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(Carl) Frederick Buechner
Frederick Buechner as photographed in 1950 by Carl Van Vechten
Frederick Buechner as photographed in 1950 by Carl Van Vechten
Born July 11, 1926 (1926-07-11) (age 83)
New York City
Occupation Author, Presbyterian Minister
Nationality American
Alma mater Princeton University
Genres Novel, short story, essay, sermon, autobiography, historical fiction
Notable award(s) O. Henry Award, the Rosenthal Award, the Christianity and Literature Belles Lettres Prize
Spouse(s) Judith Buechner

(Carl) Frederick Buechner is an American writer and theologian. Born July 11, 1926 in New York City, he is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of more than thirty published books thus far.[1] His work encompasses many genres, including fiction, autobiography, essays and sermons, and historical fiction, and his career has spanned six decades, making him one of the most prolific writers of the day. Buechner’s books are among the most widely-read in America, and 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 1977; Godric, a first person narrative of the medieval saint, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1981; Brendan, a second historical novel of the 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 inspires his numerous fans 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] As an ordained Presbyterian minister, Buechner brings a unique perspective to his works of fiction and nonfiction alike, and his writings have received great acclaim from both secular and religious audiences. 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.



Frederick Buechner, the eldest son of Carl Frederick and Katherine (Kuhn) Buechner, was born on July 11, 1926 in New York City.[10 ] Two years later, his younger brother James (Jamie) was born. During Buechner’s early childhood the family moved frequently, as Buechner’s father searched for work. In the 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 would change 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, Buechner’s family moved to Bermuda, where they would remain until World War II forced the evacuation of Americans from the island.

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.[12] As Mel Gussow wrote in Merrill’s 1995 obituary: "their friendly competition was an impetus for each becoming a writer."[13] Buechner then enrolled at Princeton University. His college career was interrupted by military service in World War II (1944-6), 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.

During his senior year at Princeton, Buechner received the Irene Glascock Prize for poetry, and he also began working on what was to be 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."[14]

The publication of A Long Day’s Dying was to catapult 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."[15] As a contrast to his initial success, this second publication could not have been more complete, 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.

In 1952, Buechner began lecturing at New York University, and once again received critical acclaim for his short story "The Tiger," published in The New Yorker, which won the O. Henry Award in 1955. Also during this time, he began attending the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, where George Buttrick was pastor. It was during one of Buttrick’s sermons that Buechner heard the words that inspired his ordination: Buttrick described the inward coronation of Christ as taking place in the hearts of those who believe in him "among confession, and tears, and great laughter." The impact of this phrase on Buechner was so great that he eventually entered the Union Theological Seminary in 1954, on a Rockefeller Brothers Theological Fellowship.[16]

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."[17]

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." [18] 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 (equivalent to today's Master of Divinity degree). 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 religious 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."[19] 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 would combine 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."[20] 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."[21]

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."[22]

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."[23] However, in 1968, Buechner received a letter from Charles Price, the chaplain at Harvard, inviting him to give the Noble Lectures series in the winter of 1969. His predecessors in this role were none other than Richard Niebuhr and George Buttrick, and Buechner was both flattered and daunted by the idea of joining so august a group. When he voiced his concerns, Price replied that he should write "something in the area of "religion and letters.""[24] 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."[24] 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. This honesty and openness have continued to draw in readers from all backgrounds, as they find their own human struggles and questions reflected in Buechner’s works.

It was about this time, when Buechner was giving the Noble Lectures, that he came across the character that would prove 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."[25]

The Book of Bebb tetralogy was to prove 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."[25] Not only did the series come pouring out, but in it Buechner also 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 not only nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, but also represented a new genre: historical fiction. Like Leo Bebb, Godric, a 12th century English saint, tells his story in the first person, and Buechner took great steps 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."[26]

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), Secrets in the Dark (2006). 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.[27]

Tributes and Legacy

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."[28]

In the words of The Reverend Samuel Lloyd, 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."[28]

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

"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."[29]

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."[30] 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."[31] 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:

"Ever since the publication of A Long Day's Dying...Frederick Buechner has 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."[32]

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

"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."[33]

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.[28] 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."[28]

The Buechner Institute at King College

Inaugurated in 2008 at 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.

