HEAVEN IS A PLACE ON EARTH
An exploration of American ideas of utopia through the lens of one millennial’s quest to live a more communal life under late-stage capitalism.
Told in a series of essays that balance memoir with fieldwork, Heaven Is a Place on Earth is an idiosyncratic study of American utopian experiments—from the Shakers to the radical faerie communes of Short Mountain to the Bronx rebuilding movement—through the lens of one millennial’s quest to create a more communal life in a time of unending economic and social precarity.
When Adrian Shirk’s father-in-law has a stroke and loses his ability to speak and walk, she and her husband—both adjuncts in their midtwenties—become his primary caretakers. The stress of daily caretaking, navigating America’s broken health care system, and ordinary twenty-first-century financial insecurity propels Shirk into an odyssey of American utopian experiments in the hopes that they might offer a way forward.
Along the way, Shirk seeks solace in her own community of friends, artists, and theologians. They try to imagine a different kind of life, examining what might be replicable within the histories of utopia-making, and what might be doomed. Rather than “no place,” Shirk reframes utopia as something that, according to the laws of capital and conquest, shouldn’t be able to exist—but does anyway, if only for a moment.
“[A] sprawling synthesis of memoir and social history . . . Shirk writes deftly and in depth. She is well-attuned to her topic’s threads of historical and spiritual complexity as well as her own feelings about relationships, sexuality, and community . . . [A] rigorous, personalized argument for the continued relevance of an old idea.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Melding memoir with wide-ranging research into American experiments in communal living like the Shakers and The Farm (an intentional community founded by hippies in the late 1960s), Shirk seeks historical and contemporary ways of living that are more sustainable, bountiful, creative, and supportive than the siloed, workhorse model favored under capitalism. Without idealizing these communal experiments, Shirk takes their complexities and contradictions as part of the necessary reality of imagining other ways of living.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Essayist Shirk (And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy) mixes autobiography and history in this enlightening study of utopian communities in America . . . Enriched by Shirk’s trenchant observations and open-minded curiosity, this is a winning survey of the desire to make the world a better place.” —Publishers Weekly
A mix of travel writing, memoir, historical biography, and spiritual journey, Heaven is a Place on Earth . . . is impeccably researched and vivid in its telling. Given the current state of the planet, it will likely provoke some serious soul-searching too.” —Jini Reddy, Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine
“[A]n engrossing read, part deeply-personal memoir, part travelog of her visits to numerous contemporary intentional communities, and part reflection on the troubled and troubling history of domestic attempts to create collectives and communes.” —Eleanor J. Bader, The Indypendent
“Heaven is a Place On Earth is the most beguiling invitation I’ve received in years. It offers a radically new way of thinking about the radical promises of utopia—one that is dynamic, paradigm-shifting, and, above all else, enthralling. It’s an exquisite book, but it’s also an open door for all who’ve been hungering for a new way to think of community and our place within it.” —Anne Helen Petersen, author of Can’t Even
“This book could not have come at a better time. At a moment when it can seem as if this country will never put its pieces together, Adrian Shirk gives us so many instances, historical and present-day, of Americans finding ways to live in real community, to carve out places of freedom, to be brave enough to stare our unhappinesses in the face and ask What more could there be? In a voice electric with possibility, Shirk reminds us of the great risk and great possibility contained in the act of reimagining home.” —Alex Mar, author of Witches of America
“Heaven is a Place on Earth is not so much a study of utopianism as a meditation. Shirk has a skillful way of weaving together the scraps of seemingly unrelated snippets and insights into a gorgeous quilt of meaning. Utopian-ists want what we all want—fulfillment, happiness, community, but they don’t give up when life refuses to deliver. This book is a raw examination of that combination of obsession and grit—and it’s masterful.” —Kate Kelly, human rights lawyer and author of Ordinary Equality
“What kind of world will we create in the wake of a global pandemic and armed insurrection, in the midst of climate chaos, systemic racism, and inequity? In Heaven is a Place on Earth, the brilliant Adrian Shirk is looking for an existence that is more than just mere existence, more than ‘waged labor,’ a life that is less extractive, capitalistic, and crushing... In these pages, I found myself believing such a thing might be possible, and you will too—a testament to Adrian’s tremendous power as a writer, intellectual, and human.” —Cameron Dezen Hammon, author of This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession
AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY
An NPR Best Book of 2017
"These accounts are brief, vivid portraits of women in the 'spiritual avant-garde' . . . and [Shirk's] wide-ranging curiosity delights." ―The New Yorker
And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy is a hybrid memoir exploring American women and their religions, weaving connections between Adrian Shirk’s own varied spiritual experiences and the prophetesses, feminists, and spiritual icons who have shaped this country.
