Enter below for a chance to win a signed copy of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn!
I love Christian fiction. But one thing that sometimes bothers me about the genre is its color…or lack thereof.
Oh, the covers might be beautifully colorful, with lavish historical costumes and inviting landscapes. But with a few notable exceptions, the main characters are almost always… white.
Never mind the large and vibrant populations of Asian-American, African-American, and Hispanic-American Christians in this land—in most Christian novels, non-Caucasian characters seem largely relegated to minor or sidekick roles, much like in most Hollywood movies.
Quality books with culturally diverse characters do exist, like Neta Jackson’s Yada Yada series and even an occasional historical like Lynn Austin’s A Light to My Path. But they’re few and far between, and seldom in the spotlight. It’s not just that writers aren’t writing characters of color, but that those who do, or who come from non-white backgrounds themselves, tend to have a tougher sell no matter how strong their stories.
It grieves me. Shouldn’t Christian artists be the ones to lead the way in embracing diversity, with verses like Acts 17:26 and John 17:22-23 to set us straight? I know I don’t understand all the complexities behind this issue. Still, I wish as writers, readers, and publishers, we might find a way to come together in representing more the fullness of Christ’s body in the books we write to honor Him.
That’s just one reason why I love Lori Benton and her books so much. Her triple Christy Award-winning debut novel Burning Sky has been gathering awards like bees to nectar this past year, and deservedly so. And while Burning Sky has a strongly sympathetic and accurate Native American component, including a Mohawk main character, it has broken into the mainstream Christian historical fiction market with an epic splash.
Of course, Lori’s breathtakingly beautiful writing and story-craft have something to do with that. And now, just this spring, she has released a second novel, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn. I was so excited when my package from Amazon finally arrived containing this book…and it even exceeded my high expectations after Burning Sky.
Once again, Lori gently pushes the cultural boundaries of the Christian market (I won’t tell you how—I’d give away some important points of the story!). Yet she does so while staying solidly within the historical romance framework established in mainstream Christian fiction, albeit one of unusual beauty, novelty, and depth. It’s been some time since I LOVED a story like I did this one.
Tamsen Littlejohn has been raised in wealth and privilege, yet to escape her scheming stepfather’s talons, she flees into the early North Carolina wilderness under the unexpected protection of frontiersman Jesse Bird and his mysterious adopted father Cade. It’s a journey that tests her courage, endurance, and faith, yet as she lets herself be stretched and grown, Tamsen finds new life and love and becomes who she was meant to be.
It’s an exquisite treat of a book, and one the Lord spoke to me through as well…one night a character read to another just the scripture I needed to hear. In the eighteenth century language I didn’t even recognize the familiar text at first, until recognition broke through and brought tears to my eyes.
So…drumroll please! Like the gracious lady she is, Lori Benton has offered to give away one signed copy of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn on this blog! To enter the drawing, please comment below with your email address by Monday, July 28. The winner will be announced Wednesday, July 30. And win or not, please do check out The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, as well as Burning Sky. Whether you’re interested in history and cultures or just love a good book, I think you’ll be blessed!
Do you think characters (and writers) from ethnically diverse backgrounds are underrepresented in Christian fiction? If so, does this bother you? What do you think we should do about it?
I’d hate to know the percentage of non-Anglo main characters in Christian fiction. No matter what it is, it isn’t reflective of reality. Not at all.
What should we do?
Well, I’m hoping to add my characters to the mix and see if I can help up those numbers. Someday, if someone asks me what I contributed to the world of fiction, I’ll have a lot to say.
Well done Kiersti and Lori!!!
You make my heart happy, Jennifer. And yes, you are definitely “doing” something about this issue! I so look forward to seeing your stories in print someday soon, Lord willing.
Bless you, Shik’is.
My email is mimiladybug35 [at] gmail [dot] com. Being an African American woman who loves her Christian fiction – I totally agree about the lack of “color” in Christian fiction.
