Dorothy Day (1897-1980)

Dorothy Day (center) with peace activist A.J.Muste at a meeting at the UN in January, 1959 – photograph by David McReynolds – (c) The Estate of David McReynolds

Dorothy Day – Her autobiography The Long Loneliness was published in 1953. Her account of the Catholic Worker movementLoaves and Fishes, was published in 1963. A popular movie, called Entertaining Angels – The Dorothy Day Story,  about her life and her struggles, (featuring Moira Kelly in the title role), was produced in 1996.  The first full-length documentary about her – Dorothy Day – Don’t Call Me a Saint, premiered at Marquette University, (where her papers are currently housed) back in November of 2005.

More recently, 2020, there was  Martin Dobimeier‘s  PBS documentary – Revolution of the Heart – The Dorothy Day Story 

You can find out more about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker and her extraordinary pioneering work for peace and social justice – here

& catch Erin Overby on “Dorothy Day’s Literary Life“, a piece written in 2012, for The New Yorkerhere


Back in 1961,  Allen writes to her see if the Catholic Worker farm might be willing to take on Peter’s “sweet and dear” brother,  Lafcadio Orlovsky

Dorothy Day replies, (practical and to-the-point),  March 16, 1961 (writing from Tucson, Arizona):

“..I am not such a boss that I can say, “Take this nice kid and let him stay at the farm”.. There is only dormitory space and a bunch of people all of whom have such troubles of their own, mental and physical, that one could not count on their being kind always, harried as they are by their own sufferings. Living all together through a long cold spring, they have cabin fever..”

“If I sound uncooperative, I am terribly sorry, but after all you must understand that I cannot tell other people to exend hospitality. If I was there, I would say yes let us give it a try, and we can see how he gets along. But I cannot from a distance order people to take in someone to share their lives. I am not an abbess…”

“Phoning me wont do any good. Why don’t you go down to the farm and put it up to them frankly. Have a roundtable discussion with Ralph (Borsodi), Ed Forand, Jean Walsh and Deane Mowrer. They are the responsible ones. You’ve caught them in the midst of moving in town, and are already responsible for a gang of almost a hundred people, in town and out, and I don’t wonder they were “a little worried you were going to dump a psychiatric problem on them” while you go footloose and fancy free around the world. And as for how sweet and dear Lafcadio is, of course he is Christ himself and what you do unto him you do unto Christ himself. That applies first to his brother and then to his neighbor.

I don’t know why you put a halo on Death, I’m all for Life myself – this life and the next. But maybe you are thinking of St Francis’s Sister Death, giving up your life in order to save it. [Editorial note – Francis’s salutation to “Sister Death” is found in verse twelve of his fourteen-verse “Canticle of the Creatures” – and forms a central part of his teachings –  he writes, “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape.”]

I suppose it is dying daily to keep Lafcadio with you

–   Sincerely in Christ, Dorothy

Lafcadio and Peter Orlovsky, August 1985 – photo – Allen Ginsberg


Here is Allen’s poem – “Wings Lifted Over The Black Pit” (the poem would later appear in The Fall of America), sent to Dorothy Day in September 1966, with the following note:

“Dear Dorothy,
Your card a pleasure to answer. Enclosed find a poem for Bob Steed, please thank him for thinking of me, and making you think of me – I always wanted to talk to you & we never had the opportunity. I asked 8th St. bookshop to send you Kaddish”, the poem I’d read at Catholic Worker. [Editorial note – It was in the offices of The Catholic Worker that Ginsberg first read his long poem, “Kaddish,” in its entirety, back in 1960]

Tell Bob he might ask Kerouac for a poem (presuming it’s Catholic Anarchist) (or Sacred Heart somewhere in the anarchy)- 20 Bristol Street, Hyannis, Mass.
& Philip Lamantia, Apartado 506, Malaga, Spain, & Gary Snyder, Buddhist anarchist & same Philip Whalen c/o 31 Nishinoyama-Cho, Shichikku, Omiya, Kyoto, Japan.
I don’t know if the enclosed poem’s satisfactory. I typed it up tonite out of notebook & haven’t had time to let it ripen. Anyway, there’s some clear observation in it.

Love, Allen”

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