2017 FAPA Gold Medalist for Memoir | Undertow by Charlene Edge
Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International(TM) is Charlene Edge’s riveting memoir about the power of words to seduce, betray, and, in her case, eventually save. After a personal tragedy left her bereft, teenaged Charlene rejected faith and family when recruiters drew her into The Way International, a sect led by the charismatic Victor Paul Wierwille. The Way became one of the largest cults in America. Charlene gave it seventeen years of her life. Believing that God led her to Wierwille, she underwent his intensive two-year training program, The Way Corps, designed to produce loyal leaders.
When Wierwille warned of a possible government attack, she prepared to live off the grid. She ignored warning signs of Wierwille’s paranoia and abuse–he condemned dissenters as the Devil’s agents, he required followers to watch pornography, he manipulated Corps into keeping his secrets in a “lock box,” he denied the Holocaust, and he surrounded himself with bodyguards. She married a Corps graduate and they served across the United States as Way leaders, funneling money into Wierwille’s bursting coffers and shunning anyone who criticized him. As obedient Way Corps, they raised their child to believe the doctrines of Wierwille, the cult’s designated “father in the Word.”
Eventually, Charlene was promoted to the inner circle of biblical researchers, where she discovered devastating secrets: Wierwille twisted texts of Scripture to serve his personal agenda, shamelessly plagiarized the work of others, and misrepresented the purpose of his organization. Worst of all, after Wierwille died in 1985, shocking reports surfaced of his secret sex ring. Amid chaos at The Way’s Ohio-based headquarters, Charlene knew she had to escape–for her own survival and her child’s.
Reading like a novel, Undertow is not only a brilliant cautionary tale about misplaced faith but also an exposÉ of the hazards of fundamentalism and the destructive nature of cults. Through her personal story, Charlene Edge shows how a vulnerable person can be seduced into following an authoritarian leader and how difficult it can be to find a way out.
Gold Medalist | Memoir
I am a slow-poke reader and a snail’s-pace writer interested in how we evolve as human beings. Curiosity, if I were a cat, would have killed me by now.
Meet Charlene L. Edge, author of Undertow, who lives in Winter Park, Florida. She began writing in second grade with a love poem to her “crush” on Valentine’s Day. What drives Charlene to keep the pen going on the page? She believes a writer’s sacred duty is to read, and as she reads, she says she can’t fight the urge to write. It helps her make sense of her own life, explore new story ideas, and clarify her opinions. Writing her memoir was her way to heal and gain an understanding of her cult experience.
Charlene shares her cautionary tale with college students and at public libraries. She blogs about fundamentalism, cult issues, the writing life, and world travels with her husband. Currently, she’s working on stories based on their travel adventures. Their 2017 trip included visits to Holland, Italy, France, and Germany. In Italy, Charlene climbed around the pastel-colored coastal villages of Cinque Terra. In Bordeaux, France, she gave a presentation at the International Cultic Studies Association’s annual conference, which helped her promote Undertow to mental health care professionals (and enjoy a fabulous wine tasting tour). In Germany, she spoke at Leuphana Universität Lüneburg with American Studies Department students and faculty about breaking the power of cults. Back at home, she practices yoga and enjoys quiet walks alone to help her think, then write.
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