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing, Michelle! It’s a blessing to have you here. I do hope we are on a trend to make Christian fiction more colorful. 🙂
Absolutely. I was talking with Lori about this on Facebook just the other day. There is a beauty in the diversity of God’s people that is not reflected well in literature. But that also means there is a whole realm of stories that haven’t been written. It is one of the reasons I keep writing and hope someday to see my stories published. It is also the reason I feel such a passion to get the details of other heritages and cultures right (being a white Protestant woman).
I love untold stories. The stories that make you question what you really know about other denominations, heritages, and cultures. I love the what if’s. What if a white woman fell in love with a black man in the South during the late Reconstruction period? Would she risk her life and his to marry him? What if a Protestant medical student lost in deep depression fell in love with a Catholic, full blooded Sioux who had a healer’s heart? Would he forsake his parents and become Catholic so he could marry her and risk his career to allow her to have one? Those are just some of the questions that have built some of my most beloved characters.
Oh, Jessica, I love your comments! So beautiful what you said, about the beauty in diversity of God’s people and how there are yet so many stories to be written–and also about how critical it is for us to get things “right” in writing about cultures and backgrounds different from our own. That’s certainly a burden I share as another white Protestant woman!
And your story ideas sound absolutely wonderful! Now I’m itching to read them…do let me know when they’re available! 🙂 Bless you!
Some of my very favorite books feature characters of color as main characters. Benton does it beautifully and her style reminds me of Laura Franz–who I noticed was mentioned in the acknowledgements of Burning Sky. Franz’s Courting Morrow Little is a standout in my mind if we are talking about characters of color. I have noticed that authors worth their salt regularly put diversity front and center with strong themes closely related to that diversity. The weaker authors that I have a hard time finishing skim over it if it is featured at all. Interesting topic. Thank you!
Oh, I love Laura Frantz too! Courting Morrow Little is one of my favorite novels of all time. 🙂 And I agree, both she and Lori have broken some new ground in this area, I think. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing, Heidi!
Wonderful post, Kiersti! I agree with you, and would love to see more color in Christian Fiction. I’ve read Lynn Austin’s A Light to My Path, and a couple of Laura Frantz’s novels have diversity, but other than that, I cannot think of another story off the top of my head. I can’t wait to read Lori’s stories! They are at the top of my TBR pile.
I think you’d love Lori’s books, Gabrielle! I love Laura Frantz’s books too, and yes, I’ve been blessed and inspired by the way she too weaves in characters of different heritages and backgrounds so beautifully and sensitively. Thanks so much for stopping in and sharing!
Lovvvvvvvv Christian fiction. The only kind I read…!
I like for these books to teach me how to be a better Christian.
Thanks so much for visiting and sharing, Judy! Christian fiction has been a great blessing to me too.
I’e never given much thought to racial equity in Christian fiction. I look for the story and message, rather than the color of the character. It’s the author’s abiltiy to bring to life any character within a plot that’s the value – not the race of the character.
Thanks so much for sharing, Kathryn! Certainly the story and message, the author’s ability to bring a character to life, is more important than the color of the character’s skin. And honestly I didn’t used to notice the color of characters much at all…the predominant whiteness just seemed normal to me, until I started having close friends of different backgrounds than my own and started realizing how alienating it can be for characters of predominantly only one race to be portrayed in the spotlight, and even how it affects our own perceptions of each other’s cultural groups. I think it limits our understanding, really, because our race and backgrounds does affect our stories, how we see and understand history and the world, ourselves and each other. But it’s certainly a journey for all of us! Thanks again for stopping by!
I would love to read these interesting and unique books. I did read some books that has the diversity culture in the main characters, however, would like to see more of it.
So would I, Jennifer! Thanks so much for stopping by!
I hadn’t really thought about it, but now that you mention it, the issue needs to be addressed. Being white, I’ve enjoyed some stories that have had characters of color, but they are never the main character. I think we go with what we identify most which, for me, is white. I need to broaden my horizons in historical Christian fiction!
I need to add a comment. Looking at the book cover, I would say she was white.
