The Ms. Q&A: What Feminist Poet Ada Limón is Carrying Through the Trump Era


Ada Limón’s latest book of poems is a jarring reminder of the ways in which the personal remains political—and the strength it takes to navigate both. The author of five books of poetry—including Bright Dead ThingsLucky WreckThis Big Fake World and Sharks in the Rivers—returned in August with a selection of work that bravely explores agency, power and autonomy. Inside, Limón, who currently serves on the faculty of Queens University of Charlotte Low Residency M.F.A program and the 24Pearl Street online program for the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, writes frankly and ferociously about racism, fertility and gender roles—and even drafts up a new National Anthem.

The Carrying was released by Milkweed Editions in August. To mark its emergence, Limón talked to Ms. about how feminism shapes her work, what it means to write from a mixed-race perspective in Trump’s America and what women across the country are carrying on their way to survival.

THE CARRYING is such a personal collection—spanning topics like grief and sickness, family and infertility, migration and belonging, all through your own eyes. And yet it fits into this larger, national discourse about gender, about race, even about politics. What were you meditating on when you wrote these poems? How did they come to be, and how did they come to be put together in this collection?

Thank you. It is always the hope that my poems will resonate beyond the personal “I” and connect on a larger more universal level with readers. When I am writing, I’m often filtering the world through my own individual experience, but I’m always letting the world move through me at the same time. How can you not? To be an artist is to be to constantly widening the gaze as far as you can, so that even in my own minutia, the larger big ticket topics are swirling through, the connection to all things.

This collection was written over the last three years. For the most part, I only write one poem at a time, slowly and with attention, until I have about 40 or so. That’s when I realized I was working toward a book. I was thinking a lot about human capacity when I wrote this book. The idea that so many things are happening at once—so much suffering, so much tenderness—and how do we process that, how do we hold on to both of those things without falling apart. I was also thinking a great deal about what it means to be a woman at this point in time, how our bodies are treated, how we are spoken about in the news, how we are spoken about and treated by the President, how are silent domestic work goes unsung, how hard it is to let go of societal pressures in regards to becoming a mother or being childfree. All of that effects us every second.

You’ve spoken previously about defying categorization and how your experiences as a mixed-race person inform, or don’t inform, your work. As conversations about race become more hostile, more based in these tragically persistent stereotypes, more loaded with fear and othering—do you feel more of an obligation now to speak more politically in your work?

I have always been wary about categorization, in poetry or elsewhere, if only because I don’t like limits. I want to think more fluidly about my own skin, my own body, my own consciousness. But that’s also a privilege I don’t always get. Because sometimes I’m not allowed to do that, to be fluid, to be more complex.

I do think because of the hostile nature of the current political climate, it’s impossible not to talk about the dangerous “othering” that’s so prevalent—even among people who think they are doing the right thing; that strange inclusion that feels forced. But I am also keenly aware now of how I am being used. I want to resist tokenization at all times.

It’s hard not to write about that in my own work. It’s something that we deal with every day, with the constant hate speech about Mexicans and illegal immigrants, with the ICE raids. It’s hard not to address it because it lives within you.

I was struck by the theme of survival, and of struggle, throughout the collection. It seems that THE CARRYING, for you, is a heavy load—be it grief, be it physical pain, be it existential pain—but still you draw connections to these legacies of survival women and communities of color share. How do you think we survive this current political moment? 

I think we all survive in many different ways. Each day calls for another kind of resistance or surrender. For me, some days I try to focus on the microcosm when the world’s pain is too much to take in. I focus on the little snore my dog makes, the cricket in the screened in porch, the task in front of me. Other days, it requires rage and a fighting back and rallying of support.

The main thing for me is to know that I am not alone. So many women are going through so much all the time. A friend who loses a father suddenly, a friend who is going to leave her partner, a friend who can’t have a child, a friend who has a child and it’s hard, a friend whose husband was deported, another who is struggling with making rent and addiction.

Every woman I know is carrying so much. We have to look out for each other. We have to allow ourselves to be tender toward one another. It’s isolation and the sense that we don’t belong anywhere that can destroy us.

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about the poem in the collection that actually references a legendary piece from Ms.—yours, “WIFE,” in reference to ours, “I Want A Wife,” the groundbreaking essay which explored the ways in which wives were relegated to living for someone else, for supplementing someone else’s life and not building their own. 

