Liberal religion lost one of its most ardent and articulate champions when Forrest Church died September 24, 2009. The Rev. Dr. Church, who ministered more than thirty years at the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York, left a legacy that will be honored
September sparkles in New York City. In my neighborhood, Columbia and Barnard students have moved back into their dorms and fill the sidewalks, and the kids in my apartment building are wearing heavier back packs. In a city where so many people are Jewish or, as a friend says, Jewish-ish, the Jewish New Year is a further reminder to cast our bread upon the waters, ask forgiveness for our sins and begin anew.
For nine years now brilliant blue skies and balmy early autumn weather also have been a reminder of how things can go terrifyingly wrong in an instant.
No one at the public radio station warned Phoebe Hoss not to read the f-word. She’s 84, after all, with white hair and lovely manners. Perhaps the interviewer thought it unnecessary. Never mind, she read it anyway, although you didn’t hear it if you were listening, thanks to some sound engineer.
Flying from the lips of her then 9 year-old son as he looks for a weapon to attack his friends, the f-word appears repeatedly in the opening of her book, All Eyes:A Mother’s Struggle to Save Her Schizophrenic Son.
Paul Hemphill’s last book was about cancer, the disease that took his life last week, and about the allure of all those Camels he smoked along the way. I’m not sure he finished it, but I’m eager to read his observations. Because Paul always had something piercing to say about his experience with life’s tough issues.
Hemphill’s work is a chronicle of many themes of Southern life in the late twentieth century: country music, race relations, automobile racing, baseball, troubles with booze. He reveled in the pleasures of his surroundings, but he never sugar-coated what he saw. “He told it like it is for people who are just scraping by,” said his former colleague at the Atlanta Journal Roy Blount, Jr. Those of us who moved away from the South rather than engage the difficulties that its social issues pose owe him a debt. Because Paul engaged them with tenacity.
Once upon a time, not so many years ago, the term great American writer was understood to mean great white male American writer. There was some diversity among them. They might be Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, agnostic or atheist. They might be well-born or from humble backgrounds. They were usually heterosexual, and often quite flamboyantly so, but if they were not, they kept their sexual habits to themselves in fear of being considered, well, girlish.
Women wrote, to be sure, but men decided what would be published and other men decided who would hear about it. Gone with the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird might be wildly popular, but their authors, Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee, were considered one-book wonders. African American men, even geniuses like James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, might have been granted a distant corner of the literary establishment, but they were read by serious white men, whereas their female counterparts were the real invisible people. Zora Neale Hurston, who wrote four novels during the Harlem Renaissance, died in a welfare hotel in Florida where she had supplemented her income by cleaning people’s houses.
The second wave of feminism that hit the United States in the 1970s gave women new determination to be heard, to write about what interested them, and to read what other women were saying about the female condition.
Random reflections on politics, the media, political activism, women's lives and spirituality, often inspired by travel, cultural events or what I read.
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