That’s what I thought too, Pamela…and the details behind that I didn’t want to give away in my post. 🙂 But honestly, I think one reason Lori’s books seem to be doing so well is that they aren’t too obviously focused on diversity…rather the themes are more subtly woven through the stories, and thus I think appealing to a wider audience. And because of that, hopefully ultimately having more impact.
That does seem to often be the case, doesn’t it, Pamela? We all go most easily with what we identify with, whatever the color of our skin. But it can be so rewarding to step outside our comfort zone, though not always easy. I really haven’t even become aware of these issues until I was blessed with close friends from other ethnic backgrounds and started to see their perspective on such things. Thanks so much for coming by and sharing!
A very interesting post–thank you for it, and for the giveaway. I do think that ethnically diverse backgrounds are underrepresented in Christian fiction, but reading and writing ones like Lori’s books will surely help that. We should support excellence in fiction, whatever the main character’s ethnicity. Danandlyndaedwards (at) msn (dot) com.
I definitely agree, Lynda! Excellence is a rare and beautiful find, and Lori’s books have it in so many ways. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing…and for entering the giveaway! 🙂
It is great to see couples of mixed color being accepted (finally) in churches today. When I was married to my Hispanic husband (I am white) we didn’t always get a warm welcome.
It needs to be accepted first in the church, then I think we will see more of it promoted and accepted in the written form. Sad, but true.
I love finding writers who step out of the box, and bring reality into their stories.
Thanks so much for sharing, Brenda! Your personal experience provides a needed perspective. And I think you’re right…once our hearts are changed and our relationships bridged and healed between each other in “real” life, that will follow in fiction. And yet, maybe stories can somewhat help speed that process along! I think they have for me, in different ways.
God bless you!
Ethnic diversity has lacked a good representation among CBA works in the past, but I’ve recently read several Christian Fiction novels featuring characters of other races, and believe that problem is being addressed. I enjoyed “Burning Sky” and look forward to “The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn”.
I think it is changing, thank the Lord, however slowly. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing, Gwendolyn!
What a beautifully written post Kiersti!
And way to go Lori!! I totally agree with Kiersti’s sentiment that this was a beautiful love story.
I do love books with diversity and that point to Jesus with real life struggles. Sometimes I think we shy away from difficult discussions for fear of judgement or maybe it’s just that many assume Christians area not dealing with hard things. I was a person raised in the church who for a long time looked like a Christian but didn’t love Jesus so I love stories that “preach to the choir” because I was in the choir and I needed to hear that Truth that Jesus saves not religion.
This book reminds me of MaryLu Tyndall’s, Veil of Pearls.
I’d love a signed copy.
You have such wonderful insights, Jessie–thanks so much for stopping by and sharing! We certainly share a love for stories that don’t shy away from the hard things. And ooh, I need to read MaryLu Tyndall! I’ve been hearing a lot of recommendations.
Kiersti, thanks for your post. I never thought about the lack of diversity in Christian Fiction until you and Sandra brought it up. But isn’t it interesting that all four of us all have diversity in our novels? One more affirmation that God put us together! Apparently, He thinks there should be more representation in His books about all of His people!.
I love that, Marilyn! I too was thinking how we all four have diverse characters, but you’re so right that it’s just one more evidence of His hand in our little group. 🙂 Love you and thanks for stopping by!
P.S. Did you want to be entered in the drawing?
Can’t resist being a part of this discussion! I read through some of the comments, and it seems to me that as Christians, we’re all adversely affected by the lack of diversity in Christian books. It presents a skewed perception of God’s kingdom, His people. I am also keenly aware that if people don’t know they are affected, then they are likely not to notice the dearth of characters of color in Christian fiction. Those who say there is no market for multicultural books of faith are ignorant–plain and simple. I applaud those who are curious enough to include us (I’m a person of color) in their Christian circles and bold enough to write about multicultural friendships/relationships. My skin tone is not a mistake, or a curse, or something to be hidden or covered. I don’t intend to “sneak” in with tinted-colored characters or use the “bait and switch” approach to somehow gain acceptance into what seems to be a white ethnocentric culture. I am prayerful that my book covers will proudly display main characters that look like me and my circle of Christian friends, which happens to be all inclusive–even representing Middle Easterners. I suppose, these days, the publishing journey isn’t especially easy for anyone. But I’d say, it’s especially harder for some. That difficulty ought not be complicated by a color struck industry. Great post, Kiersti and Happy Birthday, my friend!
