Cunningham, Elizabeth 1953–
Cunningham, Elizabeth 1953–
PERSONAL: Born 1953; married; children. Education: Attended Boston University; Harvard-Radcliffe, B.A., 1976.
ADDRESSES: Home—NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Monkfish Book Publishing, 27 Lamoree Rd., Rhinebeck, NY 12572. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Minister, spiritual counselor, and writer. Ordained Interfaith Minister of Spiritual Counsel, 1997; spiritual counselor, 1998–; High Valley (spiritual center), NY, director. Has also worked as a film projectionist, community theater director, blurb writer, waitress, cook, librarian's assistant, and nanny.
The Return of the Goddess: A Divine Comedy, Station Hill (Barrytown, NY), 1992.
The Wild Mother, Station Hill (Barrytown, NY), 1993.
How to Spin Gold: A Woman's Tale, Station Hill (Barrytown, NY), 1997.
THE "MAEVE CHRONICLES" SERIES
Daughter of the Shining Isles, Barrytown, Ltd. (Barrytown, NY), 2000, Monkfish (Rhinebeck, NY), 2007.
The Passion of Mary Magdalen, Monkfish (Rhinebeck, NY), 2006.
Small Bird: Poems and Prayers, Station Hill (Barry-town, NY), 2000.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Bright Dark Madonna, the final novel in the "Maeve Chronicles" series, for Monkfish; Wild Mercy, a poetry volume for Creatrix Books, expected in 2007.
SIDELIGHTS: As a spiritual counselor and interfaith minister, Elizabeth Cunningham has developed her interest in spirituality to guide her career and her writings. In her first novel, The Return of the Goddess: A Divine Comedy, protagonist Esther Peters accidentally resurrects an erotic pagan goddess when she creates a statue of the goddess with her son's play dough. Esther's life is suddenly changed, and the lives of those around her are affected as well. As the shy wife of an Episcopal priest, Esther is influenced by the goddess to look at her religious beliefs in a new light. Reviewers responded favorably to The Return of the Goddess. Indeed, a Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel "strange but captivating," and felt that the author "gracefully crosses the borders of plausibility into a luminous metaphysical realm."
Cunningham followed The Return of the Goddess with The Wild Mother. In the book, the area known as the "Empty Land" is populated by the descendants of the first woman, Lilith. The area also surrounds the home of the professor Adam Underwood. The story's protagonist, named Lilith, is not only named after the first woman, but is one of her descendants as well. Lilith is the mother of Adam's children and when Adam imprisons her she escapes to join her people. She then returns six years later to reclaim the daughter she left behind. Critics applauded the novel's message of the importance of self-knowledge. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that the "captivating archetypal characters dramatize the everyday magic of self-discovery," and the same reviewer concluded that The Wild Mother is a "beguiling tour de force."
In 2000 Cunningham began her "Maeve Chronicles" series with the novel Daughter of the Shining Isles. In the novel, Mary Magdalen is a strong, red-haired Celtic woman named Maeve. Maeve was born on the Isle of Women and was raised by eight witch-warrior mothers. She meets Jesus, called Esus in the story, at a druidic university. Maeve recognizes Esus from her visions and knows that he is her soulmate. Maeve also knows that Esus could become the "Great Sacrifice" and she uses all of her energy to try and save him. Reviewers reacted to the book with mixed responses. A Publishers Weekly reviewer pointed out that the novel contains some "awkward locutions" and found the prose to be "tendentious" and "turgid." Yet Patricia Monaghan, reviewing Daughter of the Shining Isles in Booklist, felt differently; she called Cunningham an "imaginative writer," and noted that the author "makes Maeve a force of nature that [sweeps] the reader along in her train." Additionally, Donna Scanlon, writing on the Rambles Web site, held a similar opinion, pointing out that "Cunningham writes with scintillating wit and brilliance," and concluding that the author "gives Maeve … a consciousness beyond linear time."
Cunningham titled the second book in the "Maeve Chronicles" series The Passion of Mary Magdalen. The novel continues the story of Maeve, who has been captured and sold into Roman slavery. She becomes a sacred prostitute who serves the goddess Isis until she breaks free to find her lost lover, Esus. Critics appreciated both Cunningham's account of slavery in Rome and the story of Esus's crucifixion as told through the eyes of Maeve. Monaghan, again writing in Booklist, observed that "Cunningham's wild, breakneck style only cements the suspicion that this will be … controversial." Monaghan also stated that the novel is both "classy" and "sexy."
Cunningham told CA: "When I was ten years old my mother enrolled me in a summer writing program. I have known that I love to write since then. I began keeping journals at the age of fifteen. Interest may be too mild a word to describe my relationship with writing, which is a way of life—or rather a way of having many lives.
"C.S. Lewis influenced me more than any other writer, beginning with The Chronicles of Narnia. I also love his fiction for adults, a science fiction trilogy, and a novel called Till We Have Faces that re-tells the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Other beloved writers include Zora Neale Hurston, Dorothy Sayers, Virginia Woolf, and Catherine MacCoun. Growing up as a minister's daughter clearly affected me profoundly. I credit my mother with having an unwitting pagan influence on me, for she is the one who read us fairytales. She also loved all things Egyptian. In Sunday school she helped us design and spray paint a beautiful golden calf. We acted out the part of the backsliding Israelites and worshipped the golden calf, till my father, dressed terrifyingly as Moses, came raging down from the mountain, so to speak, and burned it with a cigarette lighter.
"In my writing process, most importantly, I show up. Day after day after day. I used to always write a hand draft or two first. Now I am experimenting with composing on the computer. If I find myself stutck, I get up and move around or I lie down or both.
"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is to trust the story. To listen for the story.
"The Passion of Mary Magdalen is the book I was born to write. The books that came before prepared me for writing it. The books that come after will be for extra credit. It is deeply satisfying to know that I have told this story, full out, passionately.
"I hope my books will bring joy and healing!"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2000, Patricia Monaghan, review of Daughter of the Shining Isles, p. 1734; February 1, 2006, Patricia Monaghan, review of The Passion of Mary Magdalen, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, July 13, 1992, review of The Return of the Goddess: A Divine Comedy, p. 47; May 31, 1993, review of The Wild Mother, p. 42; May 29, 2000, review of Daughter of the Shining Isles, p. 50.
High Valley Web site, http://www.highvalley.org/ (April 6, 2006), author biography.
Passion of Mary Magdalen Web site, http://www.passionofmarymagdalen.com (April 6, 2006).
Rambles, http://www.rambles.net/ (August 4, 2001), Donna Scanlon, review of Daughter of the Shining Isles.