My first stint as America employee was a trainee 18 years ago. Among my assigned tasks (another was shoveling snow) was to compose an informal literary history of the magazine on the occasion of its 95th anniversary on April 17, 2004. It was a rewarding long-term task, if a bit monotonous to do. We hadn’t digitized the archive yet, so over the course of several months I flipped through 95 volumes of the magazine and composed a 7,000-word magnum opus that never saw publication. I now give it to new trainees, none of whom have read a word of it.
Nonetheless, the project gave me a sense of the magazine’s history that has been invaluable in the years since, and I still enjoy digging into those older volumes. It’s good for morale to occasionally discover a new name among the long list of distinguished thinkers. America posted: Just two weeks ago I found a wealth of articles by Walker Percy. And it is good for humility to read a Jesuit complaining (a century ago) that the magazine was “quite colorless” and that America “was accorded less respect by other Jesuits than a grammar class.”
It’s good for morale to occasionally discover a new name among the long list of distinguished thinkers. America has published.
During my forays into these past issues, I discovered something else once I reached the 1960s and 1970s: some names were familiar to me. Not just because they were famous – although there were more than a few – but because they still wrote for America. Some had published with the magazine for half a century or more.
My predecessor as literary editor, Raymond A. Schroth, SJ, wrote his first article for America in 1957; he wrote his last in 2018. Robert F. Drinan, SJ, wrote his first in 1945, his last in 2005. Richard A. McCormick, SJ, wrote an essay on Henrik Ibsen and the modern theater in 1952. Forty years old later, America still published it regularly on moral theology. Our longtime film critic, Moira Walsh, reviewed “Miracle on 34th Street” in 1947. She was still writing reviews in 1974. Are we a hopelessly retrograde operation by nature? Or have the publishers done well to put into practice the advice of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, age when to act? (Roughly translated: “If the current game is working, don’t pass.”)
Reverend Joseph A. Komonchak, Ecclesiologist without equalwas first published in America 34 years ago, although articles citing his work on the Second Vatican Council had appeared long before that. He is interviewed in this special issue of Spring Books by Kenneth L. Woodward. Father Komonchak is the co-editor of the five volumes History of Vatican II series that adorns the bookshelf of every Catholic theologian, and his conversation with Mr. Woodward, the former religious editor of Newsweek (for 38 years!), brings new insights into this advice as well as our church milieu today.
Whose history are we celebrating and who are we ignoring (or erasing)?
Further insights into the history of the church can be found in our “Last Word”, a thoughtful reflection by Shannen Dee Williams on her experiences writing her new book, Subversive Habits, the first comprehensive history of black Catholic nuns in the United States. Williams’ account of the opposition she faced when she attempted to access historical records from those “invested in maintaining the multitude of myths that underlie human history” reminds us of all to remember some important questions: whose history do we celebrate and whose history do we ignore (or erase)?
There’s a lot more in this issue: A conversation between Ricardo da Silva, SJ, and Marcia Pally on songs by Leonard Cohen includes important theological questions about theodicy, covenants, and the theories of René Girard. (Yes, you read that right – there was a lot more to Cohen, the “High Priest of Pathos,” than just “Hallelujah” and “Chelsea Hotel #2.”) Mary Grace Mangano interviews Christopher Beha on faith and fiction . Benjamin Ivry wonders if the author dared to Ms. Bovaire was in fact a deeply Catholic writer.
Our book reviews cover a mix of topics, from Buster Keaton and climate change to Supreme Court decisions, college basketball, and a primer on how to read well. Oh, and there’s also a review of Drug use among adults. As always, we offer deep dives into authors past and present, including reviews of the works of Joyce, Faulkner, William Least Heat-Moon. And we bring an appreciation of Dante, who died 700 years ago, and therefore never had the chance to write for America.
We release these special literary issues in print twice a year, both as a chance to give our readers wider exposure to great books and also to enable us to seek out our own past and present favorites. today. We hope you enjoy!