In this week’s Wednesday 5: Amazing women you’ve never heard of, Michelle Obama dunks her way into fabulous and 50, roles that are more likely to win women Oscars, women are reading more than ever, and Happy Birthday to writer Edwidge Danticat.
Amazing Women You’ve Never Heard Of
“For every Joan of Arc, there’s a Mongolian wrestler princess; for every Mata Hari, there’s a Colombian revolutionary spy; for every Ada Lovelace, there’s a pin-up Austrian telecoms inventor,” writes Jessica Phelan of the Global Post. In her article, she describes seven real women to add to our pantheon of heroines. They hail from Mongolia, Nigeria, Colombia, China, England, Russia, and Austria. It’s an important piece, since it counters the often-rote list of women we are used to hearing. And of course, any list that champions under-the-radar women gets our attention at Women’s Voices.
We have to say, we were particularly intrigued to hear that Hedy Lamarr—the Hollywood actress of the 1940s—was, on her downtime, “coming up with the system of wireless communication that would later form the foundation of cellphones, Wi-Fi and most of our modern life.”
What 50 Looks Like
Speaking of Amazing Women: For this week’s dose of awesome, we share with you the newly minted 50-year-old Michelle Obama, who recently showcased her basketball dunking skills in a video bomb of the Miami Heat. Enjoy!
How to Win a Best Actress Oscar (Spoiler Alert: Play a Wife)
It’s Awards season! The Huffington Post has put together some nifty infographics visualizing an important question for women in Hollywood: How to Win a Best Actress Oscar? After all the tallying, here’s what the data says about which roles led to an Oscar.
- Get cast as a wife, mother, sister, daughter, or girlfriend STAT! (Men get cast as important historical figures).
- Play a prostitute or mistress.
- Play a housekeeper or maid.
What’s the lesson here? Katie Halper of Feministing.com weighs in:
The Academy really likes to reward women for playing characters defined by their familial relations to others, and will also give them pats on the head for playing maids, housekeepers, prostitutes, or mistresses—other roles defined by their relations to others. Men, on the other hand, are rewarded for playing important historical figures or whatever the hell they want, and will get encouraging punches in the arm for playing men who have career achievements under their belts—particularly in the male-dominated spheres of law or the military.
Reading Only Books By Women? This Year, It’s Easy
In this week’s Wednesday 5: More women than men are covering the war zones in Syria; Dr. Maya Angelou, at 85 years old, will receive National Book Award; a few things you may not have known about the adventurous Agatha Christie; Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat believes that all immigrants are artists; and Nina Davuluri becomes the first Indian-American to hold the title of Miss America.
Women Journalists Covering the Syrian War
While Syria continues to make the headlines, women are the ones increasingly behind the bylines. Known as the world’s most dangerous war zone for journalists, Sheera Frenkel reports in BuzzFeed:
“For the first time I look around and I see as many female journalists as males. Of course, we have specific security needs and issues, but finally the debate has moved on from ‘should we go cover war’ and into ‘we are here covering war, how do we make it safer,’” said one British journalist with over 30 years of experience in conflict areas. “We might still be fighting to get noticed at awards and debates or to convince our editors that we should be on the frontlines, but to everyone who pays attention, women are taking the lead in Syria.”
And yet the perception continues that women are largely absent or invisible in reporting on the region. The issue might be one of promotion and publicity. “Many women in the field said, is that despite the numbers, women are less likely to nominate themselves for awards or promote their work on television and radio shows where journalists appear on expert panels,” writes Frankel. In other words, women are less likely than men to nominate themselves for awards or seek publicity for their work.
Read more at BuzzFeed.
Maya Angelou, National Book Award Recipient
Maya Angelou is having a great month. A couple weeks ago, she debut as Cole Haan’s newest model for their “Born in 1928” campaign–the same year both Angelou was born and the iconic label was founded. Now the poet turned model is slated to receive the Literarian Award at this year’s National Book Award in November. At 85 years old, Angelou has already won three Grammys, a National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. But, after 12 best selling books and at least 39 different publications, which include books of poetry, autobiographies, personal essays, children’s books, screenplays and plays that she penned, she has never won such top literary prizes as the Pulitzer or PEN/Faulkner and has never even been a nominee for a National Book Award. So, the only thing left to say is “. . . at last.” Well deserved Maya.
