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Catholic Mom Book Spotlight
An Interview with Compiler and Author Phyllis Zagano
Why did you decide to edit a book about Dorothy Day?
Dorothy Day is a very special American woman. I have included her in two of my anthologies: Woman to Woman: An Anthology of Women’s Spiritualities, and Twentieth-Century Apostles: Christian Spirituality in Action. Not too long again the editors at Liguori asked if I would take an even closer look at Dorothy Day’s writings, to mine for “nuggets” of spiritual wisdom to pass along. And so I did. I think by now I have read everything Dorothy Day has written, and she wrote a lot!
How did you go about doing the book?
I actually found a wonderful web site that has all—or at least most—of Dorothy Day’s writing. I then set about to read it, page after page. I selected about 80,000 words—far beyond my 25,000 word limit for the book—and then began to pare the selections down to manageable bits and pieces of her spiritual wisdom, arranged chronologically through the working decades of her life, from the 1930s through the 40s, 50s, 60s, and, finally, 1970s. She died in 1980.
What makes your Dorothy Day a particularly good subject for a “Catholic” book?
Dorothy Day is really one of the first truly Catholic activists. Many people thing of her as a political radical, which she was, but after her conversion to Catholicism the gospel began to inform her writing and her life in a deeper and deeper way. She saw Christ in every one of the people she met; she was genuinely prayerful and filled with the love of God.
Can you give me an example?
Well, take a look at the back cover of the book. There is a quote from Dorothy Day that really challenges us to live Christianity. She wrote in the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1947: “Every house should have a Christ’s room. The coat which hangs in your closet belongs to the poor. If your brother comes to you hungry and you say, ‘Go thou be filled,’ what kind of hospitality is that? It is no use turning people away to an agency, to the city or the state or the Catholic charities. It is you yourself who must perform the works of mercy.” That sort of writing, that sort of thinking, is a real challenge to anyone who proclaims himself or herself Christian.
Well, directly Dorothy Day is an entry into the fine Liguori “In My Own Words” series, which presents spiritual reading in a lovely format available to anyone. The book is dedicated to my father, who lived in New York—actually in Brooklyn--during the Great Depression, and whose family suffered along with thousands of others. As I write in the Preface, my father’s “memories of Brooklyn during the Depression and of World War II colored in for me her black and white renditions of the times.”
How is this book different from other books about Dorothy Day?
Well, this is not exactly about Dorothy Day, although I do have a long introduction in this book that talks about her life. I think the book is different from others in that it presents her writings in an extremely selective fashion. She was, after all, a prolific journalist. In addition, a good deal of scholarly attention has been devoted to her, to the Catholic Worker movement, and to the Catholic Worker newspaper. But not everyone is a scholar and not everyone is a specialist. This book makes Dorothy Day available to anyone who is interested, in a way that will let him or her learn about her life, and experience her personality through selections from her writing.
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