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.

The Buechner Institute sponsors convocations on most Mondays at 10:30 a.m. in Memorial Chapel on the campus of King College 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.

Additionally, the Buechner Institute sponsors the Annual Buechner Lecture. Lecturers have included: • 2008: Frederick Buechner (inaugural lecture) • 2009: Barbara Brown Taylor • 2010: Ron Hansen

A summer symposium on the work of Frederick Buechner will be featured in 2010. Attendees from around the country will spend enjoy a week of reading and entertainment on the Virginia/Tennessee border.

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 Long, Tom Lynch, Brian McLaren, Carrie Newcomer, Kathleen Norris, Katherine Paterson, Eugene Petersen, Charles Pollard, Barbara Brown Taylor, Will Willimon, John Wilson, Philip Yancey, and others.

In the media

Buechner has long been the darling of book critics everywhere, 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 selfpurification 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.”[34] 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.”[35]

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.”[36] 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.”[37]

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."[38] 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 reli-gion, 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.'" [39]

Buechner has also played literary critic himself. In 1980 Buechner reviewed Unfinished Tales of Numenor 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.”[40]

Buechner’s largest presence in the media, however, is through the hundreds of readers who quote his works [41] on a daily basis in articles, blogs, and speeches. Writers include his quotes in pieces for The Flint Times in Michigan [42], The Kansas City Star [43], The West Australian News [44], The Commercial Appeal in Memphis [45] The New Zealand Herald [46], and the Pembroke Observer in Ontario [47].


"This work, filled with recollections of people close to him who have passed on to another life, features a dialogue with his grandmother. Naya, as he calls her, died in 1961 but comes into his study imaginatively for a dialogue about eternal life. When Fred asks her if she sees people she used to know, her answer proves provocative: "Words like see don't do very well on this side of things. But yes, they are here. They are part of what, ever so slowly, we move deeper and deeper toward, or into, or through--whatever the preposition is. They are part of what we begin little by little to un-derstand at last." Much else follows that will pique the inner life of readers willing to move beyond surfaces. Buechner finds in other deceased family members and friends, continuing presences that stir his imagination and induce him to revalue human experience transformed by a loving God." - Richard Griffin [48]

"'Wishful Thinking' is a new lexicon, a dictionary for the restless believer, for the doubter, for anyone who wants to redefine or define more concretely those words that have become an integral part of our daily language—words that we use about God, the universe and, last but never least, humankind. This is Buechner's debonair definition of "doubt": "Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don't have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving." With such wit and wisdom, imagination and innovation, we are led to a fuller awareness and greater understanding of the true relevance of familiar terms to each of our own lives." - Senior Pastor Steve Petty, St. Andrew's By-the-Sea United Methodist Church, San Clemente [49]

"Like all of Buechner's stories, this one will make you laugh and cry. You will also contemplate with wonder that, even among modern fragmented families and sin, love and grace are never far away." - Rev John Congram on The Storm [50]

"In the hands of a less skilled writer, the use of a resurrected conversation partner might seem contrived. Here it successfully combines an intimate conversation with a hint at a revelatory vision. Buechner is neither sentimental nor detached, gloomy nor unduly optimistic. He listens to his fears, anxieties and hopes and illuminates our own experience of the death of those close to us." - David M. May on The Eyes of the Heart: A Memoir of the Lost and Found [51]

"He's sort of earthy, he writes well... What can I say? He writes these little gems and he writes these big ambitious things... The characters are good and they have distinct voices. He's good with voice... Above all else he's a novelist. He's a literary man." - Annie Dillard, author of the best-selling Pilgrim at Tinker Creek [52]

