Although women have been writing in the Catholic tradition since early medieval times, no single book has brought together critical evaluations of their work, until now. Lastsummer, Mary Reichardt, professor of English and Catholic Studies and the director of the Master of Arts Program in Catholic Studies at St. Thomas, published Catholic Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook with Greenwood Press. The first comprehensive reference book of its kind, Catholic Women Writers provides entries on 64 Catholic women writers from around the world and across the centuries. Each entry is written by an expert contributor and includes a biography of the author; a critical discussion of her works, especially her Catholic and women’s themes; an overview of her critical reception; and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources for further reading.
The volume includes authors writing in a variety of genres, including fiction, autobiography, poetry, children’s literature, essays and performance art. The writers surveyed range from doctors of the Church, to mystics and visionaries, to those who employ Catholic themes primarily in historical and cultural contexts, to those who critique the tradition. Reichardt’s introductory essay discusses the unique aspects of the Catholic literary tradition, such as its incarnational and sacramental emphases. It also places the writers within the historical and literary contexts of women’s writing in the Catholic tradition.
In compiling the volume, Reichardt was first faced with evolving selection criteria and, in particular, defining what is meant by a “Catholic writer.” As she states in her preface, “From the outset, it was clear to me that such extraneous qualifications as the author having been baptized in the Catholic Church or having exhibited an adherence to Catholic doctrine in her lifetime was both unhelpful and unworkable. Wishing to focus on the nature of the literature itself and not on the author’s biography, I deemed an author suitable for inclusion if one or more of her important works was informed in a substantial and meaningful way by the structures, traditions, history, spirituality, and/or culture of Catholicism.” This definition, Reichardt adds, allows for the inclusion of such important writers as Dorothy L. Sayers, Willa Cather, Christina Rossetti and Kathleen Norris who were (or are) not Catholic but whose major works embrace the Catholic tradition.
Catholic Women Writers provides an important resource for scholars, teachers, and general readers of Catholic literature and women’s literature. Both major and minor authors are represented in the volume. The following lists just some of the authors readers will find here: Angela of Foligno, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Catherine of Siena, Edna O’Brien, Sandra Cisneros, Elizabeth Cullinan, Dorothy Day, Annie Dillard, Caroline Gordon, Madame Guyon, Hildegard of Bingen, Sheila Kaye-Smith, Denise Levertov, Rumer Godden, Christine de Pizan, Edith Stein, SimoneWeil, Muriel Spark, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich and Enrica Handel-Mazzetti.