You talk about trying to fit into the word, and the ways in which you don’t, not in a traditional sense:

“…Housewife
fishwife, bad wife, good wife, what’s
the word for someone who stares long
into the morning, unable to even fix tea
some days, the kettle steaming over
loud like a train whistle, she who cries
in the mornings, she who tears a hole
in the earth and cannot stop grieving,
the one who wants to love you, but often
isn’t even good at that, the one who
doesn’t want to be diminished
by how much she wants to be yours.”

What does your version of a wife look like? How have you navigated that territory as a feminist? 

Yes! Ms. was always in our house growing up, and though that essay was published before I was born, I somehow still remember it.

Before I got married I think I was resistant to the word. It sounded so antiquated. And yet, I did want to get married. That poem was essential to me because it helped me work through my own issues with the word. I am a wife that writes, poets, reads, travels and is not a mother and is selfish with her time—and I’m glad that I get to be that wife. I’m lucky that I get to live in a love that accepts me entirely for the weird complex person that I am. I think I had to reclaim the word, and now I even kind of like it.

I would describe many of the poems in THE CARRYING as feminist poems—works that provide really important commentary on the experiences of being female in our contemporary America. You speak often about the body, about trying to ensure your body belongs to you. You speak often about the ways in which men’s sexism almost permeates every part of your being—your dreams, your ability to pump gas. And you speak defiantly about making room for your story, even if it makes someone uncomfortable. How would you say feminism informs your creative process?

I’ve always said that my two favorite f-words are “feminism” and “forgiveness.”

I was raised a feminist since I was a small child. Feminism informs what I create, because I’ve always been taught that I have value no matter who or what tries to take that way from me. Any woman who has walked down a street has known what it was to feel like your own body—simply by being female—puts you in danger. For women of color, that danger feels amplified.

But it’s not enough to simply admit that we live in a skewed world. We also have to examine it, what makes it so, what are we doing to each other, what harmful myths are we perpetuating, what are we telling ourselves about our own value. Looking further into those issues is important to me—not just for me and for other women, but for men, too, so they can see a sliver of our lives that they might not always get to see.

It’s amazing to me that simply valuing your own voice can be a radical act, but it is.

The post The Ms. Q&A: What Feminist Poet Ada Limón is Carrying Through the Trump Era appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.



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LISTEN: Poet Fatimah Asghar Explores Partition, Immigration and Assimilation in “If They Come For Us”


In her debut poetry collection, If They Come For UsFatimah Asghar, co-creator of the Emmy-nominated web series “Brown Girls,” writes bluntly and beautifully about being a Pakistani Muslim woman in our contemporary political times.

In a series of poems spanning the intergenerational trauma of Partition—the genocides that led to Pakistan’s ultimate campaign for independence from Britain—and her own struggle to find her place in the U.S., Asghar’s poems in If They Come For Us depict the lasting impacts of state-sanctioned violence and the rhetoric of hate, as well as the stark disconnect between the American dream and the lived reality of American immigrants. With both poignancy and levity, she takes readers with her on a journey toward declaring her own identity and sorting through the suffering her community faces around the world.

In “From,” she contemplates the question that, for women of color, feels as old as time: but where are you from? In “Partition,” she explores the culturally-imposed separations between the women in her family. In “Portrait of My Father, Alive,” she illustrates the lengths her father went to in New York City to feel at home.

In “Old Country,” she remembers the intensity of going to the buffet with her family, where they ate for hours and took leftovers home to make ends meet:

Here we loosened the drawstrings
on our shalwaars & gained ten pounds.
Here we arrived at the beginning of lunch
hour & stayed until dinner approached

until they made us leave. Here we learned
how to be American & say:
we got the money
we’re here to stay.

Asghar created Bosnia’s first Spoken Word Poetry group REFLEKS while on a Fulbright studying theater in post-genocidal countries—which makes it all the more fitting that she would record her own audiobook for If They Come For Us. In an exclusive clip for Ms. readers below, Asghar reads the four aforementioned poems in her own voice.


Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. and Contributing Editor and Co-Founder of Argot Magazine; her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle, where she was previously Community Director and Feminism Editor. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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Confronting the Dangers of Medical Sexism at “The Bleeding Edge”


They’re the three words nobody wants to hear: “You need surgery.”

For many, just the fear of being under anesthesia and not having control over your body is terrifying—but on top of that, the potential risks involved with the procedure itself are often worthy of some concern. Despite all of this, however, the decision to have a surgical procedure can also bring a sense of hope: the idea of fixing a medical issue brings patients a feeling of optimism.