Cole Haan Born in 1928 Campaign: Dr. Maya Angelou
The Adventurous Agatha Christie
Speaking of talented women of the page, in honor of Agatha Christie’s birthday (September 15, 1890), the folks at mental_floss prepared a lovely list to remind us why the the best-selling author of all time was just as exciting as her crime-fighting characters. Here are some of our favorites tidbits about Christie’s life:
1. She started writing mystery novels after her older sister told her she couldn’t—the plots were just too complicated and she didn’t think Agatha was capable of weaving them together.
2. Christie and her husband were some of the first British people to ever try surfing.
3. In addition to 66 novels and 15 short story collections, Christie also wrote six romance novels under the name Mary Westmacott. It wasn’t her only pseudonym: she originally submitted her work to editors under the name “Monosyllaba.”
4. Christie’s famous Belgian detective character Hercule Poirot is the only fictional character to receive an obituary in the New York Times.
Haitian-born writer Edwidge Danticat (44 years old) has a new book out, Claire of the the Sealight. She recently contributed to The Atlantic’s By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature. Danticat shared that she believes that “re-creating your entire life is a form of reinvention on par with the greatest works of literature.” And if you know Women’s Voices for Change you know we are always intrigued by how women define reinvention in their own lives. For Danticat, reinvention has been integral to her identity as an immigrant in the United States. The article’s author Joe Fassler writes of Danticat:
“. . .trying to start a life in a strange land is an artistic feat of the highest order, one that ranks with (or perhaps above) our greatest cultural achievements. We discussed the ways immigrant parents model artistry for their children in their struggle to survive, and how the decision to choose a creative discipline can be fraught for the subsequent generation.”
Read more: “All Immigrants Are Artists” at The Atlantic
She’s the First
Edwidge Danticat’s words that the immigrant is an artist couldn’t be more relevant as this week Nina Davuluri became the first Indian-American to hold the title of Miss America. Whatever our feelings toward beauty pageants might be, we have to embrace the fact that for an Indian woman to win the Miss America pageant speaks volumes about our country’s notion’s of beauty and of racial inclusiveness. So, in this week’s dose of goodness, we share with you Davuluri’s Indian dance performance at the pageant.
We’re always on the lookout for books that strike a chord with our readers. This week in New & Notable we focus on the “family dramas”—a young girl’s disappearance unearths a community’s secrets; a widow rediscovers passion in the tangled lives of her neighbors; and a family comes together to rescue an overeating matriarch.
Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat
From the best-selling author of Brother, I’m Dying and The Dew Breaker: a stunning new work of fiction that brings us deep into the intertwined lives of a small seaside town in Ville Rose, Haiti, where a little girl, the daughter of a fisherman, has gone missing. Painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed among the community of men and women whose individual stories connect to Claire, to her parents, and to the town itself. (Excerpted from Alfred A. Knopf, publisher.)
“Danticat once again tells a story that feels as mysterious and magical as a folk tale and as effective and devastating as a newsreel. . .[She] paints a stunning portrait of this small Haitian town, in which the equally impossible choices of life and death play out every day.” —Publishers Weekly
The Affairs of Others, by Amy Grace Loyd
A mesmerizing debut novel about a woman, haunted by loss, who rediscovers passion and possibility when she’s drawn into the tangled lives of her neighbors. Five years after her young husband’s death, Celia Cassill has moved from one Brooklyn neighborhood to another, but she has not moved on. The owner of a small apartment building, she has chosen her tenants for their ability to respect one another’s privacy. Everything changes with the arrival of a new tenant, Hope, a dazzling woman of a certain age on the run from her husband’s recent betrayal. When Hope begins a torrid and noisy affair, and another tenant mysteriously disappears, the carefully constructed walls of Celia’s world are tested and the sanctity of her building is shattered—through violence and sex, in turns tender and dark. (Excerpted from Picador, publisher.)
