by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
Lloyd Douglas didn’t win the Christian Century’s essay contest in the summer of 1920; he took second place. But it didn’t matter…
…because his participation in the contest had excited the interest of the editor, Charles Clayton Morrison, and Morrison invited Douglas to submit another article to the Century – right away. “Our readers will be particularly interested in an article from you just now when their attention has been put on the qui vive [on the alert] by your taking one of the honors in the series,” Morrison said. “I hope you will feel not only free, but strongly prompted, to write for us at any time.”
Douglas accepted the invitation immediately. And he didn’t just send one article; he sent Part One of a three-part series. It was called, “Wanted: A Congregation,” and it was some of the finest writing he had ever done up to that time.
Upon receiving the first installment, Morrison gushed, “You write splendidly.” He wasted no time publishing it, even announcing it on the front cover (August 5, 1920), and he encouraged Douglas to send the other two installments as soon as possible.
Douglas did better than that: he sent three more installments. But first he asked the editor’s permission. Morrison wrote back pretending to be “quite offended that you felt any inhibition at all in the matter of writing a fourth installment when you were prompted to do so.” He wasn’t really offended; he was delighted that Douglas had been “prompted,” either by his Muse or by the Spirit, to add another installment to the series. “The chances are 102 per cent that whatever you write will be available [he probably means ‘accepted’] for publication in The Christian Century.”
So… now Douglas not only had a series running in the Century, but he also had an open invitation from the editor to send him an article anytime, and to expect to see it published in that magazine.
Elesha J Coffman has written, “In 1920, the Century was not yet a magazine that other papers envied or a place where writers could make their names. By the end of the decade, through savvy and serendipity, it would be both.” (The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainstream (NY: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 63.)
That being the case, Douglas and the Century grew up together, for his frequent contributions beginning in 1920 made his non-fiction writing well-known among America’s Protestant clergy, and at the end of that decade, The Christian Century would play a major role in making him a world-famous novelist.
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