Wheaton College students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in Edman Chapel on Tuesday evening, Oct 24, to hear Esau McCaulley, Beth Moore and Daniel Nayeri share the stories behind their recently-published memoirs “How Far to the Promised Land,” “All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir” and “Everything Sad is Untrue,” respectively.
David Lauber, dean of humanities and theological studies, introduced the panel, and English professor Tiffany Kriner moderated. The event, titled Writing the Life of Faith, was sponsored by Core Studies, the Core Book program, Wheaton College’s English Department, the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, the Conference on Christianity and Literature and the Aequitas Fellows Program in Public Humanities and Arts.
The three authors have each garnered significant following, especially in Christian circles. Moore is the author of dozens of books and devotionals and a preacher who made a prominent exit from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in light of the Convention’s controversial handing of sexual abuse and other issues. All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir is her first book since her 2021 SBC departure.
She encouraged audience members to write their own stories.
“One of the things that was driving me to write is to be able to say to someone listening, Jesus holds when everything else lets go,” said Moore.
McCaulley, professor of New Testament studies, shared Moore’s enthusiasm for writing as an empowering practice. His memoir focuses on his experiences growing up in Huntsville, Alabama and tells of his experiences with “exceptionalism,” which he describes as the narrative that Black people who succeed in the United States are exceptions. He said he writes in part to make a double point that American systems can both equip and be unjust, and that Black people who experience hardship in those systems are not defined by that.
“That was the main thing, the right to be able to join them in protest against the boxes that people put them in,” McCaulley said.
The theme that memoirs can subvert accepted cultural narratives also features prominently in “Everything Sad is Untrue.” Nayeri, who was born in Iran in 1982, fled to Oklahoma with his mother and sister at the age of eight as his mother was escaping persecution for converting to Christianity. “Everything,” his eleventh book, is narrated by a younger version of himself, weaving real and imagined Persian folktales together with anecdotes from his own childhood prior to and in the US.
At Tuesday’s panel, Nayeri said writing is an expression of his Christian faith, not only for the content he includes in his book, but also because he feels close to God while writing.
“When I’m writing I feel as though he’s reading it,” Nayeri said. “And there are some, very few times I feel as though I made him laugh.”
McCaulley, Moore and Nayeri stayed after the symposium’s conclusion to sign books, take pictures and chat with audience members. This was Nayeri’s second engagement at Wheaton this week, following a solo lecture he gave in Armerding Concert Hall on Oct. 23. “Everything Sad is Untrue” is the college’s Core book for the 2023-24 academic year, selected by administrators and faculty members. Each year, students, staff and faculty are encouraged to read and attend events related to the Core book, which is read in first-year seminars and other courses across campus. This year features the first contemporary work chosen as the Core book.
Nayeri unexpectedly thanked Moore for her support of his book, accrediting much of the book’s success to a comment she posted on X, formerly Twitter, after reading it. Moore’s post, he said, resulted in more purchases of his book than the New York Times and NPR’s positive reviews brought.
“Turns out she’s more powerful than the New York Times and NPR,” he said, prompting an uproar of laughter and applause.