Diversity starts on your catholic bookshelf

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May 14, 2018

I consider myself a well-read person.  From my liberal arts degree in Theatre to my summer spent hiding from hot temperatures in the cool library basement while my grandmother worked as a Children’s Librarian - to my desire to read all the classics starting in the seventh grade - it’s safe to say that I’ve read a lot of books.

When I began my conversion process from a “you do you” and “I’m more spiritual than religious” lukewarm Methodist to Catholicism I lived and breathed the books I could find wherever I turned. Even now, five years after that beautiful Easter vigil, I still get a thrill when I find an new (to me) Catholic spiritual writer or theologian to sink my teeth into.

Despite the hours I spend with my nose in a book, or more recently pressed against my Kindle, I haven’t been immune to the rumblings in our country.  From racial tension to sexual violence to economic stress, it’s all there and I hear it. For a while I stood immobile, not only battling my own prejudices and mis-education, but just unclear where I should go, how I could start on a road where I would walk with the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed and then I turned back to my bookshelves.  Of course, book learning is only a start, but it’s a good start. The same way I learned about the world as a child could serve me know if I only knew where to look and while I started to compile lists of a books about race and justice, trying to expand not only a wider range of voices in my non-fiction and fiction there was one shelf I didn’t look closely at until just last week: my Catholic bookshelf.

In the United States of America the Catholic Church is a diverse body, in 2010 approximately 46% of all U.S. Catholic identified as something other that Non-Hispanic White.  Nearly half of the body of our church is not white, but I’ll tell you a little secret: my Catholic bookshelf is almost entirely “Non-Hispanic White”.

Nearly half of the body of our church is not white, but I’ll tell you a little secret: my Catholic bookshelf is almost entirely “Non-Hispanic White”.

Now don’t misunderstand me, no writer or contributor to our faith should be discounted or overlooked due to their ethnicity.   All of those works already on my shelf from Hahn to Barron, Chesterton to Merton, Kreeft to Tolkien all deserve the spot they have, however it struck me that there has to be more.  

If I want to honestly say I’m here to talk about race and sex and diversity and prejudice in the world I need to start in my home, the Church. I need that bookshelf to look more like the diverse body of Christ that exists in parishes across the nation.  If those writers I mentioned before could open my eyes to the beauty of the Church during my conversion, what conversions of the heart and mind could happen by actively seeking out a more complete chorus of voices and experiences to guide me.

If I want to honestly say I’m here to talk about race and sex and diversity and prejudice in the world I need to start in my home, the Church.

So I made a resolution to seek out diversity for my Catholic bookshelf.  Letting the numbers mentioned above be my guide I would seek to fill my bookshelf with at least a 1:2 to ratio (1 non-white author for every 2 white author), ideally a 1:1 ratio would be my end goal.  For every author that looks like me, or has a similar background to my middle-class, white experience I need to be actively seeking out voices from people of color, voices of people who’ve experienced racism, voices of people who’ve experience poverty and war, voices of people who’ve experienced the Blessed Mother in different forms and who’ve experienced the Holy Eucharist through different eyes.  While my ability to actually walk these paths is limited I can do my best to read their words and learn from what they can teach me.

Not quite knowing where to start, I took this goal to the FemCatholic Forum and from there we brainstormed a starting place a list of diverse Catholic authors of both fiction and non-fiction.  We’ve started a booklist to keep track of these books over on goodread which you can access here. So far the list includes works from modern Catholic fiction writers like Toni Morrison and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, both known from their stirring and prolific works.  Modern voices of the Church like Cardinal Sarah’s “The Power of Silence” and Immaculee Ilibagiza’s testament to her experiences in the Rwandan Genocide. Works by Bryan Massingale and M. Shawn Copeland can expand our knowledge of racial issues and experiences within the Catholic Church, while Shusaku Endo and Ven. Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan can expand our understanding of the Catholic experience outside of our own.

The point of this challenge is not only to better understand the “universal” part of our universal Church, but also to create a demand, and a need for an increasingly wider range of authors.  To show publishers that we want these books and to show potential writers waiting for a sign that we want to hear their words.

So are you ready to take the challenge and reinvent your Catholic Bookshelf?

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Molly Walter

Molly Walter is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother to two children on Earth and four babies called home to Jesus. She has a deep love of her faith, her family, literature, handcrafts, gardening, and Star Wars. When not working full time outside the home or wrangling her next family adventure, she blogs about all the good things in life. Find out more about her here.

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