Unfortunately, some patients recover from a procedure only to be met with a lifetime of chronic pain and suffering. Their stories are the launchpad for Kirby Dick’s new documentary The Bleeding Edge, which explores and reveals the dangers and consequences of many medical devices hailed more broadly as examples of modern innovation.

Medical devices exist within an interesting grey area in the world of medicine. Whereas drugs must undergo a thorough testing process to ensure efficacy and safety, medical devices don’t. Instead, they fall under a bizarre clinical testing framework that simply requires the device to be “substantially equivalent” to another legally U.S. marketed device—even if that device has been recalled.

It isn’t a stretch to imagine the ways in which this process could induce cyclical horrors for patients—and it isn’t just a hypothetical danger.

The Bleeding Edge, for example, explores the approval and subsequent consequences for women in the release of Essure, a permanent form of birth control that boasted short procedure time, minimal pain and no incisions—and was 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Doctors who implanted the devices inserted a small metal coil into each fallopian tube—resulting in the body generating scar tissue around the device that closed each and blocked the connection of sperm and egg.

For many women, Essure felt like a long-awaited perfect fit for their reproductive lives. However, problems with the seemingly foolproof device began surfacing in high numbers. Patients complained of chronic pain, immense bleeding and high fevers.

The Bleeding Edge includes footage from an FDA hearing regarding Essure’s approval. At one point, one doctor jokes that “private investigators would find each of us, bring us back here and ask us why we approved this.” The entire room fills with laughter. During the discussion, questions from doctors about the risks of the technology went unanswered.

Another medical device disaster explored in Dick’s documentary was vaginal mesh—a technology cleared through the same risky approval pathway as Essure which boasted lasting results and a short procedure time to treat mild incontinence issues. Such treatments ultimately left many women with immense pain and bleeding. For many, choosing vaginal mesh stripped them of their sexual lives and put their sexual health in crisis.

Dick also shines a light on the DaVinci Robot—a device that allowed doctors to preform surgeries from up to seven feet away using robotic instruments which was used frequently to perform hysterectomies, causing a huge uptick in the rate of vaginal cuff dehiscence. Women patients whose doctors used the robot were three to nine times more likely to suffer a complete tear of their vaginal incision as a result; in the documentary, patients recall “pomegranate-sized” blood clots emerging in between their legs, and even multiple feet of intestines “falling” out of their vaginas.

Not all medical device stories in The Bleeding Edge are as distinctly female—the documentary also focuses on the harrowing stories of hip replacements causing muscle deterioration and internal “metal sludge”—and, surely, neither are the myriad horror stories left unexposed in the film. But the fact that three of four examples used to illustrate the dangers of the medical device field so uniquely impacted women is a telling tale of the dangers of medical sexism—and the callous regulatory policies and practices that disregard the importance of women’s health and lives.

Viewers can’t help but question if medical device companies and the bodies which oversee their administration simply care less about women, resulting in a failure to adequately assess risks to their well-being before predatory attempts to persuade them into undergoing new procedures. It’s a question pondered in other documentaries like Perfectly Safe, which focuses on the dangers of breast implants specifically but reveals, in the narrative, the often fatal flaws in testing and evidence-sharing which the FDA and the inventors of female-oriented medical devices seem content to continue perpetuating.

Doctors themselves can be party to such sexism as well, as exhibited in the stories women tell in The Bleeding Edge. When Ana Fuentes called her doctor and described multiple painful symptoms she believed resulted from the implant of her Essure device, he immediately doubts her. “Those two little things,” he remarks, belittling her pain, “don’t do all the changes you’re telling me.” The social norm of doubting women, and of minimizing their pain, is a thruline in the film. Even when women complained of excruciating abdominal pain and inability to walk, doctors often wrote off their symptoms to normal menstrual pain.

As the late Rep. Louise Slaughter says in one scene: “Women just seem to be expendable, don’t they?” One major takeaway from The Bleeding Edge is that it is long past time for the medical community to ditch such an idea of expendability and choose accountability instead.

Madeleine Gatto is an editorial intern at Ms. She is currently majoring in journalism and minoring in law and public policy at the University of Southern California. Her passion for feminist writing and research began when she was a part of her high school’s Girls Learn International chapter and Women’s Awareness club. Despite the fact that her last name means cat in Italian, she’s most definitely a dog person.