"Those familiar with Buechner will feel like they've run into an old friend in the grocery store. Readers new to the author will probably develop a love affair with his ability to draw you into a story (sometimes with only a line or two) and then, in a few words, give you something you'll never forget. For instance, under the heading "Buechner": "I can't imagine myself with any other name ... If my name were dif-ferent, I would be different. When I tell you my name, I have given you a hold over me that you didn't have before. If you call it out, I stop, look and listen whether I want to or not. 'In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses that his name is Yahweh, and God hasn't had a peaceful moment since.'" - Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Beyond Words, Daily Readings in the ABC's of Faith [53]

"Whether reading "Beyond Words" makes for a happier, easier or more fulfilled life, I couldn't say. This much I know—it does, at least, for the duration of time you're reading it." - Jeff Simon [54]

"In The Sacred Journey, Buechner tells us that we must learn to hear in our lives the sound of the holy. "It is the function of all great preaching," he writes, "and of all great art, to sharpen our hearing to precisely that end." Son of Laughter will not only help one hearthat sound; it is that sound." - Brooke Horvath [55]

"These literary passes at contemporaneity are out of keeping with the biblical tone Mr. Buechner sustains, and with his faithful adherence to the original narrative. Some of the descriptive passages of the biblical countryside are lush and beautifully written, but they seem superfluous -- Technicolor glosses. Writers can try to put flesh on the bones of this story, but finally it resists meddling, modernization, rewriting. The mesmerizing, cryptic original is a hard act to follow." - Lore Dickstein on The Son of Laughter [56]

"The word 'soul' - not always welcome these days in secular culture - is the right word for Buechner. "Telling Se-crets" is unabashedly Christian; ultimately, it's a meditation on the connection between knowing and sharing secrets and discovering the reality of a loving and merciful God." - Frank Levering on Telling Secrets [57]


"There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth." Wishful Thinking[58]

"The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt." The Hungering Dark [59]

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." Now and Then [60]

"You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you've never seen before. A pair of somebody's old shoes can do it. ... You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next." Beyond Words [61]

"All theology, like all fiction, is at its heart autobiography." The Sacred Journey [62]

"It is impossible to conceive how different things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever, wherever, however it did ... for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him." Listening to Your Life [63]

"Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past ... to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back -- in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you." Wishful Thinking [64]

"The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Wishful Thinking [65]

"The world is full of dark shadows, to be sure both the world without and the world within ... But praise and trust him too for the knowledge that what's lost is nothing to what's found, and that all the dark there ever was, set next to light, would scarcely fill a cup." Commencement Address at Union Seminary, Richmond [66]

"Grace is something you can never get but only be given. The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you. I created the universe. I love you. There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.” Wishful Thinking [67]

"The only patriots worth their salt are the ones who love their country enough to see that in a nuclear age it is not going to survive unless the world survives. True patriots are no longer champions of Democracy, Communism, or anything like that but champions of the Human Race. It is not the Homeland that they feel called on to defend at any cost but the planet Earth as Home. If in the interests of making sure we don't blow ourselves off the map once and for all, we end up relinquishing a measure of national sovereignty to some international body, so much the worse for national sovereignty. There is only one Sovereignty that matters ultimately, and it is of another sort altogether." Whistling in the Dark [68]

"Our eyes are just our eyes and not all we have for seeing, maybe not even the best we have for seeing. Facts are all the eye can see, eyes cannot see truth. It's not with the eyes of the head that we see truths like that, but with the eyes of the heart. To see (Jesus) with the heart is to know, in the long run, that his life is the only life worth living." From "Faith by the Book: Author Preaches About Biblical Perspective" by Matt VandeBunte [69]

"I pick the children up at the bottom of the mountain where the orange bus lets them off in the wind. They run for the car like leaves blowing. Not for keeps, to be sure, but at least for the time being, the world has given them back again, and whatever the world chooses to do later on, it can never so much as lay a hand on the having-beenness of this time. The past is inviolate. We are none of us safe, but everything that has happened is safe. In all the vast and empty reaches of the universe it can never be otherwise than that when the orange bus stopped with its red lights blinking, these two children were on it. Their noses were running. One of them dropped a sweater. I drove them home." Listening to Your Life [70]

