Joy Clarkson
Speaking with Joy
Jennifer Banks: On Being Born

Jennifer Banks: On Being Born

A conversation about Natality

Dear Friends,

If you’re getting tired of my biweekly emails, take comfort: we’re halfway through this podcast series on You are a Tree: and other metaphors to nourish life, thought, and prayer. Soon, I shall only be emailing you very moderately: only once a week! That said, I’m very please to share this week’s episode featuring Jennifer Banks the author of Natality: toward a philosophy of birth. This week’s episode is loosely linked with the chapter Creation is (not) Birth. Have you read it yet?

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In our conversation, we talked about Jennifer’s, in her role as Senior Executive Editor for Religion and the Humanities at Yale University Press, Jennifer has mid-wived many books into being. Jennifer oversees an eclectic, interdisciplinary list in religion and the humanities that privileges imaginative, well-written, and rigorously researched work. I am interested in books that explore under-examined areas of human experience, make surprising connections, and offer original interpretations. Some of her recent books include Makoto Fujimura’s Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, Susan Bernofsky’s Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser, Sumana Roy’s How I Became a Tree, Desiree Bailey’s What Noise Against the Cane, and Christian Wiman’s Home: 100 Poems.

The seed for Natality was planted shortly after giving birth to her first child, a difficult, transformative, and interested experience. When she returned to the book publishing world, she was struck by how no one seemed to talk about birth. People talked often of mortality, of thinking on death, and thinking of its universality. Jennifer found this odd— weren’t all people born too? And how is there so little literature on this thing which is so meaningful for a large population of human beings. Over the next ten years, she tried to get other authors to take on the subject while slowly gathering around herself a body of literature about birth. Eventually, she decided that she had to write the book.

The book explores the theme of birth (natality, as philosopher Hannah Arendt puts it) through the life and thought of seven people: Hannah Arendt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Sojourner Truth, Adrienne Rich, and Toni Morrison. I hope you all love the conversation we had together!

Near the conclusion of the podcast, Jennifer and I discussed some works of art having to do with Art that we love. She referenced Mako Fujimara’s upcoming book giving a spiritual account of the artistic process (not released yet!). For my part, I chose the song “Undone” by Ólafur Arnalds featuring a monologue by Canadian songwriter Lhasa de Sela, which I write about in You are a Tree.

These are the words in the song:

“As we get bigger and bigger The distance between ourselves and that other Outside world becomes smaller and smaller And this world that we are inside Which seems so huge in the beginning And so infinitely welcoming Has become very uncomfortable And we are obliged to be born And my father says that birth is so Chaotic and violent that he’s sure That the moment of birth, we’re all thinking ‘This is it. This is death. This is the end of my life.’ And then we’re born and it’s a surprise Cause its just the beginning…”

All for now friends. Wishing you a lovely week.


p.s. Christianity Today reviewed my book! Would you do me the great favour of leaving it a review on Goodreads or Amazon? It helps other readers find the book and decide if they want to read. I appreciate you taking the time!

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Joy Clarkson
Speaking with Joy
Conversations with Joy Clarkson about religion, culture, and art.