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Fabulous Feminist Fiction for the End of Summer


Reading Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s new novel, The Evolution of Love, I remembered what it means to fall in love with a novel—to race through its pages, then slow down as I see the climax coming; to set the book down to spend more time with the characters in my own imagination; to delay the inevitable ending as the stack of pages left dwindles in my hands.

When Lily is unable to reach her sister Vicky in Berkeley, California after the bay area has been hit by a big earthquake, she boards a plane to Sacramento and makes her way to Berkeley by hired car and then by foot to find her sister. Lily’s quest is compelling from page one. Bledsoe deftly sketches out a motley crew of characters who grapple with big questions: What is love? What is community? What is family? Why do any of these ideas matter to humans?

The Evolution of Love reminded me of reading Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver for the first time in the early 1990s. Bledsoe’s characters, like Kingsolver’s, are strong, independent women; Lily in The Evolution of Love and Codi and Hallie in Animal Dreams all live and love passionately while confiding their insecurities and human fallibilities. Both writers engage the messiness of life in their plots and characters. Both writers concern themselves with politics, the environment, human relationships with nature, nature’s relationship with humans, feminism, and explorations that take seriously the lives of women. What results are novels that inspire and awaken readers to the joy and pain of what it means to be human.

Where Bledsoe creates an expansive world in the post-catastrophe bay area, Nicola Griffith creates a taut, contracting world for Mara Tagarelli in her new novel So Lucky. As it opens, everything is falling apart for Mara: she loses her wife, her job and her health with a new diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. The ensuring, carefully shaped novel follows Mara as she grapples with her life as a disabled woman—filled with rage, humor and different kinds of love. So Lucky is feminist fiction at its best: powerful storytelling informed by politics with a memorable plot and protagonist. This thriller is a fantastic afternoon read—and once you pick it up, you’ll read all the way to the end.

Leesa Cross-Smith’s debut novel Whiskey & Ribbons explores similar questions of love and family. “My husband Eamon was shot and killed in the line of duty while I was sleeping,” protagonist Evangeline “Evi” Royce, who was also in her last month of pregnancy when Eamon died, explains in the first sentence. In the voices of Evangeline, Eamon and Dalton, Eamon’s brother, Whiskey & Ribbons tells the story of these characters lives in moving ways. Cross-Smith’s novel pairs well with Tayari Jones’s best-selling An American Marriage.

More adventurous readers with a penchant for prose that overlaps with poetry and writing that takes bold experimental risks should dash off to spend time with Quintan Ana Wikswo’s novel A Long Curing Scar Where the Hearth Should Be. This book combines luminous prose with haunting photographs, amd Wikswo’s writing is erotic and evocative—perfect for the last of these languid summer days spent lounging with a book.

p1030388-150x150Julie R. Enszer, Ph.D., is a visiting assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of Maryland. She is writing a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2000 and is author of Sisterhood and Handmade Love. She is editor of Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She has her MFA and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. She is the editor of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and a regular book reviewer for the Lambda Book Report and Calyx. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.

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BlackStar Feminists: 10 Films Amplifying the Experiences of Women of Color


From August 2 to 5, 81 films by social justice-oriented filmmakers screened in Philadelphia as part of the BlackStar Film Festival.

Founder Maori Holmes launched the festival after she began looking up films with Black directors that hadn’t played in her city. “[I] was shocked at how many there were,” she said. “That first year we had 40 films.” The festival, now in its seventh year, has grown to include panels, workshops and conversations to expand awareness of specifically Black experiences and experiences related to communities of color.

For those behind-the-scenes, conquering the rigorous selection process can be a gateway to a rare level of success—not only for politically-minded creatives, but for Black creatives as well. “We have definitely been on the vanguard with an artist, emerging or established, screening at our festival,”  told Ms., “and then their career blowing up shortly afterward.”

Many of the films that screened at BlackStar this year had a distinctly feminist bent—spanning topics and the experiences of women of color around the world. We hope they blow up, too.

Cori Bratby-Rudd is an eclectic writer from the Bay Area. She graduated Cum Laude from UCLA’s Gender Studies department, and is a current MFA in Creative Writing at Cal Arts. Cori enjoys incorporating themes of emotional healing and social justice into her works. She is currently living in the Los Angeles area and has been published in UCLA’s FEM Newsmagazine, UCLA’s Westwind Journal of the Arts, Cornell’s Rainy Day Magazine, and she recently won the Editorial Choice Award for her research paper in Audeamus Academic Journal.

