Category Archives: Stories – From Life & Elsewhere

“Tell It Slant”: The New Quaker Biography’s First Review Is Out!

The Western Friend is continuing evidence (tho it’s still news to some) that there is lively Quaker periodical publishing outside Philadelphia. When the editor learned about Tell It Slant, she didn’t hesitate: Friend Mitchell Santine Gould’s review, the first, was included in its current online newsletter edition.

Mitch is a distinguished independent historian with a theological bent. His special interest in the quasi-Quaker poet Walt Whitman has produced many impressive essays, including Walt Whitman: 10 Misconceptions, Least to Greatest, which is here,  and very much worth a look (but read this review first . . .)

Published: June 22, 2024, in The Western Friend:

Emma Lapsansky-Werner “Tells It Slant

in a Mammoth Biography of Publick Friend Chuck Fager

Tell it Slant: A prophetic life of adventure and writing on religion, war, and justice, love and laughter (Kimo Press, 2024)

More book details here.

Reviewed by Mitchell Santine Gould, Multnomah Monthly Meeting (6/19/2024):

Emma and Chuck at a 2017 history roundtable at Earlham School of Religion.

Emma Lapsansky-Werner offers us a sprawling biography of Quaker journalist, activist, and gadfly Chuck Fager, in Tell It Slant. I read the first half with growing appreciation for two essential aspects of Chuck’s life. The first is his truly impressive involvement with so many historic moments in politics, society, and religion. The second, which nicely humanizes this history, is a very frank, very modest account of his own life – warts as well as triumphs. It must be rare that a biography succeeds so admirably on both aspects.

Chuck’s long experience as a professional journalist and author gives perfect clarity to his parts of the overall narrative. However, he had so much to say, that in order to marshal some flow and organization to so many anecdotes, memories, and histories, he was lucky that Emma Lapsansky-Werner extended her invaluable editorial contributions into the role of co-author.

As she put it, “In crafting this narrative, I have echoed Chuck’s scaffolding, weaving my spin together with many of Chuck’s own words; biography is interwoven with autobiography.” Although Dr. Lapsansky-Werner is an academic — a professor of Quaker history — she delivered the kind of powerfully clear and simple journalistic prose that seamlessly matched Chuck’s own. I think given all the constraints, Lapsansky-Werner acquitted herself well.

We’re no longer in an age of book-reading — info-snacking is more like it — and one might set the book aside rather read the whole thing at once. But should you resume in the middle of the book, its humor, charm, interest, and insight will even more deeply impress you. Tell It Slant is inspiring and above all, highly relevant. In addition to his decades of involvement with Quaker faith, practice, and internal politics, Chuck really kept his finger on the pulse of American society and politics — precisely because of his investment in his faith, of course.

When the stories are this compelling, you want the book to be perfect. Viewing Friend Chuck as the modern-day equivalent of history’s Publick Friend, I wanted him to be the exponent for liberal Quaker faith as I understand it. I hoped to see a conscious allegiance to the key innovation of Quakerism: its Inner Light theology. Informal polling that I did years ago revealed that Friends today have reduced the doctrine of Inner Light to little more than a sentimental “that of God in everyone.”

But historically, the Inner Light was recognized as a secret, silent hotline to the Divine, quite specifically as a source of guidance in times of an ethical crisis. Crucially, it was seen as capable of over-riding the two ubiquitous avenues for all moral supervision: the Bible and the clergy. Chuck mentions the Inner Light only twice, exclusively in anecdotes about an old Quaker lady he once admired. In reality, the Light is the power behind the often-praised Quaker virtue known as “discernment.”

Mitchell Santine Gould

Having said all this, let me turn to the controversial proposition that Quakerism can be succinctly described as SPICE: simplicity, peaceableness, integrity, community, and equality. I could write a whole sequel review showing how Chuck hits quite robustly on all these cylinders. And that ultimately trivializes all my criticisms of his book. I believe every Quaker should read it, and non-Quakers will also be deeply inspired, as I have been, by it.

– Mitchell Santine Gould, Multnomah Monthly Meeting (6/19/2024)

“Tell It Slant”: Excerpt #3: “… A Whippersnapper and His Elders …”

“… A Whippersnapper and His Elders …”

Adapted from Tell It Slant.

This new book recounts Chuck Fager’s prophetic life of adventure & writing on religion, war, justice, love and laughter. By Emma Lapsansky-Werner, with Chuck Fager.

Tell It Slant is available now, in paperback and Kindle, here.

After two years of attending Friends meetings, beginning while he was in alternative service at Friends World College in New York, and continuing after enrolling at Harvard Divinity School in 1968, Chuck knew that the basic moves of becoming at home in a Quaker meeting are relatively simple, and easily learned. One can sit in meeting-for-worship, where in silence the newcomer may appear equal in weight and wisdom to the most venerable elder. Perhaps one speaks now and then.

For many this is enough, for years, or decades. But to others who want more understanding, and Chuck was one of them, it soon becomes evident that much more is involved. Despite its small size, and vocal dedication to plainness and simplicity, the Religious Society of Friends is a remarkably complicated body. This is true historically, organizationally, culturally, theologically, and not least, politically. Continue reading “Tell It Slant”: Excerpt #3: “… A Whippersnapper and His Elders …”

From “Tell It Slant,” Excerpt #2: Encouraging Rejections

(Excerpt #1 is here.)

In the spring of 1956 — Chuck was in eighth grade — orders came for the family to  leave an Air Force base in California. His father, now a major, was aircraft commander of one of the largest bombers ever, the B-36.

Click was assigned to join a squadron of these bombers at Ramey Air Force Base, in the northwest corner of Puerto Rico. These planes flew long missions — often reportedly carrying nuclear bombs — likely around the periphery of the Soviet Union and “Red” China, though their course was secret too.

Some of the Puerto Rico experiences were pivotal for Chuck, in several ways.

For one thing, since there was no local English-language TV service, Chuck was perforce obliged to wean himself from TV, and thereby transferred almost all his
free time to reading. Here he had help from the Caribbean climate and the Air Force: Puerto Rico was continually hot and humid, with frequent rainstorms (and a major hurricane, Betsy, in late 1956); air conditioning was still a rare luxury. Continue reading From “Tell It Slant,” Excerpt #2: Encouraging Rejections

From “Tell It Slant”: Fighting for A Future

Adapted from Tell It Slant, a biography of Chuck Fager, by Emma Lapsansky-Werner.

St. Paul, Kansas, 1939

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
                           — Yogi Berra

Plowing to a fork in the road.

This story begins with a young man coming to a fork, pushing a mule-drawn plow down a long furrow on a small farm in southeastern Kansas, in summer heat, circa 1939.

The young man was Callistus Fager, known as “Click” to his friends. On that day, like so many, Kansas farming would have been sweaty, dusty work. But that work was about all that was available. Kansas, like much of the United States, was mired in what is now called the “Great” Depression.

Even many years later, Click Fager remembered the unfamiliar noise he’d heard behind the plow, that summer day: a buzzing that wasn’t a farm sound. Continue reading From “Tell It Slant”: Fighting for A Future

A New Book: A Quaker’s Life in Our “Interesting,” Tumultuous Times

Emma Lapsansky-Werner and Chuck Fager at the Quaker History Roundtable, summer of 2017

Continue reading A New Book: A Quaker’s Life in Our “Interesting,” Tumultuous Times