We recently had the opportunity to interview Kate Hennessy…
the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, about her new biography of her grandmother’s life: Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty(which releases next Tuesday, Jan 24).
The full interview will run in our Lent 2017 magazine issue, but we wanted to offer you a taste here in anticipation of the book’s release.
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The World Will Be Saved by Beauty:
An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother
ERB: Why did you feel you needed to write this book? What was your vision?
KH: You know, I didn’t have a vision [for the book]. I didn’t have an outline. I didn’t know where the book would take me. I knew what the framework was: I wanted to tell the story of my grandmother and my mother and I wanted to tell it in a way that even people who didn’t know about Dorothy Day could come to it. Other than that, I had no idea what was going to happen. … [But] this was a story that no one else could write. It was hard — there were many, many times when I was like, ‘I can’t do this, it’s too difficult, there are too many elements that are hard to express.’ It’s been very hard most of my life trying to feel that my own path is good enough.
When you have someone like Dorothy Day as your grandmother or even as someone you knew well, I think that you can feel lazy, lethargic, self-centered. She had an extraordinary energy and just never stopped. In addition to her public persona, she had a very active personal life. (But) I can’t quite see what a legacy looks like. I mean certainly, there is the legacy of her work, and that’s the Catholic Worker in full force. The New York City houses are still going strong, there’s houses all over the country. That legacy is quite something.
ERB: She’s known for her love. Dorothy’s quotes about it [“I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least,” and “The final word is love,” are two] are widely used in sermons, books, and even internet memes. But depression is another recurring problem, which you note winds through Dorothy’s, Tamar’s, and your lives. Do you see love and depression intertwining? How do they interact?
KH:Depression is a funny one, it’s very hard to understand and define. I do believe from personal experience that depression can really heighten one’s sense of love, certainly. It’s kind of counterintuitive in a way; you think of depression as a damping down of one’s feelings. But I certainly don’t think that happens at all. At least not for my grandmother or my mother or me, because all three of us have suffered depression. The love becomes more poignant, maybe. Love becomes more difficult, too, and more powerful.
Erin Wasinger is co-author of the coming book The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (Brazos Press).
Image Credit: Promotional photo by Gary Jones, courtesy of the publisher.