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Five Ways We Can Get to 50/50 Onscreen


This week heralds the release of Crazy Rich Asians, a film adaptation of the best-selling book by Kevin Kwan. The romantic comedy is a major motion picture with big studio backing and a reported budget of $30 million. For Hollywood it also presents something unique: an all-Asian cast.

As The New York Times reported last week: “The last time a major Hollywood film set in the present day showcased a majority Asian cast was a whopping 25 years ago, with The Joy Luck Club in 1993.” NYT writer Robert Ito called Crazy Rich Asians something of a “cinematic Halley’s comet because—before Joy Luck Club, there was The Flower Drum Song in 1961, and then what?”

The film was not only an incredible opportunity for Asian actors, but also for Asian- and Asian-American moviegoers. The filmmaker and Kwan turned down a lucrative deal with Netflix in order to get to the silver screen. “Ultimately, we decided Netflix is probably the future,” director Jon M. Chu told Vanity Fair. “But right now, it’s not. We’re really focused on the financial victory of people showing up so that other voices can be heard and other stories can be told.”

Despite the big opening predicted for Chu’s film, a recent report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, “Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films,” revealed some disappointing data for women and particularly women of color in Hollywood.

Of the top 100 films in 2017, two thirds didn’t include a single Asian or Asian-American character. Two-thirds. Among the female leads, only fur actors out of the 33 films that had female leads weren’t white. None were Asian.

Women are rarely in leading roles in film, even now. Women of color, including Asian women, fare even worse. (Infographic via Annenberg Inclusion Initiative)

The smaller screen is no better. A recent study by Asian-American Pacific Islander academics found that 64 percent of television shows do not include one Asian or Asian-American character.

With all the talk in Hollywood of inclusion and diversity, we’d all hoped to see some movement in these numbers over the past few years. But the study reveals just how little top-grossing movies have changed when it comes to the on-screen prevalence and portrayal of females, underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, the LGBT community and individuals with disabilities.

In order to combat ongoing inequality in film, report authors offer several solutions.

#1: Put more women in charge.

The answer to addressing “on-screen diversity deficits may lie behind the scenes,” Dr. Stacy Smith and her co-authors of the Annenberg report write: “The presence of a female in the directing or writing role is associated with more female characters on screen. The same is true for Black directors and Black characters — particularly Black female characters.”

One woman with power agrees. In the September issue of Vogue, Beyoncé told journalist Clover Hope why she insisted on working with “this brilliant 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell.” At 23, Mitchell is among the youngest photographers to have shot the cover of Vogue. He is also the first African-American photographer to have done it in the magazine’s 125-year history.

“We will all lose” without diversity, Beyoncé says. “If people in powerful positions continue to hire and cast only people who look like them, sound like them, come from the same neighborhoods they grew up in, they will never have a greater understanding of experiences different from their own. They will hire the same models, curate the same art, cast the same actors over and over again and we will all lose.”

But first we need to get more women and people of color into those powerful positions. The Annenberg report notes that “few women or people of color have worked as directors on the most popular films across more than a decade. Of 2017’s top-grossing film directors, only 7.3 percent were female, 5.5 percent were Black and 3.7 percent were Asian. Only one woman of color worked on the top movies released last year.”

We need more women onscreen—and off. (Infographic via Annenberg Inclusion Initiative)

#2: Make use of inclusion riders.

Dr. Stacy Smith is the founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. She and her team have been conducting extensive research on gender equality in entertainment for over a decade. Other organizations, such as the Sundance Institute, the Representation ProjectWomen in Film and the Women’s Media Center, also lead initiatives intended to document the diversity gap and to implement programs to close that gap.

In 2014, Stacy wrote an op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter introducing the concept of equity, or inclusion, riders and talked about it in her 2016 TEDWomen talk (watch below).  A template of the rider is available at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative website.

#3: Set targets for inclusion goals.

One way to move toward measurable change is for companies to set target inclusion goals. These objectives, which should be transparent and public, should specify not only a company’s expectations for inclusion but also the steps it will take to achieve the goals.

One model for how studios and production companies can activate equilibrium change for inclusion comes from powerhouse producer and director Ava Duvernay. She set a goal that she met: 100 percent women directors for her TV series, “Queen Sugar.”

