“When you eat soup every night, thoughts of bread get you through.”
So begins Ghostbread, a memoir which makes real for us the shifting homes and unending hunger that shape the life of a girl growing up in poverty during the 1970s. One of seven children brought up by a single mother, Sonja Livingston was raised in areas of western New York that remain relatively hidden from the rest of America. From an old farming town to an Indian reservation to a dead-end urban neighborhood, Livingston and her siblings follow their nonconformist mother from one ramshackle house to another on the perpetual search for something better.
Along the way, the young Sonja observes the harsh realities her family encounters, as well as small moments of transcendent beauty that somehow keep them going. While struggling to make sense of her world, Livingston perceives the stresses and patterns that keep children―girls in particular―trapped in the cycle of poverty. Larger cultural experiences such as her love for Wonder Woman and Nancy Drew and her experiences with the Girl Scouts and Roman Catholicism inform this lyrical memoir. Livingston firmly eschews sentimentality, offering instead a meditation on what it means to hunger and showing that poverty can strengthen the spirit just as surely as it can grind it down.
Praise for Ghostbread:
"Exquisite in its details and insights, Ghostbread shows us the invisible undersides of poverty. Sonja Livingston renders this so solidly that we come to understand the roots of despair, and the beauty that can be found in the midst of squalor. In an age when memoir exploits the seamier sides of life, thrusting their authors into the limelight, this book holds back, quietly resisting shock value in favor of understanding." Judith Kitchen author of House on Eccles Road
"Livingston reveals the daily challenges poverty-stricken young children face. Her thoughtful testimony sheds new light on a tragic predicament that now affects not only lower-income families, but the entire nation." Booklist
"Ghostbread takes us on a journey through a childhood scarred by poverty and graced by love. Like an American version of Angela’s Ashes, the book allows us to encounter―and see, taste, and smell it―through the eyes of a beleaguered and intelligent child.
We are grateful to be reminded of the human reality at the heart of a world that is all too often hidden in governmental ‘poverty indicators,’ and also glad that the author has survived to tell the tale."
Author of The Cloister Walk
“In these lyrical sojourns Sonja Livingston contemplates the riches of the Catholic tradition along with its ongoing tribulations. In doing so the essayist discovers that devotion in imperfect circumstances is, in fact, the only devotion ever possible and has the extraordinary capacity to transform the human heart.”
Author of Falling Upward
The Virgin of Prince Street
Expeditions into Devotion
With organized religion becoming increasingly divisive and Americans abandoning their pews in droves, it’s easy to question aspects of traditional spirituality and devotion. In response to this shifting landscape, Sonja Livingston undertakes a variety of expeditions—from a mobile confessional in Cajun Country to a eucharistic procession in Galway, Ireland, to the Death and Marigolds Parade in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Mass in a county jail on Thanksgiving Day—to better understand devotion in her own life.
The Virgin of Prince Street chronicles her quest, offering an intimate and unusually candid view into Livingston’s relationship with the swiftly changing Catholic Church and into her own changing heart.
Praise for The Virgin of Prince Street:
“Sonja Livingston’s honest account of a halting return to the Catholic Church, and to its rich traditions of ritual and symbol, will speak to spiritual seekers of all stripes. Her reverence for every image, every phrase, and every idea in this book makes The Virgin of Prince Street its own act of devotion.”—Valerie Sayers, author of The Powers
“A captivating account. . . . Sonja Livingston’s spiritual detective story is rendered in vivid, sensual prose, filled with insight and gentle wisdom. In the end, Livingston has written a prayer—not the dull, recited kind, but a real prayer, a deeply personal song of hope.”—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire
"Livingston's essays are light-hearted, witty, told in a comforting, sisterly voice, someone you can trust, someone who speaks her mind, someone who explores those things lost and found."—Debbie Hagan, Brevity
“Deft, evocative, mysterious, heartfelt, swirling, lyrical, with lines that pop off the page and essays that shimmer in your head for days after you finish reading them—or thought you did.”
author of Mink River
Queen of the Fall
A Memoir of Girls & Goddesses
Whether pulled from the folds of memory, channeled through the icons of Greek mythology and Roman Catholicism, or filtered through the lens of pop culture, Queen of the Fall considers the lives of women. Exploring the legacies of those she has crossed paths with in life and in the larger culture, Livingston weaves together strands of memory with richly imagined vignettes to explore becoming a woman in late 1980s and early 1990s America.
Along the way, the award-winning memoirist brings us face-to-face with herself as an inner-city girl—trying to imagine a horizon beyond poverty, fearful of her fertility and the limiting arc of teenage pregnancy. Livingston looks at the lives of those she’s known: friends who’ve gotten themselves into “trouble” and disappeared never to be heard from again, girls who tell their school counselor small lies out of necessity and pain, and a mother whose fruitfulness seems, at times, biblical. Livingston interacts with figures such as Susan B. Anthony, the Virgin Mary, and Ally McBeal to mine the terrain of her own femininity, fertility, and longing. Queen of the Fall is a dazzling meditation on loss, possibility, and, ultimately, what it means to be human.
Ladies Night at the Dreamland
"One of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2016" Kirkus
At the Dreamland, women and girls flicker from the shadows to take their proper place in the spotlight. In this lyrical collection, Sonja Livingston weaves together strands of research and imagination to conjure figures from history, literature, legend, and personal memory. The result is a series of essays that highlight lives as varied, troubled, and spirited as America itself.
Harnessing the power of language, Livingston breathes life into subjects who led extraordinary lives―as rule-breakers, victims, or those whose differences made them cultural curiosities―bringing together those who slipped through the world largely unseen with those whose images were fleeting or faulty so that they, too, remained relatively obscure. Included are Alice Mitchell, a Memphis society girl who murdered her female lover in 1892; Maria Spelterini, who crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope in 1876; May Fielding, a “white slave girl” buried in a Victorian cemetery; Valaida Snow, a Harlem Renaissance trumpeter; a child exhibited as Darwin’s Missing Link; the sculptors’ model Audrey Munson; a Crowwarrior; victims of a 1970s serial killer; the Fox Sisters; and many more.
"Wise, fresh, captivating essays."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)