"[T]he Gospel writers are not really interested primarily in the facts of the birth but in the significance, the meaning for them of that birth just as the people who love us are not really interested primarily in the facts of our births but in what it meant to them when we were born and how for them the world was never the same again, how their whole lives were charged with new significance." The Hungering Dark [71 ]

"You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own." The Sacred Journey [72]

"Martin Luther said once, 'If I were God, I'd kick the world to pieces.' But Martin Luther wasn't God. God is God, and God has never kicked the world to pieces. He keeps re-entering the world. He keeps offering himself to the world by grace, keeps somehow blessing the world, making possible a kind of life which we all, in our deepest being, hunger for." From discussion with reporter Kim Lawton on Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly [73]

"Many an atheist is a believer without knowing it just as many a believer is an atheist without knowing it. You can sincerely believe there is no God and live as though there is. You can sincerely believe there is a God and live as though there isn't." Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC's of Faith [74]

"Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and free-dom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality--not as we expect it to be but as it is--is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love." The Magnificent Defeat [75]

"Maybe it's all utterly meaningless. Maybe it's all unutterably meaningful. If you want to know which, pay attention to what it means to be truly human in a world that half the time we're in love with and half the time scares the hell out of us. Any fiction that helps us pay attention to that is religious fiction. The unexpected sound of your name on somebody's lips. The good dream. The strange coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Even the smallest events hold the greatest clues." Lecture to a Book of the Month Club [76]

"The child is born in the night -- the mother's exhausted flesh, the father's face clenched like a fist -- and nothing is ever the same again." The Hungering Dark [71 ]

"When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am in who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

"For as long as your remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I'm feeling most ghost-like, it's your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I'm feeling sad, it's my consolation. When I'm feeling happy, it's part of why I feel that way.

If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget me, part of who I am will be gone.

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom," the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42). There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well." Listening To Your Life [77]


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Important dates

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
  • July 11, 1926 born in NYC
  • 1936 father commits suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning
  • 1937 family moves to Bermuda until evacuation of Americans at beg. of WWII- 1943 graduates Lawrenceville School (NJ)
  • 1944-6 serves in army
  • 1943-8 attends Princeton University
  • 1948 wins Irene Glascock Prize for Poetry; begins work on his first novel, A Long Day’s Dying
  • 1948-53 teaches English at Lawrenceville
  • 1950 A Long Day’s Dying published
  • 1952 The Season’s Difference published
  • 1953-55 lives in NYC; lecturer at New York University
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
  • 1954 – 8 enrolled at Union Theological Seminary; also works at Harlem employment clinic
  • 1955-6 year off from seminary to write; meets and marries Judith Buechner
  • 1955 short story "The Tiger" wins O. Henry Prize
  • 1958 publishes The Return of Ansel Gibbs; book receives the Rosenthal award
  • June 1, 1958 ordination as an evangelist with B.D. from Union Theological Seminary
  • 1958-1960 chaplain and chairman of Dept. of Religion at Phillips Exeter Academy
  • 1960-7 school minister and teacher of religion at Phillips Exeter Academy; daughters are born
  • 1963-4 sabbatical in VT
  • 1965 The Final Beast published
  • 1966 first theological work The Magnificent Defeat (collection of school sermons) published
  • after 1967 moves with family to Rupert, VT to pursue writing full time
  • 1969 second book of sermons, The Hungering Dark, published
  • 1969 delivers William Belden Noble Lectures at Harvard
  • 1970 Harvard lectures published as The Alphabet of Grace (theological autobiography on a day in his life)
  • 1970 The Entrance to Porlock (retelling of The Wizard of Oz) published
  • 1971 Lion Country published (first of tetralogy on Leo Bebb); nominated for National Book Award
  • 1971 Russell Lecturer at Tufts University
  • 1972 Open Heart (second of tetralogy on Leo Bebb) published
  • 1974 Love Feast (third of tetralogy on Leo Bebb) published
  • 1974 Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC
  • 1974 The Faces of Jesus (book of pictures with text by CFB) published
  • 1976 Lyman Beecher Lecturer at Yale; lectures published in same year as Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale
  • 1977 Treasure Hunt (fourth of tetralogy on Leo Bebb) published
  • 1977 The Book of Bebb published
  • 1977 Telling the Truth: The Gospel in Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale published
  • 1979 Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who published, with illustrations by daughter Katherine
  • 1980 Godric published; Pulitzer Prize finalist
  • 1982 D.D. from Virginia Theological Seminary; archive established at Wheaton College
  • 1982 The Sacred Journey (first volume of autobiography) published
  • 1983 Now and Then published (second volume of autobiography)
  • 1984 A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces published
  • 1985 semester-long teaching position at Wheaton College; offers manuscripts to the college
  • 1987 Christianity and Literature Belles Lettres Prize
  • 1987 Brendan published
  • 1988 Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized published
  • 1990 The Wizard’s Tide published (later re-released as The Christmas Tide)
  • 1991 Telling Secrets (third volume of autobiography) published
  • 1992 Wiersma Lecturer at Calvin College
  • 1992 The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction published
  • 1992 Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner published
  • 1993 The Son of Laughter published
  • 1996 The Longing for Home published
  • 1997 On the Road with the Archangel published
  • 1998 The Storm published
  • 1999 The Eyes of the Heart: A Memoir of the Lost and Found (fourth volume of autobiography) published
  • 2001 Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought to Say) published
  • 2004 Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith published
  • 2006 Secrets in the Dark published
  • 2008 The Buechner Institute inaugurated at King College
  • 2008 The Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany published



