and feel of English money—the heavy coppers and florins and half crowns that weighed down your pockets, the thin little sixpences and threepenny bits, the pound notes with the King's picture on them."[52] Traces of the United Kingdom were all around him: “I remember the public library with a park behind it where a British regiment called the Sherwood Foresters gave band concerts underneath a huge India rubber tree, and a bookstore that smelled the way a new book printed in England does when you first open it.”[53] That smell, "faintly like nutmeg, dry, erudite,” stayed with Buechner the rest of his life.[54] Details from the island's celebration of the coronation of George the Sixth—for which Buechner and his classmates "helped drag brushwood to the top of a hill for a bonfire"[29] and went around "lighting bonfires on all the hills in Bermuda"[53]—appear throughout his memoirs. Thus, in The Eyes of the Heart, Buechner recalls the "royal governor who on state occasions such as the

  • Buechner, part of a film made about Buechner in 2003
  • A faith to live and die with | Sojourners | Find Articles at BNET, A faith to live and die with by Dale Brown
  • Frederick Buechner Papers, 1926–2006 | Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections, The Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections
  • [1], The Buechner Institute at King College
  • Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly . PROFILE . Frederick Buechner . May 5, 2006 | PBS, Profile: Frederick Buechner
  • Interview with Frederick Buechner on Dale Brown's "The Book of Buechner" by
  • Interview with Frederick Buechner on the gifts of aging and "Yellow Leaves" by
  • "The Opening of Veins", 1990 Whiting Writers' Award Keynote Speech
  • [2], Frederick Buechner Center

External links

  1. ^ Buechner Institute Biography. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  2. ^ Synopses & ReviewsPeculiar TreasuresPowell's Books – . Retrieved 2009.11.05.
  3. ^ London Free Press
  4. ^ The National Book Awards Winners & Finalists, Since 1950. PDF. Retrieved 2009.11.05. Archived July 16, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Works by Frederick Buechner. (March 24, 2010). Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  6. ^ Yale University Honorary Degree Honorands, 1977–2009. PDF. Retrieved 2009.11.05.
  7. ^ Frederick Buechner Papers, 1926–2006, Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections. Retrieved 2009.11.05.
  8. ^ Frederick Buechner Papers, 1926–2006. Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  9. ^ American Academy of Arts and Lectures. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  10. ^ a b Buechner Institute Biography. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  11. ^ The Sacred Journey. Repr. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1991 p. 20
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ The Wheaton Archives. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  14. ^ Gussow, Mel. "James Merrill Is Dead at 68; Elegant Poet of Love and Loss." The New York Times, February 7, 1995.
  15. ^ The Sacred Journey. p. 98
  16. ^ The Sacred Journey. p. 107
  17. ^ Sam Hodges With current generation of pastors close to retirement, leaders seek young clergy. The Dallas Morning News, July 19, 2008. Retrieved 2009.11.05.
  18. ^ Now and Then. Repr. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1991. p. 10
  19. ^ The Sacred Journey
  20. ^ Now and Then, p. 47
  21. ^ Now and Then, p. 43
  22. ^ Marjorie Casebier McCoy.Frederick Buechner: Novelist and Theologian of the Lost and Found. New York: Harper & Row, 1988
  23. ^ Now and Then, p. 77
  24. ^ Now and Then, p. 81
  25. ^ a b Now and Then, p. 86
  26. ^ a b Now and Then, p. 97
  27. ^ Now and Then, p. 106
  28. ^ The Conference on Christianity and Literature, 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award, Frederick Buechner, Text of Citation of Award. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
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  58. ^ The London Times Literary Supplement hailed Buechner's portrayal of the 12th-century saint: "In the extraordinary figure of Godric, both stubborn outsider and true child of God, both worldly and unworldly, Frederick Buechner has found an ideal means of exploring the nature of spirituality. Godric is a living battleground where God fights it out with the world, the Flesh, and the Devil."
  59. ^ a b c Barbara Brown Taylor,The Art of the Sermon: a Tribute to Frederick Buechner. April 5, 2006
  60. ^ Reverend Samuel Lloyd,The Art of the Sermon: a Tribute to Frederick Buechner. April 5, 2006
  61. ^ James Woelfel. "Frederick Buechner: The Novelist as Theologian," in Theology Today Vol. 40, No. October 3, 1983.
  62. ^ Marjorie Casebier McCoy. Frederick Buechner: Novelist and Theologian of the Lost and Found. p. 14
  63. ^ David Daiches, New York Times 1950
  64. ^ Christopher Isherwood, USA Today
  65. ^ Brian D. McLaren, author of Everything Must Change
  66. ^ New York Times Book Review.
  67. ^ Reynolds Price, New York Times, April 11, 1982. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  68. ^ In Short. New York Times, March 11, 1984. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  69. ^ Washington Post Book Review, 1987.
  70. ^ Rich Barlow. '' Minister sees divine in everyday struggles' Boston Globe, July 5, 2008. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  71. ^ Richard Kauffman, Ordained to write: an interview with Frederick Buechner; Speak What We Feel Not What We Ought To Say; Interview, The Christian Century, September 11, 2002
  72. ^ Featured Author: J. R. R. Tolkien. New York Times. 1980. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  73. ^ Frederick Buechner quotes. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  74. ^ Julia Zaher ''Volunteering completes the calling'. The Flint Times. (December 28, 2008). Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  75. ^ Kansas City Star. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  76. ^ Discovering a Better Life. Article originally published in The West Australian News. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  77. ^ ''Working to fill world's 'deep hunger for God''', Q & A with Stephen Montgomery. Compiled by Emily Adams Keplinger. The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved on 2011-08-03.
  78. ^
  79. ^ Peter Youngren Is it really as dreadful as it has been made out?. The Pembroke Observer. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  80. ^ Ten Poets Anthology, ed. Anthony Harrigan, East Dorset, VT: n.p., 1947, pp. 6–7.
  81. ^ Quarterly Review of Literature (Princeton), v. 19 (1974), pp. 477–480.
  82. ^ Anglican Theological Review, v. 62 (April 1980), p. 152.
  83. ^ Blair and Ketchum's Country Journal, v. 10 (August 1983), p. 81.