#4: Just add five.

Most of the background speaking roles in film are awarded to men. In order to increase the percentage of women on screen and set a new overall norm for female characters, “directors could add five female speaking characters to every one of the 100 top movies next year.”

Founder of Institute on Gender in Media Geena Davis lays out the process in two easy steps. Besides speaking roles, she encourages parity in crowd scenes and other scenes involving extras. Although you can’t “snap your fingers and suddenly half the Congress is female,” onscreen it’s much easier, she explains. “In the time it takes to make a movie or create a television show, we can change what the future looks like.”

#5: Encourage—and take advantage of—tax incentives that promote diversity.

Lastly, entertainment companies benefit from state tax incentives that subsidize production costs. Earlier this year, Asian-American lawmakers in California pushed through legislation that extended its film and TV tax incentive program and introduced new measures for productions receiving the credit to report on diversity. The Hollywood Reporter notes that even though productions don’t have to meet any quotas to be considered for the credit, the “objective is to motivate change by starting with self-awareness.”

“‘By including reporting on diversity above the line, this bill creates accountability,’ said Dr. Stacy L. Smith. ‘Rather than waiting for reports like mine, content creators have to tabulate their own scores on inclusion, and creating this awareness opens up a space for people to make intentional choices in who is hired, and it forces filmmakers to recognize when they have not made choices toward inclusion.’”

Other states with successful tax incentive programs, such as my home state of Georgia where more films were made last year than in Hollywood and New York, should follow California’s lead and institute inclusion reporting of their own.

Yes, we have a long way to go in getting to gender and racial equality onscreen—to getting closer to the “REEL” world looking like the “real” world—and we can’t wait for the film and TV industry to move in this direction without new strategies and incentives. But another very effective lever for this change is what you and I buy tickets to watch and listen to and what we decide to stream and read. Supporting projects that promote diversity is one very important step in that direction.

Will “Crazy Rich Asians” be another Halley’s Comet or a new constellation that lights up Hollywood?

As actress Constance Wu tweeted, “I know [Crazy Rich Asians] won’t represent every Asian American. So for those who don’t feel seen, I hope there is a story you find soon that does represent you. I am rooting for you. We’re not all the same, but we all have a story.”

It’s a good time to start telling the untold ones.

Originally published on Pat Mitchell’s blog. Republished with author permission.

Pat Mitchell is known for her leadership in the media industry as a CEO, producer and curator. She partners with the TED organization to co-curate and host an annual global TEDWomen conference and is the chair of theWomen’s Media Center and Sundance Institute boards, a founding board member of V-Day, a member of the board of the Acumen Fund and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The first woman president and CEO of PBS, she most recently served as president and CEO of the Paley Center for Media; she is now a senior adviser to the organization. She is also the former president of CNN Productions, where she executive produced hundreds of hours of documentaries and specials, which received 35 Emmy Awards and five Peabody Awards. She was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 2009.

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Rest in Power: Paying Respect to Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul


“Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is dead.”

That line plays in my mind like a badly scratched record, hiccupping at one point—is dead, is dead, is dead repeating itself over and over again.

Aretha Franklin performing in the East Room of the White House in 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Aretha’s death marks the passing of a generation of Boomers who grew up singing “Respect”—a song that celebrated women’s independence and became the secular theme song for the Civil Rights Movement—and crying to “Natural Woman,” “Never Loved a Man” and “Until You Come Back to Me.”

But even in the age of Beyoncé and Nikki Minaj, Aretha didn’t disappoint. Her lyrics and melodies were a respite from run-on sentences that didn’t rhyme or words with no cadence or imagery. Aretha reclaimed me with “Forgive but Can’t Forget” and “Wonderful.”

No more nostalgia. If Aretha can die, so can we. Facing mortality is something else. As long as Aretha was alive and crooning, I could ride the rhythms of her lyrics through memory lane, and let them take me back to places of hallway grinds and sweet young boy kisses, men who didn’t do right—people, places, spaces that tried to disrespect me. For every event or encounter, there was an Aretha song.

She was my—our—“Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Seeing Aretha waste away was the first sign that all was not well with the Queen. She’d battled obesity for decades, along with smoking, and later complications from her illness reduced her to just a wisp of herself. Still, she garnered our “Respect.” Regardless of size, Aretha’s voice never faltered, and never failed her or us.

