Archive for October, 2011

Saturday, November 12th, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Sun Ray Cafe, 1602 N 13th St., Boise

Our next Backtalk will focus on eBooks.  Join the discussion on when and how to publish an ebook and what to expect from the process.  Joanne Pence, who just returned from an ebook conference in Florida, will lead the discussion.  All are welcome to attend, so please  join us at the Sun Ray Café in Hyde Park from 11:30 – 1:30 on Saturday, November 12th.  Food and drink will be available as always.


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Recently I have begun to try to understand irreverence. I want to know its role in our individual lives, in organizations, and in society.  I want to know how it can work to enable positive change, and how it complements reverence to produce depth and wisdom and understanding.  When asked to discuss irreverent writing here I realized that I could only start the discussion with you, because there is so much I’d like to know about irreverent writing, but don’t.

When people think of irreverence the words witty, satiric, disrespectful, edgy, or humorous may come to mind. Yet if we consider irreverence to be something which nudges unexplored beliefs or practices then a broader range of writing can be considered irreverent.  One role writers play is to press against the status quo – to question the unquestionable, to discuss the undiscussable, and to experiment with the unthinkable so that society can do the same. The result is that something considered irreverent at the time it is written often becomes acceptable.

Irreverence depends upon the context of the situation.  In one era a treatise proposing that women be allowed to partake of the local saloon would have been considered irreverent; today, an editorial proposing that women be banned from local pubs would be viewed as offensive or simply laughable. Both would be irreverent writing. Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for writing his Ninety-Five Theses. Today, an essay calling for a ban on Protestantism would be considered outrageous. Both would be irreverent writing.

Irreverence takes no particular religious, political, ideological, philosophical, scientific, artistic, or moral position. Rather, it asks us to question the validity of all such positions, sometimes proposing alternative views or practices. It can be as trivial as Billy Bean taking on the hallowed traditions of baseball (sacrilege!), or as consequential as questioning beliefs about whether there really are weapons of mass destruction residing in a country before the decision is made to go to war.

While physical behavior (civil disobedience, for example) might be irreverent action in other arenas, words are the vehicle for the irreverent writer. 

Although irreverence can be used for various purposes – to shock, to get attention, to have or to make fun, to be rude, to hurt – here we are looking at what I’m calling “transformational irreverence”,  which confronts current beliefs or practices. At least two arenas exist for the irreverent writer – one has to do with form, the other with content.  For either, the irreverent writer might ask “What is considered blasphemous?”  Or, “What can’t be discussed?” Or, “What are the rules, and are there reasons to break them?”


Here the writer challenges the revered and sanctioned rules or expectations about the craft of writing. It has to do with the way we write. Writers like e.e. cummings or James Joyce might author something so unconventional, so shocking, that the way we think about writing is turned upside down. The accepted form is contested or simply ignored and new ways of writing are then made possible. I am sure you have many more examples of this than I.


Irreverence is often associated only with religion but it relates to any arena, including science, the arts, culture, commerce, and yes, to religion, wherein one might encounter beliefs or practices which go unquestioned. This has to do with the subject matter about which we write. Examples are abundant of writers who confronted belief systems or practices and consequently changed the world. Upton Sinclair, Betty Friedan, and Rachel Carson come quickly to mind.  Re-read Martin Luther King’s 1963, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to see how a reverend can be irreverent as he discusses his thinking about just and unjust laws; his disappointment with the church; “the appalling silence of the good people”; and his belief that it is just as wrong to “use moral means to preserve immoral ends” as it is to ”use immoral means to attain moral ends”.  (http://bit.ly/ohdWt7)

An inexhaustible range of topics is available for would be irreverent writers.  Just look for what would be considered heretical and you are likely to have a topic that lends itself to irreverent treatment.  But beware. While irreverence often takes the form of humor or satire – note the work of Jonathan Swift and Jon Stewart for example – it can be a serious and a risky business. Just ask Salman Rushdie.

Some authors are irreverent in both form and content. My favorite book is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller which, in satirizing war, does both.  It was described in a 1986 New York Times 25 year retrospective  as “a work of consummate zaniness populated by squadrons of madly eccentric, cartoonographic characters whose antics were far loonier than anything ever seen before in war fiction – or, for that matter, in any fiction.”

Great writing doesn’t have to be irreverent, but many great works are.  Here’s to more irreverence in all our writing.



Michael Kroth, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the University of Idaho. He has written or co-authored four books including Transforming Work: The Five Keys to Achieving Trust, Commitment, and Passion in the Workplace; The Manager as Motivator; and, Career Development Basics. Managing the Mobile Workforce: Leading, Building, and Sustaining Virtual Teams, co-authored with David Clemons, is his latest book. He is a past board member of The Cabin and is a member of the National Speakers Association. You can follow him @michaelkroth, LinkedIn, www.michaelkroth.com, or at http://managingthemobileworkforce.com/blog/. You can contact him at mkroth@uidaho.edu.

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Saturday, November 12, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Sun Ray Cafe, 1602 N 13th St., Boise

Ebooks are everywhere, so let’s talk about them!  Join the Idaho Writers Guild along with special guest author Robert Wagner and IWG’s own Joanne Pence, who will just have returned from an ebook conference, to discuss the how and why of ebooks.  Join us at the Sun Ray Café in Hyde Park from 11:30 – 1:30 on Saturday, November 12th.  Food and drink will be available as always.

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Join the Idaho Writers Guild for Literary Lunch on October 18th with Guest Author Floyd Loomis

Tuesday, October 18th, 11:30-1:30
Smoky Mountain Pizza, 415 E. Parkcenter Blvd., Boise

Floyd Loomis is the author of Frankie Ravan, As Long As Life: The Memoirs of a Frontier Woman Doctor, Salmon River Lookout, Blue Duwamish, Sixty Minute Stories, Gold Fork Dreams, and numerous other books.  He’ll discuss his work in both fiction and non-fiction, as well as his extensive experience in various forms of modern publishing.

Feel free to bring along business cards, flyers, or anything else you’d like to share with your fellow writers.  Also, we’ll be drawing 3 names to participate in a 3 minute open mic, so get writing!  All styles and genres are welcome, as long as the work is original and can be read in under 3 minutes.

Hope to see you on October 18th!

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