“For first-time novelist Amy Grace Loyd, an apartment building is not simply housing. It is also a metaphor for the paradoxical isolation and proximity we feel among others. . . .With forceful, sensual prose (the author is captivated by the scents of people and places), Loyd allows Celia to discover that ‘life had as many gains as losses as long as we were willing to tally them.’ ”—O, The Oprah Magazine
Fiction | Family Drama
The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg
For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie’s enormous girth. She’s obsessed with food—thinking about it, eating it—and if she doesn’t stop, she won’t have much longer to live.
When Richard abandons his wife, it is up to the next generation to take control. Robin, their schoolteacher daughter, is determined that her father pay for leaving Edie. Benny, an easy-going, pot-smoking family man, just wants to smooth things over. And Rachelle—a whippet thin perfectionist—is intent on saving her mother-in-law’s life, but this task proves even bigger than planning her twin children’s spectacular b’nai mitzvah party. Through it all, they wonder: do Edie’s devastating choices rest on her shoulders alone, or are others at fault, too? (Excerpted from Grand Central Publishing, publisher.)
“With a wit that never mocks and a tenderness that never gushes, [Attenberg] renders this family’s ordinary tragedies as something surprisingly affecting. . . . Attenberg is superb at mocking the cliches of middle-class life by giving them the slightest turn to make people suddenly real and wholly sympathetic.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
We at WVFC have long admired Edwidge Danticat — starting in 2007, long before she guided us all through the newest turmoil in her homeland of Haiti early last year. As writers, many of us remember our first gasp at The Farming of Bones, more accomplished than any debut had a right to be. We were therefore both unsurprised and deeply pleased to find this video, after she won the Langston Hughes Award, joining a lineage that includes Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Despite the wobbly camera work and fragment-like state of this clip, we were entranced by Danticat as she talks about how “Langston Hughes also loved Haiti..he loved the people without shoes” and describes herself as “an accident of literacy.” There are no happier accidents.
The Wednesday Five: Edwidge Danticat in Haiti, Remembering Benazir Bhutto, Puzzling Career Questions and Why You Might Need a Pedicure
As January’s third week begins, we overhear good news and bad on a grab-bag of topics: health reform from Our Bodies Ourselves, a biopic on the slain Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, and seven reasons to pamper your feet with a winter pedicure.
- As the first anniversary of the Haiti earthquake captures the news spotlight, so does beloved-of-WVFC poet Edwidge Danticat, who returned to her homeland to report on a year of internationally witnessed anguish and hope. At Guernica, Nathalie Handal interviews this vibrant voice of Haiti, who speaks on such topics as “rebuilding the island, art in a time of trouble, and inhabiting bodies.”
- As Congress debates this week on a theoretical repeal of the Affordable Care Act law, Our Bodies Our Blog found both good and bad news, for older women, as some of provisions of the law become effective this month. On the good news list, at least for now: free preventive care for those on Medicare. Time to schedule that annual checkup!
- At Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk contemplates a dilemma faced those of us who find that life hands you multiple job descriptions: how to answer the simple question, “What do you do, anyway?” Trunk, the founder of three startups, gives a series of guidelines, beginning with the counterintuitive “Don’t focus on your job.” (After all, as the old song says: our life is more than our work, and our work is more than our jobs.….)
- Look down at your feet. Right now. Are those toes wishing they’d get some attention from a professional in a salon? At The Hairpin Jane Feltes, a radio producer, suspects they might be. Her seven Reasons You Need a Winter Pedicure run from the super-practical — “ If you ignore them long enough, the dry, callousy parts of your feet can actually crack and bleed” — to the giggly: “go with a friend and pack vodka-crans to maximize your fun.”
- The documentary Bhutto was released late last year, but we were so drawn in by Marcia Yerman’s post about it this week that we want to find the film. “With the assassination of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab Province in Pakistan and an outspoken opponent of religious extremism, the divisions within Pakistani society are once again in the news,” Yerman notes. Perhaps there is no better time to see the documentary.” She quotes the film’s director on Benazir Bhutto’s impact: ““She was the first woman in the world to rise up and lead a Muslim nation, and she gave her life for her country. The level of admiration and curiosity I have for her is wrapped up in this film. Like her or hate her, admire her or abhor her, she was a barrier breaker.”
