Mary Catherine Gordon was born in Far Rockaway, New York, on December 8, 1949. Her mother, Anna Gagliano Gordon, was the daughter of Italian and Irish immigrants and a devout Catholic. David Gordon, her father, was born in Ohio. He converted from Judaism to Catholicism in the 1930’s.
As a young child, Gordon was cared for by her father, who stayed at home with her while her mother supported the family by working as a legal secretary, despite the crippling effects of childhood polio. David Gordon, a lively and literate man, who was educated at Harvard University, enthusiastically fostered his daughter’s intellectual development. Although he died when she was seven, he had already begun to teach her French, Greek, and philosophy and had transmitted to her his devotion to Catholicism.
After her father’s death, Gordon attended Holy Name of Mary School in her predominantly Catholic working-class neighborhood in Valley Stream, Long Island. She had literary aspirations quite early. While in grade school, she dreamed of becoming both a poet and a nun. At Mary Louis Academy, a Catholic girls’ school in Queens, Gordon rebelled against the Church, but she continued her literary efforts. In 1967, Gordon won a scholarship to Barnard College of Columbia University, where she knew she could escape from the sheltered Catholic community in which she had been reared. She has stated that her experiences at Barnard, especially in the novelist Elizabeth Hardwick’s creative writing course, changed her life. At the time Gordon was writing nothing but poetry; Hardwick advised...
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