“[Aretha] was like a muse whose songs whispered the strength to continue on,” Rep. John Lewis, an iconic civil rights activist, wrote upon hearing of her death. “Her music gave us a greater sense of determination to never give up or give in, and to keep the faith.”

And now she’s gone.

“The Weight” is upon us. Yes, we have all the songs she wrote and sang—thank God. And all the albums she recorded—hallelujah. And anyone in hearing distance of my house or car is gonna have to suck it up and listen to my Aretha marathon: “Don’t Play that Song Again,” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” especially “Respect” and so many more.

For now, just can’t get that scratch out of my head: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is dead, is dead, is dead…

Gone? Yes. Forgotten? Never.

This piece originally appeared at Insight News. It was republished with author permission.

Irma McClaurin, PhD, is an anthropologist, consultant and freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C. She is co-chair of the upcoming Seneca Falls Revisited: Women’s Equality Weekend, a prize-winning columnist and former Culture and Education editor for Insight News.

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Rest in Power: Paying Respect to Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul


“Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is dead.”

That line plays in my mind like a badly scratched record, hiccupping at one point—is dead, is dead, is dead repeating itself over and over again.

Aretha Franklin performing in the East Room of the White House in 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Aretha’s death marks the passing of a generation of Boomers who grew up singing “Respect”—a song that celebrated women’s independence and became the secular theme song for the Civil Rights Movement—and crying to “Natural Woman,” “Never Loved a Man” and “Until You Come Back to Me.”

But even in the age of Beyoncé and Nikki Minaj, Aretha didn’t disappoint. Her lyrics and melodies were a respite from run-on sentences that didn’t rhyme or words with no cadence or imagery. Aretha reclaimed me with “Forgive but Can’t Forget” and “Wonderful.”

No more nostalgia. If Aretha can die, so can we. Facing mortality is something else. As long as Aretha was alive and crooning, I could ride the rhythms of her lyrics through memory lane, and let them take me back to places of hallway grinds and sweet young boy kisses, men who didn’t do right—people, places, spaces that tried to disrespect me. For every event or encounter, there was an Aretha song.

She was my—our—“Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Seeing Aretha waste away was the first sign that all was not well with the Queen. She’d battled obesity for decades, along with smoking, and later complications from her illness reduced her to just a wisp of herself. Still, she garnered our “Respect.” Regardless of size, Aretha’s voice never faltered, and never failed her or us.

“[Aretha] was like a muse whose songs whispered the strength to continue on,” Rep. John Lewis, an iconic civil rights activist, wrote upon hearing of her death. “Her music gave us a greater sense of determination to never give up or give in, and to keep the faith.”

And now she’s gone.

“The Weight” is upon us. Yes, we have all the songs she wrote and sang—thank God. And all the albums she recorded—hallelujah. And anyone in hearing distance of my house or car is gonna have to suck it up and listen to my Aretha marathon: “Don’t Play that Song Again,” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” especially “Respect” and so many more.

For now, just can’t get that scratch out of my head: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is dead, is dead, is dead…

Gone? Yes. Forgotten? Never.

This piece originally appeared at Insight News. It was republished with author permission.

Irma McClaurin, PhD, is an anthropologist, consultant and freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C. She is co-chair of the upcoming Seneca Falls Revisited: Women’s Equality Weekend, a prize-winning columnist and former Culture and Education editor for Insight News.

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Poems for a New Native Dialogue


The best-selling poetry anthologies from Native American writers are dated (in this order) 1918, 1996, 1988 and 1984. Heid E. Erdrich set out to expand that timeline, and subvert boundaries, by compiling and editing New Poets of Native Nations.

“I did not want to add to the body of literature that allows ‘Indians’ to exist in the past, or in relation to the past,” Erdrich writes, “but remain invisible in the world we all inhabit now.”

Erdrich’s anthology features work from 21 poets whose first books were, fittingly, published at some point during the 21st century—including Tacey M. Atsitty, Trevino L. Brings Plenty, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Laura Da’, Natalie Diaz, Jennifer Elise Foerster, Eric Gansworth, Gordon Henry, Jr., Sy Hoahwah, LeAnne Howe, Layli Long Soldier, Janet McAdams, Brandy Na -lani McDougall, Margaret Noodin, dg nanouk okpik, Craig Santos Perez, Tommy Pico, Cedar Sigo, M. L. Smoker, Gwen Westerman and Karenne Wood. Work from Erdrich herself, the author of five collections, is also featured.

