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Tell It Slant – Chuck Fager Biography

Published: June 22, 2024

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)

Click here for more details.

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

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.”

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)

Topics:  Life of the Meeting / Life of the Society