Shirk collects the histories of astrologers, faith healers, preachers, priestesses, mambos, and mediums who’ve had to find their own ways toward divinity outside prescribed patriarchal orders. Each woman represents a pathway for Shirk’s own spiritual inquiries. She introduces us to the New Orleans high priestess Marie Laveau, the pop New Age pioneer Linda Goodman, the prophetic vision of intersectionality as preached by Sojourner Truth, “saint” Flannery O’Connor, and so many more.
Through her journey, Shirk discovers that, as the culture wars flatten religious discourse and shred institutional trust, more and more Americans are yearning for alternative, individualized, feminist routes through religion. And women, having spent so much time at the margins of religious discourse, illuminate its darkened corners.
And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy is a beacon to those who are searching for a spirituality of resistance, for an unsteady truth. It draws a line from our own era of unrest to the women who came before us, those fascinating innovators, boundary crossers, paradoxes, and radical justice seekers.
"The book doubles as a catalogue of America’s 'divergent prophetesses' such as Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, the astrologer Linda Goodman, and the silver-tongued evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, who faked her own kidnapping to spend five weeks with her lover. These accounts are brief, vivid portraits of women in the 'spiritual avant-garde' . . . and [Shirk's] wide-ranging curiosity delights." ―The New Yorker
Adrian Shirk's debut is a lyrical pilgrimage through faith traditions and the stories of the female spiritual leaders, astrologers and preachers who helped shape America's religious identity. It's also a fascinating memoir about the author's own search for truth and community. Shirk is a generous writer whose penchant for detail and poetic observation will surprise even the staunchest skeptic.”— Juan Vidal, NPR
"A book with such a wide range of subjects might be written by numerous authors, but Shirk authors this collection solo, occasionally adopting different styles and voices . . . Readers could pick and choose essays, but they would be doing themselves a disservice, as the panoply of writing also serves as a memoir of Shirk’s life and thought."―Booklist
"Shirk writes with sincerity as she calmly details events, observations, and conjectures. In these stirring vignettes, she mixes historical accounts, interpretations, and fictionalized encounters to provide insight into her personal journey tracing the steps of American women who have sought out an alternative spirituality."―Publishers Weekly
"And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy is both concerned with what we know too much of―the age-old stories of patriarchal systems stifling the contributions and achievements of American female mystics, religious leaders, and thinkers―and with what we know too little of. Shirk's book is a tender, nuanced search not just for reliable biography, but for a depth of gaze into what those women did, felt, and thought." ―Diagram
"By highlighting women like voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, acclaimed astrologer Linda Goodman, the clairvoyant Fox Sisters, and the revolutionary Sojourner Truth, Shirk affirms the power of women’s voices and visions." ―Signature
“And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy is the perfect hybrid of memoir and history. A stunning literary debut that will inspire you to reimagine everything you thought you knew about religion and politics in America. Here, feminism and God, poetic clarity and mental illness, love and spiritual questing, all come together like old friends who’ve missed each other for too long. Adrian Shirk is one of the great millennial thinkers. Read this book and be exhilarated.” —Ariel Gore, author of We Were Witches
“Adrian Shirk’s ingenious book And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy carries her reader through the wildest ride America has to offer: her religions. Here the Spiritualists’ dead, the pageantry of Voudou, the literature and Liturgy of Catholicism meet civil rights, social justice, feminism, ancient blood rituals, and tales of how Hollywood helped birth the first Pentecostal megachurch. Shirk makes all of it magnificently personal and thrilling. Like the best of Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Shirk has a bold and irresistible story to tell.” —Samantha Hunt, author of The Dark Dark and Mr. Splitfoot
“This book is a pilgrimage. It takes us across the country, following in the footsteps of women who heard callings, strange knocks on the walls, and the voice of God. These spiritual geniuses shaped America’s path, and were often disregarded as kooks or charlatans by both the religious and secular world. Shirk treats these women with compassion and restores their dignity, while also candidly and with good humor exploring her own religious questions. This is a beautiful book written with great wit and a tremendous intelligence.” —Jessa Crispin, author of The Dead Ladies Project and Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, founder of Bookslut