Perry Kelly

[Authorhouse, 330 pages]

In Cosmos Screen, author Perry Kelly shares his experiences growing up in a large, southern Baptist family, the son of farmers during the Great Depression of the 1930s. He writes about his time in the Air Force during World War II, his college years, and his love of art, education and world travel.

Secretly gay, Kelly uses the “screen of Cosmos flowers… In the edge of [his] yard” as a metaphor for the alienation he felt from his family and the geographic separation he experienced as a consequence of his extensive travel.

Cosmos Screen opens with a look at Kelly’s early years. He writes thoughtfully and lovingly of his family, reflecting on his relationship with certain members. Kelly talks about religion and describes his family’s way of life as farmers and the hardships they faced during the Great Depression.

Cosmos Screen follows Kelly into adulthood and into the Air Force, through college, and over the course of a long, extraordinary career in art education. Motivated by his interest in art and his appreciation of different cultures, Kelly travels to over 40 countries seeking to understand a diversity of art forms and the role of art in cultures around the world.

In discussing Kelly’s extensive travels, Cosmos Screen becomes more of a travel log than a story about a man who was raised in the Baptist faith and his sexual orientation. In fact, with the exception of the book’s Epilogue, there’s little beyond factual references to Kelly’s homosexuality. In light of his career as an educator and his empathy for others who might be struggling with their sexual identity or their child’s, this writer found it curious and somewhat disappointing that Kelly chose to limit his personal reflections and insights on this important and still relevant, often divisive issue, especially given his unique historical perspective.

Cosmos Screen is the story of a passionate, highly respected and accomplished educator and mentor. Kelly’s love of art and his dedication to teaching and education are admirable, even inspirational. Cosmos Screen is the journey of a man whose life was touched by family, poverty, religion, homosexuality and homophobia. Too, it is the story of a man who took to heart his “mother’s admonishment to ‘always leave a place and people in better shape than you find them.'” That, Perry Kelly most certainly did.

by Annette Sultana

image: cosmos flowers on spring background via Shutterstock