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Katha Pollitt

Columnist

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.


  • History June 16, 2009

    Free Willie

    The president leaves a stain on his presidency, his marriage and, literally, on Monica Lewinsky.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Reproductive Rights June 10, 2009

    Dr. George Tiller, 1941-2009

    The abortion provider and hero knew enough to trust women. The same can't be said for the male pundits who are dominating the debate.

    Katha Pollitt

  • June 3, 2009

    Anti-Choice Terrorism

    There were lots of young people in the crowd, and at the microphone, for Monday evening's spirited rally in Union Square to honor Dr. George Tiller. It was quite a contrast with the last gathering occasioned by the murder of an abortion provider, the candlelight vigil at Columbus Circle in l998, after the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian. Back then, the crowd was small and middle-aged and rather dispirited. This time, people were awake and angry.

    It's about time. Time to demand federal legal protection for abortion rights. Time to demand that law enforcement take seriously the violent anti-abortion underground. Time for doctors to show some spine, defend their colleagues who perform this necessary service to women and reintegrate abortion into normal medical practice. Time for women to come out of the closet and talk about their abortions, so that people will realize that the woman who terminates a pregnancy is their wife, their mother, their sister, their friend.

    It's time, too, to stop the pretense that the "debate " over abortion consists of two equally extreme positions, and that wisdom resides in the mushy middle, where everybody disapproves of abortion except when they want one for themselves or someone they care about. There's only one set of extremists here, the one that uses language like "babykiller," " Nazi," "murderer," and "death mill," kidnaps and murders providers and clinic workers,burns and bombs clinics and drives cars into them, posts pictures of clinic workers and their families on the internet, and harrasses patients on their way to get care.

    Only one side writes like this about the murder of Dr. Tiller:

    "But I also know joy. Not the shallow type of joy but a deep resonating joy. I feel joy that no longer will this wicked man slay the judicially innocent. I feel joy because justice, albeit of a rough variety, was visited on someone who so thoroughly opposed a culture of life and who worked so assiduously to spread the culture of death. I know joy because the truth of Scripture that those who take up the sword shall die by the sword is seen as authoritative. I know joy because I know that no longer will Dr. Tiller be sucking out the brains of people, or torturing people with saline or dismembering people in utero. How could a sane person not feel joy at the death of a mass murderer and a terrorist?"

    backwaterreport/Covenant News

    That's Bret MacAtee, Michigan pastor and Constitution Party activist.

    People mock the word "choice" --it's consumerist, euphemistic, wimpy, calculated. But one thing you can say for it: It honors the individual conscience. If a desperately ill pregnant woman wants to risk her life to give birth, if she wants to carry an anencephalic fetus to term so it can die in her arms, or have her rapist's baby, or become a mother at 14, or produce octuplets, pro-choicers are not going to compel her to abort. Pro-choicers don't go around lecturing girls and women that they will blame themselves forever if they have a baby they may not be equipped to raise well. They don't paint gory pictures of the horrors and dangers of childbirth to scare pregnant girls and women into ending their pregnancies with a quick and safe termination. They don't tell women Jesus is going to send them to Hell if they sacrifice their futures to the whims of a wayward sperm -- although they might mention from time to time that the Bible nowhere mentions abortion. Pro-choicers don't blow up churches or assassinate the leaders of Operation Rescue.

    Only one side wants to force women to live by its so-called morality, and only one side murders and bombs to make its point. Only one side has a terrorist wing.

    In the days to come, let the public discussion acknowledge that.

    Katha Pollitt


  • Society May 13, 2009

    Unnatural Born Killer

    A Wesleyan student is stalked and killed by a man with a gun and a mind full of hate.

    Katha Pollitt

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  • May 6, 2009

    Letters

    Silver Lining

    Albany, N.Y.

    Katha Pollitt and Our Readers

  • Law April 29, 2009

    Better Living Through Torture

    I should have been a member of the torture creative class, because now I would be having a good life.

    Katha Pollitt

  • April 20, 2009

    Obama’s 100-Day Hope Check

    Are Barack Obama's  supporters wondering where the hope went? Does the campaign now seem only a golden dream? After all, Obama's been in the White House for over three months, and people are still losing jobs and houses, US troops are still overseas, single-payer health care is still not on the agenda.  Surely the President should have fixed all that by now with the power of his mighty hope machine.

    In her current Nation column, Naomi Klein claims that disillusion is setting in. She has a  clever list of  words to describe the phenomenon: Hopefiends feel hopebreak which will (hopefully) lead to hopelash, "a 180-degree reversal of everything Obama-related." Enough of these cowardly compromises! Back to the streets! 

    I have a lot of respect for Naomi Klein, but I think her own hopes for  a mass radical movement are getting in the way here. According to polls, after all, Obama is wildly popular.  A Harris Interactive poll released on April 7 found that 68% of Americans  have a good opinion of him. That doesn't necessarily mean they approve of everything he's doing, but it means that a heck of a lot of people who didn't vote for him like him now.  Is there any evidence that "a growing number of Obama enthusiasts are starting to entertain the possibility that their man is not, in fact, going to save the world if we all just hope really hard"? And by the way, did anyone over the age of  21 ever really believe this? That hope, an emotion, was going to "save the world," the way  children clapping their hands saves Tinkerbell? Are Americans really such idiots? Hmmm, better not answer that. 

    Naomi and I must talk to different people. For example, I don't know anyone as stupid as the hopefiendish "Joe" who "actually believes Obama deliberately brought in Summers so that he would blow the bailout, and then Obama would have the excuse he needs to do what he really wants: nationalize the banks and turn them into credit unions." Think what you're saying, Joe! Had Obama intentionally put in someone he knew would fail, he would not only be a clairvoyant and a psychopath-- callously indifferent to the ruin of possibly millions of people--  he'd also be risking political suicide. Because had he first chosen a course he knew would fail he would not have the political capital to "what he really wants."  

    Katha Pollitt

  • Law April 15, 2009

    What Do (Battered) Women Want?

    We take it for granted that when men hit, it's up to women to run away. Except, some of them stay.

    Katha Pollitt

  • April 8, 2009

    Get Rid of Bush’s Last-Minute HHS Regulation

    Thursday, April 9th, is the deadline for comments on the proposed rescission of the Bush administration's last-minute HHS regulation expanding provider "conscience" clauses to allow just about any health worker to deny contraceptive services to women. Under this vague, confusing rule, a pharmacist could refuse to fill a birth-control prescription, and also refuse to get another pharmacist to do so. A nurse could refuse to give emergency contraception to a rape victim, and give her a lecture about "babykilling." Abortion clinics would be forced to hire, and retain, personnel who refused to carry out the very duties they were hired to perform. Nor does the regulation stop there. Conceivably, a health-care worker could refuse to care for a gay, lesbian or transsexual person, on the grounds that to do so would violate their religious beliefs.

    The law already provides "reasonable accomodation" for religious beliefs, by the way. This regulation is just President Bush's farewell gift to the religious right. It only takes a few minutes to encourage President Obama to return that gift to the store.

    (Thanks to intrepid reporter Cynthia Cooper for the heads up.)

    Katha Pollitt