History of CCL
Compiled and written by Charles Huttar, Hope College
CCL had its beginnings in the fall of 1950 when Elva McAllaster, the chairman of the English department at Seattle Pacific College, mailed colleagues at other schools “A Newsletter for Christian Teachers of College English.” She invited “comments, news items for a potential number 2 next quarter,” and additional names for the mailing list. For nearly six years these informal, chatty, highly personal newsletters continued—a means of maintaining communication among people with much in common who otherwise might be in touch only now and then at professional conferences.
The newsletters included new course ideas, summaries of papers and sessions at the MLA and other conferences and workshops of special interest to the recipients, notices of coming conferences and workshops, mention of articles and books “you ought to read,” and notices of job vacancies. Through the newsletter, the group arranged meetings for Christian fellowship during MLA and NCTE conventions, and in 1955 the MLA agreed to reserve a room for several hours for the group.
In the summer of 1956, the Conference on Christianity and Literature was formally organized during a conference on Christian writers and writing held by Wheaton College. At this time, a constitution was written, and Clyde S. Kilby, English department chairman at Wheaton College, was elected the first president. The Conference was legally incorporated in 1968.
Over the succeeding years, CCL developed in many ways—in size and impact, in professionalism, and in services to the academic community. The newsletter developed from mimeographed or dittoed sheets to a printed quarterly journal and from news and personal comments to refereed articles and book reviews. Eventually the word “newsletter” was dropped from the title, and the publication became known as Christianity and Literature, a journal whose articles are indexed and frequently cited. From 1968 to 1988 the journal included a Bibliography section which, in its 20 years, provided abstracts for more than 9,000 articles relevant to the special focus of CCL. In 1990 C&L won a Phoenix Award for Journal Revitalization from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals.
Membership in the Conference has grown to about 1,000, with many more individuals being served through the nearly 500 library subscriptions to the journal and through annual regional conferences in seven regions of North America.
Relationship with MLA
The Wheaton Writers’ Conference continued for a while to be the setting for CCL’s annual meetings, but those meetings were eventually shifted to the annual meeting of the Modem Language Association, with which CCL has had a relationship since 1967 as one of the Allied Organizations. In recent years, CCL-sponsored meetings at the MLA, such as those addressed by Denise Levertov in 1994 and by Rene Girard and Czeslaw Milosz in 1998, have drawn some of the convention's largest crowds.
In addition, when the MLA was reorganized in the early 1970s, members of CCL played a major role in establishing the Division on Religious Approaches to Literature (since renamed Division on Literature and Religion). CCL members provided the core of early divisional executive committees before stepping aside to allow the natural development of the division into the broader focus implied by its title, thus leaving CCL to pursue its more distinctively Christian role.
Expanding influence and directions
Within that Christian identity, an especially significant aspect of CCL’s growth has been in the ecumenical direction, as the Conference progressed quickly from its evangelical beginnings to include strong representation from mainline Protestant and Catholic groups in its leadership as well as its membership. CCL has expanded academically as well, securing a large following in universities and graduate schools without forfeiting its appeal to the small-college constituency that characterized its initial orientation. Part of CCL’s mission is seen as providing opportunities for continued scholarly engagement to overworked teachers at community and undergraduate colleges.
Annual regional conferences have played an important role in maintaining and broadening CCL’s appeal by providing smaller, more intimate gatherings to interested parties in locations close to their homes. CCL’s original emphasis on the promotion of fellowship has remained central in these regional conferences along with providing the opportunity for scholarly exchange and, often, for the encouragement of creative writing.
Recently CCL has begun a program offering financial assistance to enable graduate students to participate in the Society’s meetings at the MLA and the regional conferences.
Continued focus on writing
Promoting good, Christian-oriented writing has also been an aim of several other CCL projects. The journal regularly includes poetry and reviews of poetry. An annual Student Writing Contest has for many years awarded prizes in fiction, poetry, and essay-writing.
The Book-of-the-Year award, which began in 1967 with an award to Nathan Scott, annually recognizes outstanding scholarship but also has been given to honor artists as diverse as D. Keith Mano, John Gardner, William Everson, Flannery O'Connor, Umberto Eco, J. F. Powers, Frederick Buechner, and Madeleine L'Engle. Each year’s award committee is appointed by the CCL president, with one member of the previous year’s committee being invited to continue as chair. Entries are solicited from all university and commercial presses. As many as seventy-five books are typically submitted, of which about a third are serious contenders for the award. Over the years, recognition has been given in this way to works of scholarship, fiction, and poetry.
More recently CCL initiated a Lifetime Achievement Award, which also reflects a balance between persons honored for scholarly contributions and those who have created excellent Christian literature in our time. In 1992 CCL presented the first of its Lifetime Achievement Awards, to Richard Wilbur for poetry and to Cleanth Brooks for criticism. Brooks had appeared on a CCL panel at the MLA Convention in 1968, reading a paper called “Belief and Style in W. B. Yeats.” Subsequent recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award (which is not tied to an annual schedule) have included Owen Barfield, Wendell Berry, Wayne Booth, Robert Coles, Rene Girard, Denise Levertov, Barbara Lewalski, Louis Martz, Czeslaw Milosz, Walter J. Ong, Paul Ricoeur, Nathan Scott, and John Updike.
Click link above for a listing of some past officers and schools affiliated with CCL.