Last year, we were thrilled to inaugurate our annual celebration of WVFC writers, which compiled all the books and authors we’d covered into an easy-to-use holiday shopping list— one for poetry and one for prose. This year, we’re doing the same. Some of the authors, like Gail Sheehy and Dominique Browning, we’ve gotten to know well in interviews and commentaries; others’ books have inspired reviews here for multiple reasons. Some are light ovelsn, some sober histories, some feminist manifestos. And this time, in honor of WVFC’s 5th anniversary, we’re also throwing in a few blasts from the past — new books by authors we featured from 2006-2008. The total would have made for lists far too long to post here, but we hope you explore our Books archives to find more writers we’ve reviewed, interviewed, and whose awards we’ve celebrated over the past five years.
|Pat Benatar, Between a Heart and a Rock Place
|Lloyd Boston, The Style Checklist|
|Dominique Browning’s Slow Love is actually dedicated to WVFC’s Dr. Pat Allen. The year we launched, Dr. Allen also tipped us off to Amy Bloom’s talent, long before Bloom’s new novel Where the God of Love Hangs Out.
| Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home
Judy Collins, Over the Rainbow
| Roz Chast‘s newest book is the children’s collection Too Busy Marco.
|Edwidge Danticat opened our 2010 with news from Haiti; her new book is Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work.|
|Fannie Flagg, I Still Dream About You
| John Fowles. The Tree
|Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule|
|Nicole Hollander, The Sylvia Chronicles
|Virginia Ironside, You’re Old, I’m Old . . . Get Used to It!: Twenty Reasons Why Growing Old Is Great In 2007, we applauded Ironside’s No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year. In the new book–Ironside’s first published in the U.S.–the author “is determined to convince people that getting old is not so bad–even for a Baby Boomer who interviewed the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix early in her career.|
|Judith Jones, The Pleasure of Cooking for One
|Maira Kalman, And the Pursuit of Happiness|
|Judy Richardson and Dorothy Zellner, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC|
| Judy Shepard, The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed
Cathleen Schine, The Three Weissmans of Westport
Gail Sheehy, Passages in Caregiving
|Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks|
|Rebecca Traister, Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women
|Mary Walton, A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot|
|Lis Wiehl and April Henry, Hand of Fate: A Triple Threat Novel. In 2007, we cheered attorney Wiehl’s manifesto The 51% Minority: How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It, Since then, Wiehl has teamed up with coauthor Henry for the best-selling Triple Threat series of legal thrillers. Publishers Weekly wrote of this latest installment in the series, out just in time for holiday sales: “Readers will identify with these very real women.”|
Let us know what books you think we should add to our lists. And check back on Friday for the Poetry Edition, to scoop up all our Voices in Verse.
As we all shudder through news of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, pausing to send money though text messages on our cell phones to well-established NGOs such as the Red Cross or Partners in Health, we’ve also been hearing from the literary voices that for many of us first brought Haiti alive, such as MacArthur “genius grant” winner Edwidge Danticat (who turned 40 last year). Danticat’s work, most of which feels written in poetry, includes The Farming of Bones; Breath, Eyes, Memory; Krik? Krak; The Dewbreaker, and her family memoir Brother, I Am Dying. We thought of her as soon as news of the island’s devastation came clear — and so, as the Christian Science Monitor notes, did everyone else:
Danticat still has family ties in Haiti and remains a powerful advocate for that country. Since Tuesday’s earthquake she has given interviews from Miami to both The Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio. She says she has been able to reach her mother-in-law by phone but adds that most of what seems to be coming out of Haiti right now are “layers of bad news.” She refers to the earthquake as “an apocalypse for this small and often tried country.”
