Ave Maria is a collaboration between photographer Rylan Steele and Nora Wendl, as poet. The poems in Ave Maria intentionally take on the perspective of the founder of Ave Maria Township, Tom Monaghan (the founder and former CEO of Domino's Pizza), who was inspired to produce this town after reading a series of books. These books, ranging from the King James Bible to C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, impressed upon him the notion that building an intentional community would "save" him from being damned to hell for all eternity. The poems are constructed of fragments of these persuasive texts, fragments of other texts on utopia, and fragments of statements made by Monaghan in the media, in which he tried to explain his project by way of his own life.
Like any human project, Ave Maria, Florida is futile; the poems and photographs work together in an attempt to meditate upon this without judgement. As an agnostic feminist who grew up with an intimate view of Catholicism, writing these poems was an opportunity to meditate upon my own childhood dialogues and bargainings with god, the larger and more universal human practice of making gods, and the myriad reasons for doing so.
The project was a finalist for the 2015 Lange-Taylor Prize in Image Word Collaboration from Duke University Center for Documentary Studies.
Attributions: The italicized lines in the poems are quotes derived from the following disparate external sources. The poems do not specify which source the italicized lines are drawn from, therefore suggesting a possible intercourse of dialogue and exchangeability between the following: John Szarkowski, “Mirrors and Windows,” in American Photography Since 1960 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978), Lewis Mumford, The Story of Utopias (New York: The Viking Press, 1922), Dolores Hayden, Seven American Utopias (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1976), C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), and the King James Bible. Direct quotes from Tom Monaghan, also italicized, were sourced from Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other news sources.