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Art & Soul: Leif Enger

Enger Photo © Atlantic Monthly PressLeif Enger, author of Peace Like a River, the best-selling novel described by The Boston Globe as “…a miracle well worth witnessing,” spoke at the Baylor Art & Soul conference Friday night.

After a laughter-filled lecture, Enger answered questions from the audience, and then signed his book (I don’t normally put much stock in signed books, but I bought a copy and waited in line to chat with him and get a copy signed; who knows, maybe someday he’ll be heralded as a Hemmingway.)

Enger’s Tight Prose and Overt Spirituality
Having chatted a bit with him personally, I can say Enger is a kind soul with a loving spirit; this is coupled with tight prose to produce the honest, overt spirituality that laces his writing.

Enger’s Peace Like a River (Grove Press, 2002) is the winner of the 2001 Book Sense Book of the Year Award; was named one of Time Magazine’s 2001 Top Five Books of the Year; and was named best book of the year by The Christian Science Monitor, the Denver Post and the Los Angeles Times.

What is amazing is that a book which so overtly talks about God, prayer, and Christianity should be so well accepted in the larger ABA marketplace.

A Writing Vampire
When asked how ‘Cowboy Poetry’ entered into the book, Enger said:

I’m a writing vampire – anything I hear goes into the book.

He then goes on to tell the tale of writing one early morning when his four year old came in, still in his feet pajamas, and asked him how the writing was going. Then his child said “The problem is, you don’t have any cowboys. Add some cowboys; that will fix it.”

And so Cowboy poetry entered Enger’s novel!

On Humorous Writing
Leif recommends Charles Portis, author of True Grit, as one of the funniest writers he knows.

On The Writing Life
Enger early on in his lecture said:

At most I’m a storyteller, which is a confusing occupation.

Enger says Peace like a River took 5 years to write.

PhotoThough Peace Like a River is billed as Enger’s debut novel (his first solo effort), it should be noted that writing with his brother Lin under the pen name L.L. Enger, Enger co-wrote five mystery novels with Pocket and Simon & Schuster in the early 1990s.

He now writes 500-1000 words a day. He reads to his wife each day; he says his wife is a good first listener. Enger says there is an advantage of having his wife critique his work, as she is not also a writer, and so is not caught up in the psychology of critiquing someone’s book who is also your critic, as is sometimes the case in writing groups.

On The Benefit of a Good Listener
Enger was 100 pages into a novel at the beginning of this year. He got an inspiration and wrote for a day on a totally different concept, and read it to his wife. “This is the novel you should be writing,” she told him. Enger dumped those hundred pages and recognized the wisdom from his wife. Enger started writing early this year on the new novel, and hopes to be finished by June.


  1. K Allen

    Maybe I’m the only person on the planet (or at least the Christian planet) that didn’t really like this book! I found it just a bit too contrived and sappy. Sorry. I also didn’t like the Mitford books. Maybe I am weird…

  2. Joyce Sackett

    Oh, wow, am I glad I read Peace LIke a River!Makes me want to try writing fiction. Enger’s book sparkles with crisp prose and contagious wit; a heartening story full of characters to love. Now I’m going to read it out loud to my husband. He loves cowboys.

  3. Ken Motts

    One of the most beautifully written books I’ve read. The book is out on tape. I do not like to be read to, but the tape really brings out the beautiful cadence of the prose. Read the book, listen to it.

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