The Wall Street Journal asked Danticat for a reading list, to put this week’s news in a deeper context than the media or even her visionary work could provide:
• “The Black Jacobins” by C.L.R. James: A groudbreaking account of the Haitian revolution of 1791-1804 that examines that leadership of the rebel commander Toussaint L’Ouverture. Other slave uprisings in the Americas ended in defeat; James looks into why the slave rebellion in Haiti was victorious.
• “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier,” by Amy Wilentz: This nonfiction book documents the period between 1986-1989 when Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was forced to flee the country and mass strikes, government-sponsored vigilante groups, and other kinds of chaos swept though the streets. The book, which blends current events with cultural history, seeks to detail the society beyond the headlines.
• “Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Trilogy” by Marie Vieux-Chauvet: This triptych of novellas, recently published in English with an introduction by Danticat, was initially suppressed when it was first released in French in 1968 during François “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s Haitian reign of terror. The trilogy offers portraits of people struggling to survive dictatorship and oppression. “Hurricanes, earthquakes and drought, nothing spares us,” says the narrator of the first novella, titled “Love.”
And while most of Danticat’s sentences count as poetry, in keeping with Poetry Friday we offer below two poems chosen, if not written by her. Danticat read these aloud last year at the PEN World Voices Festival, honoring their author the late Haitian/Creole poet Felix Morisseau-Leroy. (Click on the link to hear her read them, and/or see the clip underneath of Danticat talking to other Haitian-Americans in Brooklyn a while ago.) Read now, the poems stand as a caution to those who might try to generalize about those whose lives have been upended by the earthquake.
Tourist, don’t take my picture
Don’t take my picture, tourist
I’m too ugly
Don’t take my picture, white man
Mr. Eastman won’t be happy
I’m too ugly
Your camera will break
I’m too dirty
Whites like you won’t be content
I’m too ugly
I’m gonna crack your Kodak
Don’t take my picture, tourist
Leave me be, white man
Don’t take a picture of my burro
My burro’s load’s too heavy
And he’s too small
And he has no food here
Don’t take a picture of my animal
Tourist, don’t take a picture of the house
My house is of straw
Don’t take a picture of my hut
My hut’s made of earth
The house already smashed up
Go shoot a picture of the Palace
Or the Bicentennial grounds
Don’t take a picture of my garden
I have no plow
Don’t take a picture of my tree
Tourist, I’m barefoot
My clothes are torn as well
Poor people don’t look at whites
But look at my hair, tourist
Your Kodak’s not used to my color
Your barber’s not used to my hair
Tourist, don’t take my picture
You don’t understand my position
You don’t understand anything
About my business, tourist
“Gimme fie cents”
And then, be on your way, tourist.
We are all in a drowning boat
Happened before at St. Domingue
We are the ones called boat people
We all died long ago
What else can frighten us ?
Let them call us boat people
We fight a long time with poverty
On our islands, the sea, everywhere
We never say we are not boat people
In Africa they chased us with dogs
Chained our feet, piled us on
Who then called us boat people?
Half the cargo perished
The rest sold at Bossal Market
It’s them who call us boat people
We stamp our feet down, the earth shakes
Up to Louisiana, down to Venezuela
Who would come and call us boat people?
A bad season in our country
The hungry dog eats thorns
They didn’t call us boat people yet
We looked for jobs and freedom
And they piled us on again: Cargo—Direct to Miami
They start to call us boat people
We run from the rain at Fort Dimanche
But land in the river at the Krome Detention Center
It’s them who call us boat people
Miami heat eats away our hearts
Chicago cold explodes our stomach
Boat people boat people boat people
Except for the Indians—
What American didn’t get here somehow
But they only want to call us boat people
We don’t bring drugs in our bags
But courage and strength to work
Boat people—Yes, that’s all right, boat people
We don’t come to make trouble
We come with all respect
It’s them who call us boat people
We have no need to yell or scream
But all boat people are equal, the same
All boat people are boat people
One day we’ll stand up, put down our feet
As we did at St. Domingue
They’ll know who these boat people really are
That day, be it Christopher Columbus
Or Henry Kissinger—
They will know us
We who simply call ourselves