Teaching faithful creativity

Nathan Davis

The arts of creative writing and film can sometimes be shaky ground in Christian communities. How does one balance creative bravery with the approval of its intended audience? Since his start at SPU in 2016, Jeffrey Overstreet has been teaching students how to find beauty in creativity while still maintaining an appeal to all audiences. His journey as an author started when he himself was a student here at SPU.

“My SPU experience was deeply rooted in [film and writing],” Overstreet explained. “I came to SPU wanting to work on creative writing, so I was an English major taking as many creative writing classes as I could.”

He wanted to write both his own works of creativity and also critique and review the works of others. Overstreet remembers watching Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on TV debate about their reviews of movies. In his time as a student as SPU, Overstreet wrote for The Falcon reviewing movies and music.

“I can remember waiting in line at midnight at Tower Records up in Queen Anne for the release of U2’s release of ‘Achtung Baby.’ It was a midnight release and my review was due at 10 a.m. So I listened to that album four times in the wee hours of the mornings.”

Overstreet continued reviewing movies and music after graduating from SPU.

“I started building a movie review site in the evenings, and that lead to an invitation to write review movies for Christianity Today which I did for 10 years.” It was his work at Christianity Today that lead to his invitation to teach at SPU, a dream that he had had since graduation.

“The one box that was left unchecked was teaching at SPU. And by the grace of God the new writing program started and they needed instructors.”
In the new writing program, Overstreet teaches Imaginative Writing, Writing 1000 and 1100, as well as Faith and Film, a class that explores how faith and art can be seen on the big screen.

Overstreet with his published “Aurelia’s Colors” series. | Nathan Davis, The Falcon

“The vision of SPU has everything to do with what I care about in writing which is faith as a license for imagination not a limitation on it,” Overstreet explained, regarding his view on how to write creatively while not being intimidated by what others will think.

“I prefer the kind of faith that says, ‘Be brave, be imaginative.’”Being a published author, Overstreet shared some of his insights on what it is like to go through the process of getting a piece published on a large scale.

“I learned things moved at a glacial pace with publishers, I would send stuff off and wouldn’t hear anything for five months,” he recalls rewriting the first book of his series “The Auralia Thread” four times, changing perspectives, characters and events.

“You have to love getting lost in words and building sentences and revising,” he said. He also gives advice for how to writing well that can be seen as faithful to God without becoming overly preachy or compromising quality:

“I figure if I write something that is beautiful or true that is God’s territory and I don’t have to stamp it with some kind of ‘Christian Approval ’… If you focus on telling a good story or making something beautiful it reflects the glory of God, you don’t have to be self conscious about it.”