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Hollingsworth was named one of USA Today's Top 100 People of 2010 for her influence on pop culture and featured in the documentary by MTV News VP/producer Benjamin Wagner titled "Mister Rogers & Me." Her television appearances include Living the Life, WGN's Morning News, PBS's A Word on Words, and FOX Morning News.
Before writing books, Hollingsworth wrote for various magazines and was a writer for eight years for a national television program. She holds a master's degree in counseling psychology and a bachelor's degree in both English and psychology. Her most recent endeavor is a book called, Letters From The Closet.
This is the story of a teacher and a high school student who find themselves in an intimate relationship. Some would call such intimacy taboo.
However, the relationship is the opposite of what our society would consider perverted. Instead of using and destroying each other through illicit sexual escapades, the most devious acts this student and teacher do is write letters to each other for ten years.
The letters form a cocoon around two hurting people. It is in this cocoon they confide their deepest selves and find a buffer from their pain.
The teacher is gay in a time when gays stayed in the closet. The student is the good Catholic/over achiever. Her achievements mask her anorexia, her parent's divorce, her father's drinking, and her mother's emotional breakdown.
So this book isn't really about a gay teacher coming out of the closet. This book is about a young man and a young woman finding intimacy through their vulnerability.
Teacher John shares his depression and his cynicism with the world. Student Amy learns she doesn't have to hide from the demons in her life.
Some Christian bookstores are refusing to carry this book. I don't understand that. There are no graphic descriptions of anything other than two people revealing their true emotional selves to each other.
I would give this book a G rating for content, and an A+ for writing style and psychological and literary depth.
"Letters from the Closet" is by far my favorite book by Hollingsworth. It is bare, vulnerable, real, gritty, and beautiful. It is classy through and through without being the slightest bit risque as it explores the emotional (but not physical) intimacy between a vulnerable teenager and her high school English teacher, who just happens to be gay (did that really define him? Was it really all that John was? No, of course not! Not to Hollingsworth and not to her readers).
One of the most tragic results of the telling of this heartfelt story is the rejection of it by the same Christian media who so heartily endorsed Hollingsworth's other works. They so desperately want to distance themselves from the word 'gay,' that they missed the story of unconditional love and redemption found in "Letters from the Closet." This is their loss. Their rejection of this book then becomes symbolic of a greater reality: what it means to actually be gay; what it costs a person; the risks involved with coming out of whatever closet it is in which we are hiding.
If a good Christian girl such as Amy Hollingsworth can't even write a book about a friendship with an admired English teacher...well, that helps us understand how much greater the silence and the distance must feel to the larger gay community. Through the sharing of these letters, Hollingsworth has chosen to become marginalized, at least for a little while. And she could have wriggled out of it easily, by openly condemning John's sexual identity. She could have rolled her eyes, been dismissive of him, and distanced herself, but even now that he isn't here to witness this, she is respectful of who he was. I think he would have been proud.
I finished this book a few weeks ago, but the impressions from it are still lingering. This book was so unique, so compelling, and so honest.
The book was so meaningful for me, personally, because I identify with both the author and the author's friend, John. I am a gay man; I grew up in an evangelical Christian home, and hid in the closet (and tried desperately to change) until my late 20s. I prayed, went to counselors, pastors, mentors, ex-gay programs...finally I gave up. I cling very tenuously today to some form of Christian faith, although I describe myself more as an agnostic Christian than a "born-again" one. My view of God is one of mystery now...
I guess my point in all this is that the portrait of Ms. Hollingsworth's complicated friendship with John was an example of the authentic love & connection that seems to bring the mysterious divine into clearer focus. Love & connection isn't always flowers, rainbows, and unicorns; it's messy and uncomfortable and scary. I feel that the Christian church (especially in the U.S.) cannot deal with this part, so they hide and create masks. Not only that, they put up LAYERS of masks (as described in the book). They not only hide from others, they hide from themselves--fleeing as far as possible from their own humanity. That's why, IMO, there are so many cold, unfeeling, robotic, zombie-like "Christians" who spout clichés and non-contextual Bible verses.
The book is beautifully written and uniquely organized (I don't want to give too much away about the structure). It's not just a publication of letters; it's an deep and honest analysis of their relationship and how it changed the author. The author's transparency is what makes the book so moving and powerful.
When I began reading Letters from the Closet, I did not expect to be drawn into its pages as I was. At the close of each page, each section, each chapter, I could feel the strength and courage it must have taken the author to write these words. There is power in vulnerability. This power radiates from the first page until the last. I laughed, and I cried with the emotions expressed. At times, I had to stop, go back, and re-read just to re-embrace the simplicity and elegance of the meaning.
As I read both the words of Amy Hollingsworth describing her feelings and the words of John, her high school English teacher, through his letters; I could feel their pain as they attempted to pull the masks from one another.
It is not easy to keep a secret. And sometimes just one other person knowing the secret eases the burden. Sharing these burdens drew Amy and John together in a friendship that surpasses our understanding. Like all good friendships, this one included adulation, hurts, love, and even some failure.
I seriously doubt that anyone can read Letters from the Closet without it affecting them for the better. I can say by the time I read the last page, I felt an emotional release. And then I had to go back and start it again.
Every Christian bookstore should carry this book. It's about redemption, forgiveness, and the things we hide. Soul baring, heart touching, poignant. We all have a John in our lives-and our own secrets in our closet. I would recommend it to all my friends, but especially to those who think they already have the answer.