Monday, November 30, 2015

What is Patricia Appelbaum reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Patricia Appelbaum, author of St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America's Most Popular Saint.

Her entry begins:
Because someone close to me is working in Haiti right now, I’ve been rereading Karen McCarthy Brown’s Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. It’s very rich. Not only was Brown one of the first to use ethnographic methods to study religion, her book did more than any other to make Haitian Vodou visible and respected. I sometimes assign excerpts to my students to show them that Vodou isn’t just about sticking pins into dolls – which is new information for many of them.

In Brown’s innovative presentation, the chapters alternate between ethnography and storytelling. Each pair of chapters focuses on one of the Vodou spirits, from the peasant Azaka, earthy and local, to Gede, the spirit of death and transformation, who takes on particular importance in the Haitian diaspora. The stories, based in Mama Lola’s family history...[read on]
About St. Francis of America, from the publisher:
How did a thirteenth-century Italian friar become one of the best-loved saints in America? Around the nation today, St. Francis of Assisi is embraced as the patron saint of animals, beneficently presiding over hundreds of Blessing of the Animals services on October 4, St. Francis's Catholic feast day. Not only Catholics, however, but Protestants and other Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and nonreligious Americans commonly name him as one of their favorite spiritual figures. Drawing on a dazzling array of art, music, drama, film, hymns, and prayers, Patricia Appelbaum explains what happened to make St. Francis so familiar and meaningful to so many Americans.

Appelbaum traces popular depictions and interpretations of St. Francis from the time when non-Catholic Americans "discovered" him in the nineteenth century to the present. From poet to activist, 1960s hippie to twenty-first-century messenger to Islam, St. Francis has been envisioned in ways that might have surprised the saint himself. Exploring how each vision of St. Francis has been shaped by its own era, Appelbaum reveals how St. Francis has played a sometimes countercultural but always aspirational role in American culture. St. Francis's American story also displays the zest with which Americans borrow, lend, and share elements of their religious lives in everyday practice.
Learn more about St. Francis of America at the University of North Carolina Press website.

Writers Read: Patricia Appelbaum.

--Marshal Zeringue