All of Us Sparrows

by Anthony Esolen

The year is 1949, the place, New York City. In a big room are a Broadway producer and a woman novelist who, if she ever harbored religious faith, seems to have hidden it from everyone or to have drowned it in a bad marriage that resulted in divorce, remarriage, and the suicide of her husband, not to mention several illicit relationships and a lot of alcohol. Also there is a regular mountain of a woman, an African American. She, too, has led a hard and rocky life, much of it as a result of the wickedness of other people—bigotry and poverty of course, and a rape when she was only thirteen. They are trying to persuade her to play the lead in a Broadway production of the woman’s novel.

But she wants to impose two conditions. First, she will tone down the bitterness of her part as the novelist-playwright has written it. Second, she will not sing a Russian lullaby, as is specified in the second act. “I had never heard tell of a colored woman,” she would later write, “especially from Georgia, who had ever sung a Russian ditty to a child.”


Anthony Esolen is Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Thales College and the author of over 30 books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House) and, with his wife Debra, publishes the web magazine Word and Song ( He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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