A Best-Selling Author in Our Midst

December 1, 2009
A Best-Selling Author in Our Midst
By Richard Wilkinson
INSIDE CUA – The Catholic University of America

Maryann Cusimano Love
Maryann Cusimano Love, a CUA associate professor of politics, has achieved the kind of commercial success that most authors can only dream of. Her second children’s book, You Are My Miracle, hit No. 5 on the New York Times best-seller list (in the children’s book category) in mid-November, less than two months after its publication.

Her first children’s book, You Are My I Love You, published in 2001, has sold half a million copies, including sales in French, German, Japanese and Korean translations.

Cusimano Love remembers the day in 1998 that she began writing her first children’s book.

“I was driving in to teach at Catholic University one morning, half awake, and I couldn’t listen to one more minute of the news,” she recalls. “I clicked off the radio and was thinking about the beautiful kids I do volunteer work with at the Sursum Corda housing projects in Washington, D.C. They are raised mostly by single moms or grandmothers and aunts. The parents feel bad that they can’t afford trendy sneakers or video games for their kids, but what their kids really want is their time. The same was true for the upper-income children I served as a childcare provider [when I was a teen and young adult], who were starved for their busy parents’ time and attention. All these kids lit up whenever we did the simple things — walking outside, reading, baking.

“As I was thinking all this, on autopilot through Washington traffic, there appeared this lovely verse in my head: ‘I am your parent; you are my child. I am your quiet place, you are my wild.’ I got to the university parking lot and stayed in my car scribbling against the car dashboard. Students gave me odd looks streaming past on their way to class, but I wanted to capture the magic song that was playing in my head about the yin/yang of the adult-child relationship, the parent providing stability and constant love, the child bringing mischief and wonder.”

A Modern Classic
The book that resulted — about an adult teddy bear and its little child doing simple activities together — has become a popular gift for baby showers. Soldiers serving in Iraq have read it to their children over the phone. The National Institutes of Health Children’s Inn has used the book to console the families of critically ill children. The book’s text has even been used in children’s liturgies about the fatherhood of God at Washington, D.C.’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church and St. Aloysius Catholic Church.

“I will say something that I do not say lightly, or with any sense of frequency: Maryann Cusimano Love has written a modern classic,” says her editor, Michael Green, vice president of the book’s publisher, Penguin/Putnam/Philomel. “She has written something  that connects with parents and grandparents in a visceral way, and, amazingly, the book’s popularity seems to grow each year. It is a book that will still be in print when today’s children become parents themselves.”

In late September of this year, the CUA professor published her second book, You Are My Miracle, in which the same parent and child teddy bear celebrate Christmas together. When advance orders for more than 50,000 copies flooded in, the book had to be reprinted five times before its official publication date. It then sped onto the New York Times best-seller list.  Foreign-language rights for it have been sold to publishers in Japan and South Korea, with other countries also showing interest.

Scholar of Terrorism, Poet of Parental Love
Cusimano Love’s scholarly writing and speaking seem nearly the opposite of such idylls of parent-child love. Her expertise focuses on international effects of terrorism, the human trafficking of women and children, the movement of refugees and other horrors of the contemporary world.

She explains the motivation of her scholarship: “There are such terribly pressing problems in the world that I feel the obligation to explain what is happening so people can understand and be able to respond.”

Although the subject matters of her children’s books and her scholarly writing seem as different as can be, Cusimano Love says the two kinds of writing are symbiotic in her life: “The work I do in international politics is so heavy and the subject matter so dark that I wouldn’t be able to keep doing it unless I did something on the light side, something with happy endings. Children’s writing helps restore the balance and reminds me of the hope and wonder in life.”

As for her adult writing, a third edition of her 2002 book, Beyond Sovereignty: Issues for a Global Agenda (Wadsworth Publishing) will be published in 2006.  The book takes a post-September 11 look at pressing global issues including terrorism, disease, refugees, nuclear smuggling, environmental problems, cyber threats, international crime and drug trafficking. The book argues that no individual nation can solve these problems by itself — solutions must involve international cooperation.

She is now working on another scholarly book, Morality Matters: Ethics and the War on Terrorism, under contract with Cornell University Press. It will take up the question of whether the United States should use torture and other “dirty tactics” in the war on terrorism. Many argue that because the terrorists use such tactics, America needs to as well. But using such tactics “would not only be bad morality, but bad politics,” she says. “The Abu Ghraib prison scandal pointed out that our means matter.”

The immoral tactics of Western democracies end up helping the terrorists, she explains. She gives the example of “Bloody Sunday,” the day in 1972 when British troops killed 13 peaceful protesters in Northern Ireland.  “It ended up being a boon for the Irish Republican Army, which had been a fringe movement before that,” she recounts. “And that’s essentially what we did with Abu Ghraib — we gave violent terrorist groups a powerful tool to use in soliciting funds, sympathy and support.”

As an expert on international affairs, Cusimano Love has given invited speeches to such institutions as the United Nations working group on human trafficking, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brookings Institution, various universities, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the conferences of Latin American, Canadian and U.S. Catholic bishops.

But she also gives talks to kids at libraries and schools about her children’s books.  “From the kids I get hugs and drawings afterward, which never happens after I give lectures at Georgetown, to the U.S. bishops or at Notre Dame,” she quips.