  • Marie-Helene Davies. Laughter in a Genevan Gown: The Works of Frederick Buechner 1970–1980. (1983)
  • Marjorie Casebier McCoy. Frederick Buechner: Novelist and Theologian of the Lost and Found. (1988)
  • Victoria S. Allen. Listening to Life: Psychology and Spirituality in the Writings of Frederick Buechner. (2002)
  • Dale Brown. The Book of Buechner: A Journey Through His Writings. (2006)

Secondary literature

  • Bred In The Bone: An Anthology, 1945 (student poems commemorating the end of WWII / Princeton University / 325 printed)
  • "The Fat Man's Prescriptions I-IX", 1947 (poetry) [80]
  • A Long Day's Dying, 1950
  • The Seasons' Difference, 1952
  • The Return of Ansel Gibbs, 1958
  • The Final Beast, 1965
  • The Magnificent Defeat, 1966
  • The Hungering Dark, 1968
  • The Entrance to Porlock, 1970
  • The Alphabet of Grace, 1970
  • Lion Country, 1971
  • Open Heart, 1972
  • Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, 1973
  • Love Feast, 1974
  • "Family Scenes", 1974 (poetry) [81]
  • Faces of Jesus: A Life Story, 1974
  • Treasure Hunt, 1977
  • Telling the Truth: The Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, 1977
  • Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who's Who, 1979
  • The Book of Bebb, 1979
  • "The Wedding at Cana", 1980 (poetry) [82]
  • Godric, 1980
  • The Sacred Journey, 1982
  • Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation, 1983
  • "Follensby Pond", 1983 (poetry) [83]
  • A Room Called Remember, 1984
  • Brendan, 1987
  • Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized, 1988
  • The Wizard's Tide, 1990 (later re-released as The Christmas Tide: A Story, 2005)
  • Telling Secrets, a Memoir, 1991
  • The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction, 1992
  • Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner, 1992
  • The Son of Laughter, 1993
  • The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections, 1996
  • On the Road With the Archangel, 1997
  • The Storm, 1998
  • The Eyes of the Heart: A Memoir of the Lost and Found, 1999
  • Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought to Say): Reflections on Literature and Faith, 2004
  • Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC's of Faith, 2004
  • The Christmas Tide: A Story, 2005 (previously released as The Wizard's Tide, 1990)
  • Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, 2006 (ISBN 978-0-06-084248-2)
  • The Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany, 2008 (ISBN 978-0-664-23276-4)

Published works


Buechner's largest presence in the media, however, is through the hundreds of readers who quote his works[73] on a daily basis in articles, blogs, and speeches. Writers include his quotes in pieces for The Flint Times in Michigan,[74] The Kansas City Star,[75] The West Australian News,[76] The Commercial Appeal in Memphis,[77] The New Zealand Herald,[78] and the Pembroke Observer in Ontario.[79]

Buechner has also played literary critic himself. In 1980 Buechner reviewed Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth by J. R. R. Tolkien, noting that the book was "in short, a production less of Tolkien himself than of the Tolkien industry."[72]

