The regulars at the Country Club of Detroit and longtime residents of Grosse Pointe might be surprised by the content of Carrie Cunningham’s debut book of essays.
The majority of her essays in “Meaning Train: Essays on Religion and Politics” revolve around social justice, racial equality and sensitive topics like Islamophobia.
Cunningham, who’s holding her book release party at The Country Club of Detroit, has a foot in both worlds. She grew up in and still resides in Grosse Pointe — a town widely known for its racist policies in the ’60s. She idolized her mother, who worked tirelessly in support of local schools, hospitals and other charities, while her father was active in the religious right. Both of her parents have died.
Cunningham said, “He was a racist, but I’ve forgiven him.”
Cunningham’s collection of essays covers everything from the Jim Crow South to two of her heroes, Bobby Kennedy and Congressman John R. Lewis.
She also examines several major religions and their beliefs, including Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Navajo spiritualism and ritualism.
Cunningham said her interest in religion can be traced to the death of her mother from cancer in 2002. She had moved back from the East Coast to Grosse Pointe in 2000 to care for her mother. After her return, she worked for Grosse Pointe News writing features, columns and covering crime and school-related issues. She worked at the newspaper as both a staff writer and a freelance writer until 2009.
In addition to her Harvard degree, the author also has received degrees from the Divinity of the South in the Episcopal religion and Wayne State University in near Eastern studies.
In writing her essays, Cunningham often cited authors and their books, such as Chris Matthews' biography “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit” and John Lewis’ memoir, “Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement.”
Cunningham notes Lewis as an inspiration. “His theory of beloved communities and his courage standing up to white racism are two things I like about him,” she said.
“Bobby Kennedy, was on the right side of Civil Rights. He’s a great model for politicians of today,” she added.
One of Cunningham’s earliest forays into essay writing began while she was at Harvard in a piece titled, “A Dialogue on Race, Sex and Emmett Till,” which she wrote for her favorite professor, James Goodman.
In the essay, she sets out to examine “the relationship between feminism and the struggle against racism.” She does this by exploring and criticizing the writing of noted feminist Susan Brownmiller, who in her book, “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape,” strongly suggested “the possibility that black men, as men first and foremost, do want to rape white woman.”
Brownmiller went on to claim that Emmett Till’s whistle at a white woman, Carolyne Bryant, was “not a mere prank but an insult and that he had in mind to possess her.” Till’s death became a clarion call against such acts when photographs of him in an open casket appeared in Jet magazine and The Chicago Defender. Although Brownmiller’s book on rape was groundbreaking, her theories relating to Emmett Till were met by outrage and dismissal.
Cunningham also has essays that praise Thomas Jefferson, explore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and delve into Islamophobia.
Carrie Cunningham Author Appearance
Friday, Nov. 29, 1-3 p.m.
Everybody Reads Bookstore
2019 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing