Elie, Paul 1965-
ELIE, Paul 1965-
Born 1965, in NY; married Lenora Todaro. Education: Fordham University, B.A. (English); Columbia University, M.F.A.
Writer and editor. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, NY, 1993—, became a senior editor.
National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 2004, for The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage.
(Editor) A Tremor of Bliss: Contemporary Writing on the Saints, introduction by Robert Coles, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1994.
The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including New Republic, New York Times Magazine, Commonweal, and Spy.
Paul Elie was born into a Roman Catholic family and received a Jesuit education at Fordham University. An English major, he took courses in theology, philosophy, and religious art and read books by the four people who became the subjects of his second book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage. They are Flannery O'Conner, the only one of the four born Catholic, and converts Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy. Elie has for many years been an editor at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, a publishing house that released the works of O'Connor, Merton, and Percy. As an editor, Elie has also assembled the writings of twenty contemporary authors for A Tremor of Bliss: Contemporary Writers on the Saints.
The four subjects of The Life You Save May Be Your Own produced their most influential writings from the 1930s through the 1960s, a period when Catholicism was in favor and evident in films like The Bells of St. Mary's and Going My Way. There were many people who were converting to Catholicism at the time, as well as activist priests influencing society by becoming involved in the industrial union movement. However, the popularity of the Church waned with the changes that resulted from the Second Vatican Council.
Flannery O'Connor, a Georgia farm girl, died of lupus at thirty-nine in 1964. Her illness caused her to withdrew from a world steeped in fundamentalism to write her fiction, which details the lives of the rural poor in the Protestant South. Much of her work reflects her obsession with the grotesque. Thomas Merton, who lived from 1915 to 1968, could have remained in New York and enjoyed success as a doctor or a writer, but instead he chose to become a cloistered Trappist monk who read medieval philosophy. His autobiography of converting to Catholicism became the 1948 best seller The Seven Story Mountain. Merton's writings often blend Christian and Eastern spirituality, ensuring their continued popularity with a variety of readers. Another writer in Elie's book is Walker Percy (1916-1990). He came from an aristocratic Southern family, read Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Sartre, and Camus, and wrote existentialist essays before completing his award-winning novel, The Moviegoer, and half a dozen others.
All three of these subjects in this volume were defined by their writing, but Dorothy Day was different. Day, who lived from 1897 to 1980, founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933 with Peter Maurin to serve the Depression-era poor of New York's Lower East Side. She had a significant influence on unionism, the welfare of the poor, and pacifism. She published eight books of fiction and memoirs, but her most influential writings were to be found in her weekly column in the Catholic Worker. Because of her devotion to, and agitation on behalf of, civil rights, economic justice, and peace, many have proposed that Day be named a saint. That may never happen, however, unless the Vatican can overlook her politics, many love affairs, an abortion, and the fact that she had a child out of wedlock. Her influence is felt to this day, as her movement continues through housing, communal farms, and nutrition programs that give people in need a leg up and often a new start on life.
In an interview for Publishers Weekly, Elie told Michael Coffey that "there is more 'Catholic' writing coming.…Today, if you've been raised in the Catholic tradition, you have to figure it out for yourself. It doesn't come with mother's milk the way it did in the parochial school era, so you have to put the pieces together." The author also said, "It has struck me often that here is a big book, essentially sympathetic to religion, at a time when it seems that nothing but bad things are being done in religion's name. At present, religion is being presented as a mass phenomenon, wholly public, closely overlapping with notions of state and nation. I like to think that my book gives an account of the aspects of religion that might be overlooked—inwardness, the sense of individual personal calling, the constant putting of faith to the test through the encounter with the unbeliever within."
Of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, Charles R. Morris wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "Elie's fine study is a freeze frame from another era of the perennial search for truth in a world that lacks self-evident truths, and of four idiosyncratic searchers who sought their own ways to pass it on." Patrick Giles commented in the Los Angeles Times that the book "renders these life studies as religious narratives—pilgrimage narratives.… Elie weaves their journeys into a tapestry of American Catholicism's incursion into secular life and art. His is a labor of devotion as well as examination, part apologia, part apotheosis. It succeeds because of Elie's skills as a writer and because he is addressing the right subject at the right time."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Boston Globe, May 18, 2003, Laura Claridge, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, p. H8; August 10, 2003, Katherine Powers, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, p. H9.
Christian Century, May 31, 2003, Joseph Cunneen, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, p. 23.
Commonweal, March 10, 1995, Anna Harrison, review of A Tremor of Bliss: Contemporary Writing on the Saints, p. 24; May 4, 2001, Valerie Sayers, "Being a Writer, Being Catholic: Sometimes the Twain Can Meet," p. 12.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1994, review of A Tremor of Bliss, p. 1239; February 1, 2003, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, p. 203.
Library Journal, November 1, 1994, L. Kriz, review of A Tremor of Bliss, p. 81.
Los Angeles Times, August 24, 2003, Patrick Giles, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, p. R10.
Nation, June 16, 2003, Vince Passaro, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, p. 26.
New Criterion, June, 2003, Mary Ellen Bork, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, p. 82.
Newsweek, May 19, 2003, Kenneth L. Woodward, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, p. 20.
New York Times Book Review, May 18, 2003, Charles R. Morris, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, October 10, 1994, review of A Tremor of Bliss, p. 59; March 10, 2003, review ofThe Life You Save May Be Your Own, pp. 63-64; April 7, 2003, Michael Coffey, "Paul Elie: Reading Books With Our Lives," pp. 38-39.
Time, April 14, 2003, Lance Morrow, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, p. 84.
Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2003, Christopher Willcox, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, p. D8.
Washington Post, June 1, 2003, Charlotte Allen, review of The Life You Save May Be Your Own.
Christianity Today Online,http://www.christianitytoday.com/ (June 3, 2003), Dick Staub, "The Dick Staub Interview: Paul Elie on 'The Holy Ghost School.'"*