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Art of darkness: Three writers speak of evil
. photograph by Arthur Tress . photograph by Arthur Tress . photograph by Arthur Tress . photograph by Arthur Tress . photograph by Arthur Tress .
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Native Evil by Kathleen Norris
demon evil by Joyce Carol Oates
Evil by choice by nathan englander



On the evening of November 27, 2001, more than 1,100 students, faculty, and interested members of the Greater Boston community streamed into the cavernous John Hancock Hall in Boston's Back Bay for a public conversation on a topic that had gained urgency during the preceding months: Evil. The occasion was the second annual dialogue on "Belief and Non-belief in Modern American Culture," sponsored by Boston College and the Atlantic Monthly.

The formal topic was "Evil: The Artist's Response," and speaking were three of America's literary lights: the novelist and essayist Joyce Carol Oates; the poet and chronicler of monasteries and small towns Kathleen Norris; and the short-story writer Nathan Englander. Journalist Christopher Lydon moderated.

The Boston College/Atlantic Monthly series takes its inspiration from a celebrated annual public event sponsored in Milan by the archbishop, Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini--an event known as "The Chair for the Non-Believer." It is Martini's contention that "there is in each of us--whatever our religion; even in a bishop--a believer and a non-believer." Over the years, Martini has invited to his cathedral philosophers, psychiatrists, politicians, and poets to talk about their work, as viewed through the prisms of belief and non-belief.

In Boston a year ago, the discussion was of medicine and of the meaning that doctors may derive as witnesses of suffering and healing (BCM, Winter 2001).

Excerpts from the latest Dialogue installment, on evil and the way artists respond, begin on the next page.

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