Published works

  • 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
  • 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
  • Godric, 1980
  • The Sacred Journey, 1982
  • Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation, 1983
  • A Room Called Remember, 1984
  • Brendan, 1987
  • Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized, 1988
  • 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
  • Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, 2006 (ISBN 0-06-084248-2)
  • The Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany, 2008 (ISBN 0-664-23276-0)

Secondary Literature

Marie-Helene Davies. Laughter in a German Town: The Works of Frederick Buechner 1970-1980. (1983)

Marjorie Casebriar 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)


  1. ^ Buechner Institute Biography. Retrieved 2009-11-05.
  2. ^ Powell's Books - Peculiar Treasures Synopses & Reviews. Retrieved 2009.11.05.
  3. ^ London Free Press
  4. ^ The National Book Awards Winners & Finalists, Since 1950. PDF. Retrieved 2009.11.05.
  5. ^ Harper Collins, Works by Frederick Buechner. Retrieved 2009.11.05
  6. ^ Yale University Honorary Degree Honorands, 1977-2009. PDF. Retrieved 2009.11.05 (a)
  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 2009.11.05
  9. ^ American Academy of Arts and Lectures. Retrieved 2009.11.05
  10. ^ a b Buechner Institute Biography
  11. ^ The Sacred Journey. Repr. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991 pg. 20
  12. ^ The Wheaton Archives. Retrieved 2009.11.05.
  13. ^ Gussow, Mel. "James Merrill Is Dead at 68; Elegant Poet of Love and Loss." The New York Times, February 7, 1995.
  14. ^ The Sacred Journey. Pg. 98
  15. ^ The Sacred Journey. Pg. 107
  16. ^ With current generation of pastors close to retirement, leaders seek young clergy by Sam Hodges. The Dallas Morning News, July 19, 2008. Retrieved 2009.11.05.
  17. ^ Now and Then. Repr. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. Pg. 10
  18. ^ The Sacred Journey
  19. ^ Now and Then. Pg. 47
  20. ^ Now and Then. Pg. 43
  21. ^ Marjorie Casebier McCoy.Frederick Buechner: Novelist and Theologian of the Lost and Found. New York: Harper & Row, 1988
  22. ^ Now and Then. Pg. 77
  23. ^ Now and Then. Pg. 81
  24. ^ a b Now and Then. Pg. 86
  25. ^ a b Now and Then. Pg. 97
  26. ^ Now and Then. Pg. 106
  27. ^ The Conference on Christianity and Literature, 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award, Frederick Buechner, Text of Citation of Award. Retrieved 2009.11.05.
  28. ^ a b c d Barbara Brown Taylor,The Art of the Sermon: a Tribute to Frederick Buechner. April 5, 2006
  29. ^ James Woelfel. "Frederick Buechner: The Novelist as Theologian," in Theology Today Vol. 40, No. 3 October 1983.
  30. ^ Marjorie Casebier McCoy. Frederick Buechner: Novelist and Theologian of the Lost and Found. Pg. 14
  31. ^ David Daiches, New York Times 1950
  32. ^ Christopher Isherwood, USA Today
  33. ^ Brian D. McLaren, author of Everything Must Change
  34. ^ New York Times Book Review.
  35. ^ Reynolds Price, New York Times, April 11, 1982. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  36. ^ New York Times, March 11, 1984. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  37. ^ Washington Post Book Review, 1987.
  38. ^ Rich Barlow. Minister sees divine in everyday struggles . Boston Globe, July 5, 2008. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  39. ^ 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
