Blog|The Rev. Canon Anna E. Rossi
The attic of the house where I grew up was my father’s study. Lined floor to ceiling with books from graduate work in theology, philosophy, and ethics, the shelves also held some hidden gems of literature. By the time I spotted them, I was in junior high or high school. Well before the advent of Google, the only way to get to know them was to crack open the cover and read.
I found a well-worn paperback of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. I savored its context in a one-room Paris apartment and neighborhood gay bar, and imagined the streets where I would later live. I wrestled with the themes of sexual identity, desire, and isolation that had little place in high school curriculum. I think I read it twice that year, and it marked the beginning of my lifelong interest in Baldwin’s writing and place in American literature and culture.
All this took place in the heyday of the religious right in my native Ohio. Still, reading Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was an undisputed junior-year rite of passage. I had to stumble upon Baldwin, but I have no memory of his work being banned. Reading even works with whose tenants we vociferously disagreed — Jonathan Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” comes to mind — was normative, and certainly not dangerous. I knew that there were times and places where books were banned, but that was not considered the tactic of a centrist society.
A few decades later, Ohio is not so purple. Across the country, books that opened my world and mind are banned, and one camp’s literary gem is another’s cultural poison. It is such a prominent cultural feature that we now have a week and an organization devoted to banned books and displays at local bookstores.
We can’t turn back the pages of time to a world where the center could hold more, but we can do something quintessentially Anglican together: develop a practice of reading works from authors whose perspectives we do not share. In the well-worn pages of a borrowed or used book, we can walk in other worlds — and so become the mean between the extremes.
In support of the many LGBTQ+ authors and works that have been banned, and in enthusiasm for his work, I’m proud that Grace Cathedral is joining churches around the country to bring British Anglican trans poet, educator, and activist Jay Hulme. Look for details about his next radical act on the evening of Wednesday, November 15: reading with us.
The Rev. Canon Anna E. Rossi