Writing for Cable Street, Dana Delibovi interviews Senior Fellow Paul Elie on his various projects (including the American Pilgrimage Project), his love of narrative, his Catholic faith, and his approach to writing. They discuss how the story of a journey of faith, regardless of belief, can be instructive for any artist in the development of both craft and way of life.
Paul Elie is a senior fellow with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the director of the American Pilgrimage Project, a university partnership with StoryCorps based in the Berkley Center. His work deals primarily with the ways religious ideas are given expression in literature, the arts, music, and culture in the broadest sense. In the American Pilgrimage Project he examines the ways religious beliefs inform the experiences of the American people at crucial moments in their lives. Elie is also the moderator of Georgetown's Faith and Culture Series, a series of public conversations about the interaction of religion, art, literature, and society. He is the author of two books. The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) is a group portrait of four twentieth-century Catholic writers (Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day). Reinventing Bach (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) chronicles the transformation of Bach's music through recording technology in the hands of great musicians (Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, Glenn Gould, Yo-Yo Ma, et al.). Both books were National Book Critics Circle Award finalists, and The Life You Save May Be Your Own received the PEN / Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction, a Christopher Award, and two Modern Language Association book prizes.
His essays and journalism have addressed the intersection of literature, the arts, religion and society in our time. His November 2016 New York Times Magazine cover story “The Passion of Martin Scorsese” delved into Scorsese’s film adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence. Vanity Fair published his profile of Pope Francis and his twenty-fifth anniversary reconsideration of the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses. The Atlantic has published his articles about the Anglican church and sexuality, the resurgence of interest in Reinhold Neibuhr's religious realism, and the process of selecting a new pope; “The Year of Two Popes,” a cover story for the Atlantic in 2006, is the most comprehensive account of the Vatican's inner workings ever published in an American magazine. The New York Times Magazine has published Elie’s articles about conflicts between Catholic and Jewish leaders, the contested legacy of John Cardinal O'Connor, and the divisive prospect of Dorothy Day's canonization. In a 2004 lecture at Boston College Elie considered the priestly sexual abuse crisis from the perspective of bewildered younger Catholics; a subsequent essay was reprinted in the Best American Catholic Writing in 2005. He also contributed an afterword to Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Death Penalty (Seven Stories Press, 2015), by Mario Marazziti, an Italian parliamentarian and founding member of the Community of Sant'Egidio in Rome.
Before joining Georgetown University Elie worked for two decades in book publishing as a senior editor with Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York, acquiring and editing books about religion and other subjects. He taught nonfiction writing in Columbia's Graduate Writing Program from 2007 to 2011. Elie is a graduate of Fordham University (B.A., summa cum laude, honors, 1987) and the Graduate Writing Program in the School of the Arts at Columbia University (MFA, 1991).