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Katha Pollitt


Katha Pollitt is well known for her wit and her keen sense of both the ridiculous and the sublime. Her “Subject to Debate” column, which debuted in 1995 and which the Washington Post called “the best place to go for original thinking on the left,” appears every other week in The Nation; it is frequently reprinted in newspapers across the country. In 2003, “Subject to Debate” won the National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary. She is also a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute.

Pollitt has been contributing to The Nation since 1980. Her 1992 essay on the culture wars, “Why We Read: Canon to the Right of Me…” won the National Magazine Award for essays and criticism, and she won a Whiting Foundation Writing Award the same year. In 1993 her essay “Why Do We Romanticize the Fetus?” won the Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Many of Pollitt’s contributions to The Nation are compiled in three books: Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism (Knopf); Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture (Modern Library); and Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time (Random House). In 2007 Random House published her collection of personal essays, Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories. Two pieces from this book, “Learning to Drive” and its followup, “Webstalker,” originally appeared in The New Yorker. “Learning to Drive” is anthologized in Best American Essays 2003.

Pollitt has also written essays and book reviews for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Harper’s, Ms., Glamour, Mother Jones, the New York Times, and the London Review of Books. She has appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air and All Things Considered, Charlie Rose, The McLaughlin Group, CNN, Dateline NBC and the BBC. Her work has been republished in many anthologies and is taught in many university classes.

For her poetry, Pollitt has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her 1982 book Antarctic Traveller won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her poems have been published in many magazines and are reprinted in many anthologies, most recently The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006).  Her second collection, The Mind-Body Problem, came out from Random House in 2009.

Born in New York City, she was educated at Harvard and the Columbia School of the Arts. She has lectured at dozens of colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brooklyn College, UCLA, the University of Mississippi and Cornell. She has taught poetry at Princeton, Barnard and the 92nd Street Y, and women’s studies at the New School University.

  • Gender and Sexuality December 23, 2009

    More Ways to Give!

    One very irate reader complains in the bletters section that Palestine is missing from my donations column. MADRE, which partners with sister organizations around the world, supports Midwives for Peace, which train new midwives and provides safe birthing kits for women in the West Bank.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Politics December 16, 2009

    Time to Get Out Those Checkbooks

    Economists agree: Christmas presents are a waste of money. Give to these worthy charities instead.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Political Figures November 24, 2009

    Last Column About Sarah Palin–Ever

    We can't stop looking at our first female political train wreck.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Healthcare Policy November 11, 2009

    Whose Team Is It, Anyway?

    Prochoicers have been taking one for the team for too long now. Enough already.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Economy October 28, 2009

    Working Women: Strength in Numbers

    First feminism was dead because it was a "failure"; now it's dead because it was such a success.

    Katha Pollitt

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  • Activism October 21, 2009

    Low-Income Students Need your Help! UPDATED

    The school year is well underway, and most of you know how savage the budget cuts have been. Excellent teachers who care about their students –yes, they exist! --are struggling along without proper books, supplies, and equipment. Classroom libraries lack books, science labs lack materials, art programs lack the most basic supplies-- like paint!

    Katha Pollitt

  • Activism October 15, 2009

    Facebookers, Unite! Help MADRE Win the Causes Challenge

    MADRE, the women's rights organization, has joined a contest to raise funds for its work protecting women's rights workers in Afghanistan, where as I'm sure you know many have been threatened with death by the Taliban. MADRE needs your help to win one of these these generous prizes.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Regions and Countries October 14, 2009

    German Party Politics: Color Them Blurry

    Leftist parties in Germany offer a range of choices but no cohesive challenge to the right.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Regions and Countries October 10, 2009

    Berlin Postcard

    Saturday, October 3, was Reunification Day, the anniversary of the formal reuniting of East and West Germany in 1990.


    Katha Pollitt

  • October 1, 2009

    Roman Polanski Has a Lot of Friends

    If a rapist escapes justice for long enough, should the world hand him aget-out-of-jail-free card? If you're Roman Polanski, world-famousdirector, a lot of famous and gifted people think the answer is yes. Polanski, who drugged and anally raped a thirteen-year-old girl in 1977in Los Angeles, pled guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with aminor and fled to Europe before sentencing. Now, 32 years later, he'sbeen arrested in Switzerland on his way to the Zurich film Festival,prompting outrage from international culture stars: Salman Rushdie,Milan Kundera, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodavar, Woody Allen (insertyour own joke here), Isabelle Huppert, Diane von Furstenberg and many,many more. Bernard-Henri Levy, who's taken a leading role in roundingup support, has said that Polanski "perhaps had committed a youthfulerror " (he was 43). Debra Winger, president of the Zurich Film Festivaljury, wearing a red "Free Polanski" badge, called the Swiss authoritiesaction "philistine collusion." Frederic Mitterand, the French culturalminister, said it showed "the scary side of America" and describedPolanski as "thrown to the lions because of ancient history." Frenchforeign minister Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of Doctors WithoutBorders, called the whole thing "sinister."

    Closer to home, Whoopi Goldberg explained on The View that hiscrime wasn't 'rape rape,' just, you know, rape. Oh, that! Conservativecolumnist Anne Applebaum minimized the crime in the WashingtonPost. First, she overlooks the true nature of the crime (drugs,forced anal sex, etc), and then claims "there is evidence Polanski didnot know her real age." Talk about a desperate argument. Polanski, whowent on to have an affair with 15-year old Nastassja Kinski, has spokenfrankly of his taste for very young girls. (Nationeditor-in-chief Katrina vanden Heuvel, who tweeted her surprise atfinding herself on the same side as Applebaum, has had second thoughts:"I disavow my original tweet supporting Applebaum. I believe thatPolanski should not receive special treatment. Question now is how bestto ensure that justice is served. Should he return to serve time? Arethere other ways of seeing that justice is served? At same time, Ibelieve that prosecutorial misconduct in this case should beinvestigated.") On the New York Times op-ed page, schlocknovelist Robert Harris celebrated his great friendship with Polanski,who has just finished filming one of Harris' books: "His past did notbother me." This tells us something about Harris' nonchalant view ofsex crimes, but why is it an argument about what should happen inPolanski's legal case?

    I just don't get this. I understand that Polanski has had numeroustragedies in his life, that he's made some terrific movies, that he's76, that a 2008 documentary raised questions about the fairness of thejudge (see Bill Wyman in Salon, though, for apersuasive dismantling of its case.). I also understand that hisvictim, now 44, says she has forgiven Polanski and wants the case to bedropped because every time it comes up she is dragged through the mudall over again. Certainly that is what is happening now. On theHuffington Post, Polanski fan Joan Z. Shore, who describes herself asco-founder of Women Overseas for Equality (Belgium), writes: " The13-year-old model 'seduced' by Polanski had been thrust onto him by hermother, who wanted her in the movies. The girl was just a few weeksshort of her 14th birthday, which was the age of consent in California.(It's probably 13 by now!)." Actually, in 1977 the age of consent inCalifornia was 16. Today it's 18, with exceptions for sex when oneperson is underage and the other is no more than three years older. Shore's view--that Polanski was the victim of a nymphet and her schemingmother--is all over the internet.

    Katha Pollitt