Ep. 70—The Flannery-Haunted World—Joshua Hren, John Emmet Clarke

By Thomas V. Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 25, 2020 | In The Catholic Culture Podcast

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This episode features two young Catholic publishers who are doing cutting-edge work to preserve and carry forward the Catholic literary legacy, building on the accomplishments of the great Catholic writers of the 20th century in particular.

The first guest is Joshua Hren, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Wiseblood Books. Wiseblood’s focus is on cultivating and publishing new works that maintain a high standard of literary quality and Catholic vision: featuring up-and-coming writers alongside established successes like Dana Gioia, Samuel Hazo, James Matthew Wilson, and Michael O’Brien.

Besides introducing us to the Wiseblood catalogue, Joshua talks about his own fiction and non-fiction writing and his calling as an editor. He and Thomas discuss issues in Catholic fiction such the danger of a narrow preoccupation with modern neuroses, and flaunting the secular taboo of “cultural appropriation” (e.g., the idea that white authors cannot write black characters).

The second guest is John Emmet Clarke, Editor-in-Chief of Cluny Media. This family business is preserving and reintroducing forgotten Catholic classics of the 20th century, bringing to the surface the submerged lineage of many of our favorite authors—republishing crucial writers like François Mauriac, Charles Peguy, and Romano Guardini.

A recurring theme in both interviews is the influence of Flannery O’Connor. Wiseblood Books is, of course, named after her first novel, though that doesn’t stop Thomas and Joshua from throwing some slight, friendly shade at her dominance over the discussion of 20th-century Catholic “literary” fiction. Meanwhile, John Emmet Clarke says that if she described the South she portrayed as “Christ-haunted”, the Cluny catalogue could be said to be “Flannery-O’Connor-haunted” in a reverse sense, as they publish many authors who influenced her.


Joshua Hren

[4:11] The upcoming Colosseum Summer Institute, a workshop for poets and fiction writers given by Josh Hren and James Matthew Wilson

[9:25] The necessity of “cultural appropriation” in fiction

[12:59] The mission of Wiseblood Books: “Wide-eyed for continuities of beauty and truth”

[15:55] Using short-form publications to generate interest in the Catholic literary heritage

[18:10] Dana Gioia’s crucial support and encouragement

[21:48] Michael O’Brien’s writings for Wiseblood about the Apocalypse and sexual abuse

[24:59] Wiseblood’s newest novel: Samuel Hazo’s If Nobody Calls, I’m Not Home

[27:20] Wiseblood’s residency program bringing promising works-in-progress to fruition

[32:22] Apologia for the role of a fiction editor

[42:43] Joshua’s conversion and marriage story

[50:41] Joshua’s fiction writing: Stream-of-consciousness, poetic prose, people under pressure

[1:05:30] Examining “Christ-haunted fiction” in his How to Read and Write Like a Catholic

[1:13:43] The dominance of Flannery O’Connor in our awareness of 20th-c. Catholic fiction and the need to rediscover other great writers like J.F. Powers

[1:18:24] Is there a narrowness to O’Connor’s focus on uniquely modern neuroses? Contrasts with Tolkien and Manzoni

John Emmet Clarke

[1:26:18] The mission of Cluny Media: promoting the 20th-century Catholic literary tradition

[1:29:46] The process of republishing out-of-print works

[1:32:39] Showing the hidden lineage of well-known Catholic authors; Mauriac’s fiction; writers who influenced O’Connor; Fulton Sheen

[1:41:10] Scholarly works of Ven. Sheen

[1:42:21] New works published by Cluny

[1:44:09] Cluny’s connections to the Dominican Order

[1:46:18] A family business; looking to the past for directions for the future

[1:49:06] Cluny’s distribution partnerships with parishes


Cluny has made a discount offer available to Catholic Culture Podcast listeners. To receive the discount code, sign up to their mailing list at this link and include “Catholic Culture Podcast” in the Affiliation tab of the form. http://eepurl.com/gNrNq1

All of Wiseblood’s offerings are discounted if purchased directly from their website: http://www.wisebloodbooks.com

Colosseum Summer Institute https://www.colosseuminstitute.com/summer-institute.html

Wiseblood Books mentioned in this episode:

Ryan Wilson, How to Think Like a Poet https://www.wisebloodbooks.com/store/p97/How_to_Think_Like_a_Poet%2C_by_Ryan_Wilson.html

Dana Gioia, The Catholic Writer Today and Other Essays https://www.wisebloodbooks.com/store/c4/Wiseblood_Essays_.html

James Matthew Wilson, The River of the Immaculate Conception https://www.wisebloodbooks.com/store/p96/The_River_of_the_Immaculate_Conception.html

Michael D. O’Brien (contributor), Abuse of Sexuality in the Catholic Church https://bit.ly/2UAI2qi

Michael D. O’Brien, The Apocalypse: Warning, Hope & Consolation https://bit.ly/2Ui40iE

Samuel Hazo, If Nobody Calls, I’m Not Home: The Open Letters of Bim Nakely https://bit.ly/3dxda2j

Writings by Joshua Hren mentioned in this episode:

“The First Commandment of Fiction” https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/03/the-first-commandment-of-fiction

“A Crisis of Curiositas” https://www.crisismagazine.com/2019/a-crisis-of-curiositas

Joshua Hren has two forthcoming books: In the Wine Press, his second collection of short stories, from Angelico Press, and How to Read and Write Like a Catholic, from TAN Books. His previously published books are:

This Our Exile: Short Stories https://angelicopress.org/product/this-our-exile/

Middle-Earth and the Return to the Common Good: J.R.R. Tolkien and Political Philosophy https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07K81KLQ5/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1

Cluny Media books mentioned:

Lyra Martyrum: The Poetry of the English Martyrs, 1503-1681 https://www.clunymedia.com/product/lyra-martyrum/

François Mauriac https://www.clunymedia.com/?s=mauriac

Caroline Gordon, The Malefactors https://www.clunymedia.com/product/the-malefactors/

Fulton Sheen https://www.clunymedia.com/?s=sheen

Augustine Di Nioia, O.P., Grace in Season https://www.clunymedia.com/product/grace-in-season/

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Philosophizing in Faith https://www.clunymedia.com/product/philosophizing-in-faith/

Humbert Clerissac, O.P., The Mystery of the Church https://www.clunymedia.com/product/the-mystery-of-the-church/

Past podcast interviews mentioned:

Dana Gioia https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/episode-44-catholics-need-poetry-but-do-we-want-it-dana-gioia/

Samuel Hazo https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/episode-28-introduction-to-maritains-poetic-philosophy-samuel-hazo/

James Matthew Wilson https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/episode-57-river-immaculate-conception-james-matthew-wilson/

Poetry of the English Martyrs https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/ep-69-poetry-english-martyrs-benedict-whalen/

Matthew Minerd on Garrigou-Lagrange https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/episode-38-sacred-monster-matthew-k-minerd/

Theme music: “Franciscan Eyes”, written and performed by Thomas Mirus.

Thomas V. Mirus is a pianist living in New York City. He is the director of audio media for CatholicCulture.org and hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast. See full bio.

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