  40. ^ New York Times Book Review, 1980. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  41. ^ Frederick Buechner quotes. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  42. ^ Volunteering completes the calling by Julia Zaher. The Flint Times. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  43. ^ Kansas City Star.
  44. ^ Discovering a Better Life. Article originally published in The West Australian News. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  45. '^ Working to fill world's 'deep hunger for God, Q & A with Stephen Montgomery. Compiled by Emily Adams Keplinger. The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  46. ^ Dangers of playing the God card by Tapu Misa. The New Zealand Herald. Monday Oct 20, 2008. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  47. ^ Is it really as dreadful as it has been made out? by Peter Youngren. The Pembroke Observer. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  48. ^ Critics' choices for Christmas, Commonweal, 2000
  50. ^ Presbyterian Record, 2000.
  51. ^ The Christian Century, 2000
  52. ^ Eric Convey, Bridging Heaven and Earth - Author brings secular edge to religious writing. The Boston Herald January 9, 2000.
  53. ^ Reading that refreshes As spring takes over, spiritual discipline sometimes takes a nosedive. These books of devotions and stories offers focus, encouragement and surprises. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock), April 17, 2004.
  54. ^ The Buffalo News, June 13, 2004.
  55. ^ The Son of Laughter, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, June 22, 1994.
  56. ^ Jacob: The Novel, The New York Times, September 19, 1993
  57. ^ Painful family secrets point the way to faith, Chicago Tribune, February 10, 1991.
  58. ^ Wishful Thinking, pp. 38-9, 1973
  59. ^ The Hungering Dark, 1968
  60. ^ Now and Then, p. 3, 1983
  61. ^ Beyond Words, p. 321, 2004
  62. ^ The Sacred Journey, p. 1, 1982.
  63. ^ Listening to Your Life, 1992
  64. ^ Wishful Thinking, p.2, 1973"
  65. ^ Wishful Thinking, p. 95 1973
  66. ^ Commencement Address at Union Seminary, Richmond, 1979.
  67. ^ Wishful Thinking, p. 96, 1973
  68. ^ Whistling in the Dark, p. 175- 176, 1988
  69. ^ Faith by the Book: Author preaches about biblical perspective, Grand Rapids Press, 2004.
  70. ^ Listening to Your Life, 1992.
  71. ^ a b The Hungering Dark, 1969
  72. ^ The Sacred Journey, p. 46, 1982
  73. ^ Author and minister Frederick Beuchner discusses meaning of Easter. Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly with Anchor Bob Abernethy and Reporter Kim Lawton. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  74. ^ Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC's of Faith, 2004
  75. ^ The Magnificent Defeat, p. 143, 1985
  76. ^ A Journal of Theological Resources for Ministry, Quarterly Review, Spring 1992. Lecture to a Book of the Month Club. PDF. Retrieved 2009.11.06.
  77. ^ Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Listening_to_Your_Life:_Daily_Meditations_with_Frederick_Buechner.2C_1992; see Help:Cite error.

External links

  • Buechner, part of a film made about Buechner in 2003
  • [1], A faith to live and die with by Dale Brown
  • [2], The Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections
  • [3], The Buechner Institute at King College
  • [4],Profile: Frederick Buechner


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