While the collection has the word “new” in the title, the writers featured are not young or inexperienced. They are former National Artist Fellows from the Native Arts and Culture Foundation and winners of the Lambda Literary Awards, PEN America Awards, Truman Capote Literary Trust Awards, Corson-Browning Poetry Prizes and National Book Critics Circle Awards for Poetry, among many others. Ranging in topics, but connected through a shared language of social justice, they represent some of the best writers in the Americas.

The work within New Poets is challenging and profound; the collection, which ranges from experimental and hybrid poetry to lyrical poems, is teeming with talent. Inside, Layli Long Soldier, whose first book WHERAS came out earlier this year, shares a beautiful, tragic and expertly hopeful piece titled “38” examining the slaughter of 38 Dakota men in 1862—the same week the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by then-President Abraham Lincoln. Tommy Pico, a self-indentified “weirdo NDN faggot,” writes refreshingly, startlingly and powerfully within its pages about his experiences at karaoke bars and on college campuses in moments that swing the reader from intense laughter to harsh and heavy tears.

Once on campus I see a York Peppermint Pattie wrapper on the ground, pick it up, and throw it away.
Yr such a good Indian says some dikl walking to class. So,
I no longer pick up trash.

“These 21 new poets, like their predecessors, are emerging from the Earth or falling from the Sky, from industrial streets, boarding schools, fast cards, all0night tribal or city dances, MFA programs and bureaucratic lines,” feminist and indigenous poet Joy Harjo writes about the collection. “Beauty threads with squalor. This is Earth. What a collection Heid E. Erdich has made of so many original and fresh Native voices, from so many places, gathered here, right here; it is happening, this new Native Nations poetry.”

Cori Bratby-Rudd is an eclectic writer from the Bay Area. She graduated Cum Laude from UCLA’s Gender Studies department, and is a current MFA in Creative Writing at Cal Arts. Cori enjoys incorporating themes of emotional healing and social justice into her works. She is currently living in the Los Angeles area and has been published in UCLA’s FEM Newsmagazine, UCLA’s Westwind Journal of the Arts, Cornell’s Rainy Day Magazine, and she recently won the Editorial Choice Award for her research paper in Audeamus Academic Journal.

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Somos Ruidosas: Meet the Feminists Fighting for Gender Equality in the Latin American Music Industry


Words ending in the letter “a” are considered feminine in the Spanish language, and those ending in “o” are considered masculine. The feminine ruidosa means “noisy”—and the feminist collective of the same name is earning its stripes by ringing the alarm about sexism in the Latinx music scene.

Latina legends like Selena Quintanilla, Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan have become household names around the world, but they are outliers in an industry that’s predominantly male-dominated. Across Latin America, women in the music industry are less frequently booked to perform and less likely to be nominated for awards—and far less likely than men to be awarded them. 

That’s why Ruidosa is making so much noise.

Founded by singer-songwriter Francisca Valenzuela, the collective builds community online and off around the work of female musicians. Each year, Ruidosa Fest amplifies the voices of women in music through performances and panels. Online and around the clock, the digital platform Somos Ruidosa showcases the work of women musicians, offers up a directory of Ruidos@s and breaks down data around women’s participation and under-representation in the industry. 

There’s a lot of work to do towards equality within it. “There’s a constant questioning and stigmatization,” Camilla Gonzalez, a journalist and zine creator who recently joined the small Ruidosa team, explained, “about different characteristics that are associated with femininity and being a woman.”

Gonzalez and Giovanna Roa, an activist and designer, agreed in a conversation with Ms. that they want Ruidosa to be a space for feminists but also for women across ideological spectrums—and to spark conversations about gender equality across differently-minded communities. Valenzuela also wants people in power throughout the industry to be inclusive and more self-award about bias and stereotypes within it. Most importantly, they want to foster a culture of women supporting one another instead of competing with each other, in defiance of corporate music industry structures. 

For Valenzuela, who has been working in the music industry for over a decade, Ruidosa is a tool for transforming a society that devalues women’s creative work. “The aspiration is not to make a close academic circle with different language,” Valenzuela told Ms., “but bring the conversation to the ground level.”

Mariela Santos is a freelance journalist. Her writing has appeared thus far on websites including Huffington Post Women and Women’s iLab. She has an M.A. in International Relations and International Communications from Boston University, and sometimes tweets from @WMNSportsWorld.

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