A car crashes, and Maggie Kast, at the peak of a modern dance career, loses a three-year-old daughter. Raised without religion and now mired in grief, she senses a persistent connection to the little girl, a love somehow more powerful than the brute fact of death. This awareness leads her, over three years, to the Catholic Church. After the accident, her marriage is greatly stressed by the entrance of religion into married life, and she and her husband each accuse the other of being too religious or too secular at various times. Despite conflict, dialogue keeps the marriage intimate and vital. Following study of liturgy at Catholic Theological Union, she teaches and tours sacred dance nationally and internationally, exploring the arts as a spiritual path. Moving forward and looking back at once, she discovers early hints of religious experience in childhood celebrations, encounters with art, and marriage. Her husband dies. Now a single parent of a ten-year-old and a developmentally disabled teenager, as well as college-aged sons, she continues her search.
My novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, was published by Fomite Press in 2015. Side by Side but Never Face to Face: a novella and stories, is forthcoming from Orison Books in June 2020. Everyone is invited to the launch at Women & Children First Books, 5233 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640 on June 4 at 7 pm. Refreshments will be served. A Southside reading will be held on June 7, 3 pm, at Seminary Co-op Books, where Maggie will be in conversation with S. L . Wisenberg, author of Holocaust Girls and Cancer Bitch.
Side by Side but Never Face to Face asks, Can new love be found in old age? Greta has been wrenched from a long and tightly-circled marriage to Manfred, an Austrian Holocaust survivor. Together they mourned the accidental death of a daughter and experienced a widening of spiritual horizons as they grieved. Shifting between Chicago, Austria, and rural Wisconsin, the present and decades past, these linked narratives unfold the story of Greta—daughter, wife, mother, widow, survivor, and seeker—with profound insight into the emotional conflicts, spiritual yearnings, and everyday experiences that link us to others of every time and place.
A Free Unsullied Land is set in Chicago, 1930. Nineteen-year-old Henriette Greenberg takes her first steps away from an abusive home on the dance floor of a jazz dive in prohibition-era Chicago and is enraptured by this new music. Struggling to escape a mother who doesn’t like girls and a father who likes young women all too well, she submerges herself in bad sex and political action. She meets and falls in love with Dilly Brannigan, a graduate student in anthropology. Ignoring his warnings, she travels to Scottsboro, Alabama to protest the unfair conviction of nine young black men accused of rape. She adopts Dilly’s work as her own. A powerful funeral ritual gives her hope of re-writing her family story but tempts her to violate an Apache taboo, endangering her life, her love, and her longed-for escape from home.
I'm the author of A Crack between the Worlds: a dancer's memoir of loss, faith and family, published by Wipf and Stock. After a lifetime career in dance, I received an MFA in fiction from Vermont College. I've published fiction in The Sun, Nimrod, Paper Street, Rosebud and others and essays in America, Image, Writer's Chronicle and elsewhere.
Maggie Kast’s memoir The Crack Between Worlds appears to be a work that will explore how religion and spirituality have changed her life. However, it’s actually a far more complicated exploration of how art intertwined with Kast’s spirituality. The memoir’s timeline spans far before and after the incident, creating a complex reflection that muses on more topics than simply the tragedy and religion. Kast is, at heart, an artist. She is a dancer and a writer, and her art has long been how she defines herself in life. This memoir shows how her art intertwines with other major parts of her life- even negative ones, such as the death of her child.
Intrigued by the title, I came to this book through the combination of my own bereaved parenthood, spiritual engagement, and dance. I found the subtitle a bit misleading; it is more autobiography than grief-focused memoir, with a greater emphasis on the experience of faith rather than the experience of loss. Engagement with Catholicism and its reflection in her personal and professional lives forms the core of her story. Married at 21, bearing five children, losing one at 3, finding the church out of an avowedly secular upbringing; yet the mindset and passion of the dancer (I began calling her 'Miss Kast' in my head) shine through. Her studies with Martha Graham yielded possession of "Martha's physical impulse, a tiny bit of her sacred self." The book takes the form of a traditional memoir; "Kast-as-narrator" is far more developed than "Kast-as-character."She recounts and analyzes her experience, rather than immersing the reader in the felt experience of the key moments of her life, as is more popular today. She constantly doubts her calling to dance, her passion, her skill as a choreographer, yet continues ti dance and to make work well into her forties. Yet as with most bereaved parents, the moment of loss is ever-present, and even at the end of her story, the simple admission that "there was nothing she could do" is a painful reminder of the limits of life, no matter how well lived. And this life was well-lived, indeed. Maggie Kast is an admirable woman and I am pleased to have been able to spend some time with her in this memoir.
On a family vacation to Jamaica, Kast's beloved three-year-old daughter was killed in an automobile accident. Although Kast was raised without religion, this event allowed her to catch a glimpse of "the crack between worlds," and eventually led her to the Catholic church.
Kast writes with honesty and intelligence, and while she shares her grief, this memoir is ultimately provocative and inspiring. She writes not only of the death of her daughter, but also her evolution as a dancer. At the age of 12, she invented a dance based on her father's dissertation on the 19th century Native American Ghost Dance. Later, she studied with the legendary Martha Graham, and even later, began choreographing liturgical dances to be performed in churches.
She also writes of her passionate marriage to Eric, an Austrian Jew who narrowly escaped the Nazis, of mothering a developmentally disabled son, and of her changing identity.
I love the way that Maggie combines the sensual - dance, sex, homemade soup, wine - with the spiritual - her exploration of religions, and her coming-of-age (as an adult) in the Catholic Church - without ever being preachy or dogmatic.