Social media has given women writers more opportunities, more power, and more authority in the public sphere and also in the church. But there’s also enormous pressure from publishers to create your brand. To establish platforms of countless followers before you even publish a book. To live up to—or to live down—your social media persona.
I’ve spent the last decade of my writing life working with online communities and publications. I’ve benefitted from the opportunities available online when I was at home with young children, living in rural towns that seemed far from the publishing and art worlds. I’ve seen social media make careers, and I’ve seen it destroy them. What can be a valuable tool for amplifying voices often becomes another way to silence them.
Tara Isabella Burton is the author of the novel Social Creature and the forthcoming nonfiction book Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World. She writes a column on the same topic, “Religion Remixed,” for Religion News Service. Burton has written widely on religion, culture, and place, appearing in the The New York Times, National Geographic, The Washington Post, Aeon, The BBC, and The Atlantic, among many others. She was a staff religion reporter for Vox.com. She received a doctorate in theology from Trinity College, Oxford, where she was a Clarendon Scholar, in 2017.
Natasha Oladokun is a Cave Canem fellow, poet, and essayist featured in the American Poetry Review, Harvard Review Online, Pleiades, Indie Film Minute, Bearings Online, and elsewhere. She is currently a visiting assistant professor of English at Hollins University, her MFA alma mater.
Kaya Oakes is the author of four books, including The Nones Are Alright and Radical Reinvention. Her essays have appeared in The New Republic, Slate, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, America, Commonweal, On Being, National Catholic Reporter, Religion Dispatches, Image’s Good Letters, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and many other publications. She teaches nonfiction writing at the University of California, Berkeley, and is also an affiliated faculty member at the Jesuit School of Theology in the Graduate Theological Union, where she teaches religion writing for a broader public to lay students and seminarians. She’s also appeared on NPR and the CBC. She’s spoken and given workshops in spiritual writing and reporting at universities, worship spaces, seminaries and community centers across the United States, and was among a group of international journalists who participated in a two-week workshop at the Vatican in 2016 to study the role of religion writing in politically turbulent times.
All three of these writers have significant social media presences, and we sat down at the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to talk about how their experiences online have affected their writing and their faith.
Listen to our conversation to find out how we navigate the social media landscape as part of their daily work as writers, reporters, teachers, and women of faith.
- The Glen Workshop 2019: “As Iron Sharpens Iron: The Promise & Peril of Friendship.”
- Tara Burton on Twitter: @NotoriousTIB
- Natasha Oladokun on Twitter: @NatashaOladokun
- Kaya Oakes on Twitter: @KayaOakes
- Jessica Mesman on Twitter: @Jessica_Mesman
- Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
- “We Are Not Middle Aged: What Medieval Women Taught Me About My 40s” by Kaya Oakes for On Being
- Hear Natasha Oladokun read her poems “Let My Anger Be the Celebration We Were Never Supposed to Have” and “Living on a Ghost Plantation / Love Poem” at the Kenyon Review.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.