For this author new beginnings and loose ends

Frank McCourt was 66 when he made his debut with “Angela’s Ashes”.

Harriet Doerr was 74 when she published her first novel, “Stones of Ibarra”.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when she put “The Little House in the Great Woods” into the hands of readers.

Now there’s Michael Kinnamon, who at 72 released “Summer of Love and Evil,” a coming-of-age tale set in a small Midwestern town against a backdrop of classism, myopia and problems. unresolved.

It has been a humbling journey. “It’s very difficult to understand in this fictional world,” Kinnamon says. “A very small number of novels are actually published each year. “

And even if the novel is published, the work of educating readers has only just begun.

Sitting in his house in Del Cerro, flanked by a wall of books, Kinnamon says he got lucky when he sent “Summer of Love and Evil” to Publierati, an independent publishing house known to have picked up literary fiction that might otherwise be ignored. Publierati grabbed it and published it last May.

But small houses tend to have limited resources and influence when it comes to traditional mass marketing. “Plus,” Kinnamon adds, “many bookstores don’t stock books from small publishers.”

Frustration creeps into her soft voice cadence. It’s not a world he’s used to. In his previous world, the world although specialized in religion, Kinnamon was a bit of a rock star.

A prominent Christian theologian, Kinnamon has become a well-known champion of ecumenical and interfaith cooperation and a popular speaker on the academic conference circuit. He has taught seminars and universities for over 30 years, served as dean of two, and spent four years in New York as head of the National Council of Churches.

He is also an ordained minister of the Disciples of Christ who considers it a badge of honor that in 1991 he was not elected general minister and president of his Protestant denomination due to his progressive positions on Christian membership. LGBTQ.

Along the way, Kinnamon has written or edited over 20 books on religion. “People will say, ‘Well, you had publishers before, so that should have given you a chance. “Heaven no,” he said. “The editors that I had before don’t do fiction, and the fiction editors don’t care about these other things at all.”

On the other hand, keep in mind that he got his novel published. This is more than can be said of what happened to him half a century ago. As it turns out, the story of Kinnamon’s journey into this world of fiction writing isn’t so much about reinventing himself as it is about a resurrection.

“Retired literature is not a new beginning,” he concedes. “It’s a return to my original love.”

At first

Kinnamon was a political science student at Brown University in Rhode Island when he went abroad to study in Tel Aviv for a year. He was accepted into schools in London and Edinburgh, but decided “it would be better to go to a place where politics are played than to be studied”.

But Israel is also an epicenter for the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths, and Kinnamon has found himself increasingly interested in religion. Upon his return to Brown, he opted for a major in Religious Studies. For his honors thesis, he wrote a novel.

“It wasn’t released, luckily, because it wasn’t good enough,” he says. “But it got me a grant to write a second novel.”

When this one was also not published, he decided to go to the Divinity School at the University of Chicago to get his doctorate in religion and literature (he was later named Alumnus of the Year of this school for 2013).

After graduation he went to work for the World Council of Churches in Geneva, where he was immersed in theology. “It was like getting a second doctorate,” he says.

From there he began his teaching career: Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, eventually becoming its acting dean; Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky, where he was dean and taught theology and ecumenical studies; and Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. In 2008, he took on the role of general secretary of the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical partnership whose members include more than three dozen Christian groups.

After a visiting professorship at Seattle University, he and his wife, Mardine Davis, who is an art consultant, moved to San Diego in 2015. It was here that he began writing fiction in earnest. .

Free ends and an exam

“Summer of Love and Evil” is set in a small town in Iowa in the summer of 1967. It follows a high school promotion major named Charles who has a summer job on a street crew before heading off to school. ‘university. Charles comes from a wealthy family, while street workers are among the poor. He also begins dating the boss’s daughter, which adds to his growing awareness of inequalities in socioeconomic status and how entire segments of society are being made invisible.

There are other twists and turns, including the hint of the start of the methamphetamine epidemic in small American towns and companies taking over local farms.

But classism is the central message. “I think in the midst of all the attention given to race, we sometimes forget about the class structure in this country,” says Kinnamon. “So here is this little town that has almost no racial diversity but this kid couldn’t even see these people working on the street crew.”

Wanting to give them a face “is also in keeping with my Christian values ​​of humanizing individuals and wanting us to see the reality of lives that would otherwise be ignored.”

In his writings, Kinnamon says he tries to remember to refrain from preaching. “When I first wrote novels in my early twenties, I was filled with great messages. Now I want to tell a good story and let the ideas come through the characters.

He admits he likes the details. “Life doesn’t seem closed to me,” he says. It’s a book, after all, about a summer, a snapshot in time, told in just 229 pages (on my iPad).

These uncontrollable details bothered the book review magazine, Kirkus Reviews, which is pronounced “summer” as “a sincere coming-of-age novel that does not keep its promises.”

But Kinnamon, who notes that bad reviews are part of the deal, is not slowing down.

He’s about to tackle the latest revisions of a novel he titled “A Roof in Jerusalem,” which weaves a love story between an American and an Israeli spanning four decades. Waiting in the wings is a preview of a novel about a stalker called “I allow myself to kiss you”. He says another manuscript, “The Nominee”, is not ready for publication.

His published novel and these other projects draw on his own experiences – to a point. “I’ll tell you a secret that I discovered, and that is the more autobiographical the writing, the worse it is,” he says. “So if I have a framework from which I can work, yes it’s good because you have to write what you know, as they say. But the more I invent it and it is romanticized, the better.

Postscript for a new year

Kinnamon names writers he admires. Among them: Marilynne Robinson, Anne Tyler and Julian Barnes.

“I sit there and marvel at the ability of these writers,” he says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be there, but if I didn’t aspire to write so well, I would sell myself and others short. So every day I look forward to writing better than the day before.

This coming Saturday we turn the calendar to a new year. It is a time when our thoughts turn to new beginnings, moving forward, re-dedicating ourselves.

Think about Kinnamon’s words – about a desire to do better today than yesterday and maybe even better in the New Year than the year before. As resolutions go, whether you’re a 72-year-old novice novelist or just trying to make your way through the world, this one is a keeper.

Dolbee is the former religion and ethics editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a past president of the Religion News Association. Email: [email protected]

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