Yes, Sandra–thank you so much for posting! Your perspective is so needed. And you’re so right that we tend not to notice these things until we’re affected by them…I should have added in this post that it’s only really in the last five years or so that I’ve really noticed the lack of color in Christian fiction.
Please, Lord, let that day soon come when our novel covers gladly and proudly show the true diversity and varied beauty of His people. Because otherwise, like you said, they’re not reflecting truth and, in a very important way, not honoring Him.
I’m so excited for your books to start coming out! Bless you, friend.
Thank you, Kiersti, for mentioning my Yada Yada Prayer Group novels in your blog as ones that include people of color as primary characters! God has so blessed and enriched my own life (AND my understanding of what it means to be the Body of Christ with many different parts) by relationships with brothers and sisters from many racial and cultural backgrounds, that I wanted to share that with my readers. In all the novels we write, my husband and I make diversity a priority. I hope your readers will check out all of our series: The Yada Yada Prayer Group, The YY House of Hope, SouledOut Sisters, and now Windy City Neighbors (our current series). They can find out more on our web site: http://www.daveneta.com. And I’m going to check out the books you mentioned! Thanks so much for highlighting this important topic.–Neta Jackson
What an honor to have you stop by, Neta! Thank you so much for sharing. Your Yada Yada books have blessed me (and my mom and sister) so much, and deepened my understanding and appreciation of diversity. I don’t know of any other contemporary novels that deal with the struggles and joys of friendships “across the color line” as realistically as yours do! I’ve enjoyed the Windy City series recently too.
May the Lord continue to bless you and your writing ministry!
P.S. Books BY Christian authors of color are important to read too! Here are some wonderful African American authors to check out: Sharon Ewell Foster, Kim Cash Tate, and Claudia Mair Burney for starters.
This is such an important point that I left out, Neta–thank you so much! I’ve heard of Sharon Ewell Foster but need to read her–the others are new to me. Thank you! Need to go add some books to my wishlist. 🙂
Actually, I just had another friend recommend one of Claudia Mair Burney’s books today! Apparently I need to start there. 🙂
I’d love to read this. Thank you for bringing this topic to my attention, as well, Kiersti and Lori. My email is bri4shelli (at) att (dot) net. Blessings!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Shelli! You’ll definitely be entered in the giveaway. 🙂
Thank you for this SELAH moment in regards to diverse ethnicity. We are one Body made up of Many parts. I would love to read Lori’s newest book. My email is email@example.com
Have a wonderful day!
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing, Caryl! Blessings. 🙂
Would love a chance to win this great prize! I love reading and writing Christian fiction and this book sounds awesome!
Thanks so much for coming by, Nicole! It is a treat of a book, and you’ll definitely be entered. 🙂
Well, I am sorry to say it never occurred to me because I purchase and read books for the story not for the race of the characters. Real life is a mix of people groups. I can’t wait to read this book! Thanks for the opportunity to win! Blessings! Neta Jackson, thanks for the list of authors. I am a HUGE fan as I have read about 30 of your Trailblazer series with my kids! Just loved those, can’t wait to share with grandchildren (which won’t be for another 5-10 years but that is ok! : )
Thanks so much for sharing, Chris! And yes, aren’t the Trailblazer books awesome? I grew up on them. Pretty neat to have Neta herself join our conversation. 🙂
I have to agree I’ve never really paid attention to the race in a story I look for the story line and message… And Lori definitely delivers on both accounts 🙂
Yes, she does! Thanks so much for stopping by, Lisa.
Apparently, mixed race characters are in minor roles too.
Yes, they often are, Lisa…though I’m starting to see that change just a little bit, which is encouraging. Tamsen Littlejohn is one example. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing!