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Carroll, James P. 1943–

Carroll, James P. 1943–

PERSONAL: Born January 22, 1943, in Chicago, IL; married Alexandra Marshall (a novelist), 1977; children: Lizzie, Patrick. Education: Attended Georgetown University, 1960–61; studied poetry with Allen Tate at University of Minnesota, 1965.

ADDRESSES: Home—Boston, MA. Office—c/o Little, Brown & Co., 34 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02106.

CAREER: Entered Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle (Paulists), 1963; ordained Roman Catholic priest, 1969, left the priesthood, 1974; Boston University, Boston, MA, chaplain, 1969–74; full-time writer, 1974–. Playwright-in-residence at the Berkshire Theater Festival, Stockbridge, MA, 1974; visiting fellow, Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, 1997. Author of weekly op-ed column in Boston Globe, teacher at Ploughshares International Fiction Writing Seminar, chairman of PEN/New England.

AWARDS, HONORS: R.O.T.C. Cadet of the Year, Georgetown University, 1960; Awarded National Book Award for Nonfiction, 1996, for An American Requiem; National Jewish Book Award, 2002, for Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History.



Madonna Red, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1976.

Mortal Friends, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1978.

Fault Lines, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.

Family Trade, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982.

Prince of Peace, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1984.

Supply of Heroes, Dutton (New York, NY), 1986.

Firebird, Dutton (New York, NY), 1989.

Memorial Bridge, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1991.

The City Below, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1994.

Secret Father, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.


Feed My Lambs: A Beginner's Guide for Parents Who Want to Prepare Their Children for the Eucharist and Penance, Pflaum/Standard (Dayton, OH), 1967.

Tender of Wishes: The Prayers of a Young Priest, Newman Press (Paramus, NJ), 1969.

Wonder and Worship, Newman Press (Paramus, NJ), 1970.

Prayer from Where We Are: Suggestions about the Possibility and Practice of Prayer Today, Pflaum (Dayton, OH), 1970.

Elements of Hope, Pastoral Educational Services (Paramus, NJ), 1971.

Contemplation: Liberating the Ghost of the Church, Churching the Ghost of Liberation, Paulist Press (New York, NY), 1972.

A Terrible Beauty: Conversions in Prayer, Politics, and Imagination, Newman Press (Paramus, NJ), 1973.

The Winter Name of God, Sheed and Ward (New York, NY), 1975.

Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.

Toward a New Catholic Church: The Promise of Reform, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.


Forbidden Disappointments (poems), Paulist Press (New York, NY), 1974.

An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came between Us (memoir), Houghton (Boston, MA), 1996.

Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War (collected columns), Holt (New York, NY), 2004.

Also author of O, Farrell! Oh, Family! (drama), produced in New York, NY. Contributor of articles and poetry to journals, including Catholic World, Poetry, and Christian Century.

SIDELIGHTS: For several years James P. Carroll worked at two jobs: being a priest and being a writer. In 1965, when he went to the University of Minnesota to study poetry with Allen Tate, Carroll had his first inkling that he could not meet the demands of both careers forever. After finishing the poetry course, Carroll requested that Tate autograph a book of his poetry. Tate scrawled across the page: "Inscribed to James Carroll, with best wishes for his two vocations." Then Tate looked up at Carroll and warned him: "You know, you're not going to be able to have them both." Tate's prediction proved to be true: in the mid-1970s Carroll left the priesthood to devote himself to writing.

All of Carroll's writings are infused with religious and moral concerns. Forbidden Disappointments, his volume of poetry, deals with the difficulties of being a priest as well as with the problems of maintaining faith in an increasingly secular world. Writing in Commonweal, Gerard Reedy praised Carroll's "bursts of power and fresh perception," although he found that some of the poems lack "sustained discipline of thought and form, ironic rejection of stock situations, and attention to certain generally accepted rules of good writing." The tone and style of the poems aroused Frances Sullivan's admiration. "It is an amiable poetry, James Carroll's small book, partly because the language of it is uniformly simple and self-giving, partly because the vision of each poem is like a recovered boyishness with the motes and beams of adult wickedness stuck in its eye," Sullivan commented in America.

Ostensibly a suspense novel, Madonna Red also examines religious issues, as a contributor to the New York Times Book Review emphasizes: Madonna Red "is a very up-to-date book about the problems of Catholicism in the modern world; about the role of women in the church; about the obligations of priesthood and the doctrine of unfaltering obedience to the bishop." In writing this novel about the attempted assassination of a British ambassador, Carroll throws a red herring across the reader's path early in the book, a ploy which a commentator in the New York Times Book Review found particularly clever: "At the beginning of the book there is as neat a piece of misdirection as one is going to come across in any crime novel anywhere." In contrast, a critic for Newsweek was less enthusiastic regarding the misleading clue, writing that "The foundation for this trick is laid early in the book and in such a self-conscious manner that no reader with an IQ above seventy-nine can possibly fail to catch it."

Mortal Friends met with greater critical approval. The novel revolves around the life of Colman Brady, an Irish rebel who is compelled to flee to America with his infant son. Brady lands in Boston, where he becomes involved in a series of shady political intrigues, underworld activities, and bloody schemes for vengeance. Reflecting the favorable opinions of many other critics, Webster Schott noted in the New York Times Book Review that Mortal Friends "is a serious work of fiction intended for a wide audience. It informs, entertains, and does so without abandoning intellectual standards. James Carroll has observed life carefully, and thought about what he saw." Although Schott complained that the plot too often relies on chance and that the book is humorless, he nonetheless considered Mortal Friends an impressive work, and declared Carroll to be "a novelist of consequence."

Carroll's intermingling of historical and fictional characters in Mortal Friends was a subject that attracted much comment. Among the real people who appear in the novel are Senator Estes Kefauver, Boston mayor James Michael Curley, Richard Cardinal Cushing, and Joseph, John, and Robert Kennedy. In keeping with Carroll's philosophy that "all historical figures in some way are unsavory, and all in some way merit respect," the depictions of the authentic people are neither entirely flattering nor entirely disparaging.

Themes of defeat, betrayal, and revenge also pervade Mortal Friends. In the New York Times Book Review, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt compared the novel to a Greek tragedy and asserted that the denouement of the book, in which Colman Brady finally decides to end the cycle of gory retaliation, "is a resolution that was first worked out over two-and-a-half millennia ago in Aeschylus's Oresteian trilogy, but is a lesson that must somehow be impressed on our increasingly archaic contemporary society, where cries for revenge seem to grow louder with each passing day."

Like Mortal Friends, The City Below is set in working-class Boston and centers on a conflict between good and evil. The novel focuses on two brothers, Terry and Nick Doyle, at four points in their lives: 1960, 1968, 1975, and 1984. Their ever-diverging paths continue to bring them into conflict, with one abandoning the priesthood for politics and then real estate development while the other remains in the old neighborhood, running the family business as a front for the Italian mafia. "While not a very original plot device, Carroll's dramatization of parallel lives of brothers in conflict is skillfully managed to carry the weight of the larger social, political and moral themes," argued Michael Lee in the National Catholic Reporter. Like Carroll's earlier novels, The City Below features cameo appearances by historical figures, in this case Edward Kennedy and Richard Cardinal Cushing. As Carroll explores the many facets of brotherhood, critics have noted that, once again, he blends the pace of popular fiction with realistic characters and serious themes.

In 1996 Carroll won the National Book Award in the nonfiction category for his memoir of his relationship with his father and how it was permanently altered during the years of the Vietnam War. In An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came between Us, he details the unusual career of his father, who left the seminary before taking the vows that would have made him a priest, then worked in the stockyards while attending law school at night and after graduation was recruited into the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He became the first director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1961, and played a direct role in choosing bombing targets during the Vietnam War. It was in this final role that the elder Carroll came into conflict with his increasingly pacifistic priest son, who had been deeply moved by religious leaders such as Martin Luther King, Hans Kuöng, and the Berrigan brothers, who preached peace. The book opens with Carroll's first sermon as a priest, into which he inserted the word "napalm" to the dismay of his father and other high-ranking military personnel present; it ends with the funeral mass for his father, whose angry ghost, Carroll told Nicholas A. Basbanes in Publishers Weekly, he hoped to lay to rest with this narrative.

"An American Requiem is extraordinary—articulate, personal, detailed, insightful, probing, dramatic," wrote Patrick H. Samway in America. "I think this book should be proclaimed a minor (dare I say major?) classic." Other reviewers were similarly enthusiastic, deeming Carroll's work a deeply felt, intelligent portrayal of the peace movement of the 1960s, warmed by the nostalgic picture the author paints of growing up in Washington, D.C., during the 1940s and 1950s. "This is a magnificent portrayal of two noble men who broke each other's hearts," concluded Patricia Hassler in Booklist.

A columnist with the Boston Globe since 1992, Carroll continues to comment on the world around him in addition to continuing his fiction-writing. His writings on the Iraq war were been collected in Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War, which was published in 2004.



Carroll, James P., The Winter Name of God, Sheed, 1975.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 38, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 102-111.


America, May 10, 1975; August 7, 1976; June 8, 1996, p. 24.

Atlantic, July, 1994, pp. 100-107; April, 1996, pp. 76-85.

Bestsellers, September, 1976.

Booklist, March 15, 1994, p. 1302; May 1, 1996, p. 1483.

Christian Science Monitor, May 18, 1978.

Commonweal, March 26, 1976; July 12, 1996, pp. 25-27; May 23, 1997, pp. 6-9, 12-17.

Critic, fall, 1976.

Entertainment Weekly, November 29, 1996, pp. 82-84.

National Catholic Reporter, September 9, 1994, p. 25; May 24, 1996, p. 29.

Newsweek, June 21, 1976; July 3, 1978.

New Yorker, May 22, 1978.

New York Times, May 25, 1978; April 23, 1989, sec. 7, p. 20; July 3, 1994; May 9, 1996.

New York Times Book Review, July 11, 1976; April 30, 1978; August 6, 1978.

Poetry, April, 1976.

Publishers Weekly, April 11, 1994, pp. 54-56; April 1, 1996, p. 63; May 27, 1996, pp. 52-54.

Time, June 12, 1978.

U.S. Catholic, May, 1997, pp. 27-32.

Washington Monthly, July-August, 1996, pp. 57-59.

Washington Post, April 21, 1978.

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