In 2008, the 50th anniversary of Buechner's ordination, Rich Barlowe wrote of Buechner in the Boston Globe, "Who knows? The words are Frederick Buechner's mantra. Over the course of an hourlong chat with the writer and Presbyterian minister in his kitchen, they recur any number of times in response to questions about his faith and theology. Dogmatic religious believers would dismiss the two words as the warning shot of doubt. But for Buechner, it is precisely our doubts and struggles that mark us as human. And that insight girds his theological twist on Socrates: The unexamined human life is a lost chance to behold the divine."[70] In 2002, Richard Kauffman interviewed Buechner for The Christian Century upon the publication of Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought to Say). Buechner answered the question "Do you envision a particular audience when you write?" by saying "I always hope to reach people who don't want to touch religion with a ten-foot pole. The cultured despisers of religion, Sehleiermacher called them. Maybe some of my books reach them. But most of my readers, as far as I can tell, aren't that type. Many of them are ministers. They say, 'You've given us something back we lost and opened up doors we didn't think could be opened for people.'"[71]

Buechner has occasionally been accused of being too "preachy;” a 1984 review by Anna Shapiro in the New York Times notes "But for all the colloquialism, there is something, well, preachy and a little unctuous about making yourself an exemplar of faith. Insights that would do for a paragraph are dragged out with a doggedness that will presumably bring the idea home to even the most resistant and inattentive."[68] The sentiments expressed by Cecelia Holland's 1987 Washington Post review of Buechner's novel, Brendan, are far more common. She writes,“In our own time, when religion is debased, an electronic game show, an insult to the thirsty soul, Buechner's novel proves again the power of faith, to lift us up, to hold us straight, to send us on again."[69]

Buechner's work has been praised highly by many reviewers of books, with the distinct exception of his second novel, The Season's Difference, which was universally panned by critics and remains his biggest commercial flop. His later novels, including the Book of Bebb series and Godric, received hearty praise; in his 1980 review of Godric, Benjamin DeMott summed up a host of positive reviews, saying "All on his own, Mr. Buechner has managed to reinvent projects of self-purification and of faith as piquant matter for contemporary fiction, producing in a single decade a quintet of books each of which is individual in concerns and knowledge, and notable for literary finish."[66] In 1982, author Reynolds Price greeted Buechner's The Sacred Journey as "a rich new vein for Buechner – a kind of detective autobiography" and "[t]he result is a short but fascinating and, in its own terms, beautifully successful experiment."[67]

In the media

The work of the Institute is guided by a local Governing Board and a National Advisory Board. National board members include Doris Betts, Walter Brueggemann, Scott Cairns, Michael Card, Elizabeth Dewberry, Tim Gautreaux, Philip Gulley, Ron Hansen, Roy Herron, Silas House, Richard Hughes, Thomas G. Long, Tom Lynch, Brian McLaren, Carrie Newcomer, Kathleen Norris, Katherine Paterson, Eugene H. Peterson, Charles Pollard, Barbara Brown Taylor, Will Willimon, John Wilson, Philip Yancey, and others.

A summer symposium on the work of Frederick Buechner, Buechnerfest, was featured in 2010 and 2012. Attendees from around the country spent a week of reading and entertainment on the Virginia/Tennessee border.

Additionally, the Buechner Institute sponsors the Annual Buechner Lecture. The following is the list of lecturers invited to speak thus far:

The Buechner Institute sponsors convocations on most Mondays at 9:15 a.m. in Memorial Chapel on the campus of King University that feature speakers from a variety of backgrounds who examine the ways in which faith informs art and public life and cultivate conversation about what faith has to do with books, politics, social discourse, music, visual arts, and more.

Dale Brown, the founding director of the Buechner Institute, is the author of numerous articles and the recent critical biography, The Book of Buechner: A Journey Through His Writings.

Inaugurated in 2008 at King University the former King College, the Buechner Institute is dedicated to the work and example of Frederick Buechner, exploring the intersections and collisions of faith and culture that define our times.

The Buechner Institute at King University

Princeton Theological Seminary is hosting a Buechner Writing Workshop June 9-12, 2015. Speakers at the workshop include authors Barbara Brown Taylor, Rachel Held Evans, and Philip Gulley, and President of Princeton, Dr. M. Craig Barnes.

Buechner Writer's Workshop at Princeton

Throughout Buechner's work his hallmark as a theologian and autobiographer is his regard for the appearance of the divine in daily life. By examining the day-to-day workings of his own life, Buechner seeks to find God's hand at work, thus leading his audience by example to similar introspection. The Reverend Samuel Lloyd describes his "capacity to see into the heart of every day," an ability that reflects the significance of daily events onto the reader's life as well.[59] In the words of the preacher Barbara Brown Taylor: "From [Buechner] I've learned that the only limit to the revelation going on all around me is my willingness to turn aside and look."[59]

"I have no desire to analyze what makes Buechner's writing and preaching so extraordinary. Neither do I want to account for Bob Dylan's raspy mystique, the peculiar beauty of a rainbow trout in a riffle, or a thunderstorm's magnetic terror. I simply want to enjoy them. They all knock me out of analysis and smack me clear into pleasure and awe."[65]

Of his more recent style, the pastor and author Brian D. McLaren says:

"Ever since the publication of A Long Day's Dying...Frederick Buechner has been one of our most interesting and least predictable writers. Others might have repeated their success or failures, but he has not. From the sophisticated urban world of that first book, through The Return of Ansel Gibbs with its world of politics and public affairs, to the private, half-haunted pastoral world of The Entrance to Porlock, he has created a series of novels of startlingly different moods and manners, people and places. The one constant has been the masterful use of great stylistic powers to organize and control his highly original and complex vision of life."[64]

Buechner's combination of literary style with approachable, universally applicable subject matter has, to many of his fans, revolutionized contemporary Christian literature: "In my view, Buechner is doing a distinctively new thing on the literary scene, writing novels that are theologically exciting without becoming propaganda, and doing theology with artistic style and imagination."[62] Buechner's earliest works, written before his entrance into Union Theological Seminary, were hailed as profoundly literary works, notable for their dense, descriptive style. Of his first novel, A Long Day's Dying, David Daiches wrote: "There is a quality of civilized perception here, a sensitive and plastic handling of English prose and an ability to penetrate to the evanescent core of a human situation, all proclaiming major talent."[63] From this promising beginning, however, it has been the application of Buechner's literary talent to theological issues that has continued to fascinate his audience:

"Buechner's theological efforts are never systematic treatises but instead short, highly literary productions in most of which he draws explicit links with fiction-writing generally and his own fiction in particular...Buechner's 1969 Noble Lectures at Harvard, published in 1970 as The Alphabet of Grace, comprise a slender volume which is one of his most important and revealing works. Here the intimate relationship Buechner sees among fiction, theology, and autobiography is first made clear and fully embodied; and the book itself is a thoroughly lyrical piece."[61]

Buechner's readers are intrigued and inspired by the confluence of genres within his works:

In the words of The Reverend Samuel Lloyd, former dean of Washington National Cathedral, Buechner's words "have nurtured the lives of untold seekers and followers" through "his capacity to see into the heart of every day."[60]

In 2001, Californian rock band, "Daniel Amos" released a double album titled "Mr. Buechner's Dream." The album contains over thirty songs and pays tribute to Frederick Buechner, "who has been a major inspiration on the band's lyrics for years." The C.D. version of the album contains a picture of Buechner holding a note which says "I enjoyed my dream."

Frederick Buechner is among the most widely read contemporary Christian authors. His popularity is attested by numerous awards and honorary degrees, and by the words of his many fans: "To this day, you've remained one of my best angels, and not just mine, but all of ours who, week after week, trust that our nicked and ragged selves, however hard we try to press them, will somehow serve to bring God's truth to life."[59]

Honorary Doctorates
Virginia Theological Seminary 1982
Lafayette College 1984
Lehigh University 1987
Cornell College 1989
Yale University 1990
The University of the South 1996
Susquehanna University 1998
Wake Forest University 2000
King College 2008
Awards and Honors
Irene Glascock Prize for Poetry 1948
O. Henry Award for "The Tiger" 1955
Rosenthal Award for The Return of Ansel Gibbs 1959
Fiction Finalist, National Book Award for Lion Country 1972
Finalist, Pulitzer Prize for Godric 1981
American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters 1982
Christianity and Literature Belles Lettres Prize 1987
Critics' Choice Books Award for Fiction for Son of Laughter 1994

Tributes and legacy

The literary imagination that first started to hum in Bermuda ultimately found in Great Britain the inspiration for some of Buechner's most influential and acclaimed works of fiction. Buechner's Godric tells the story of Saint Godric of Finchale from the first-person perspective of the 12th-century English saint himself. In this pivotal work, Buechner took great care to recreate the sounds and rhythm of Godric's speech. This fictional retelling of the saint's life earned Buechner a Pulitzer Prize nomination and garnered the respect of critics in the United States and the United Kingdom.[58] In Brendan, Buechner returned to the fertile territory of early Christian mythology. Again, Buechner painstakingly recreated a foregone era on the British Isles.

Later this affinity for Great Britain prompted Buechner to make frequent sojourns and visits to the United Kingdom. He cultivated profound, enduring, and mutually supportive relationships with prominent Britons. He spoke regularly at Westminster Abbey and Salisbury and was friendly with former deans, The Very Rev. Michael Mayne (Westminster)[55] and The Very Rev. Hugh Dickinson (Salisbury).[56] In fact, his most recent collection, The Yellow Leaves, was dedicated to the memory of Michael Mayne and, with love, to his wife Allison. In that work, Buechner expresses "the feeling that from the beginning I had had in England that in some sense I had come home, the feeling I had always had, in Westminster Abbey especially, that all the dead past enshrined there was far from dead in me."[57]


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