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.
Just in time for the Big Recession comes Nadya Suleman, the unemployed single mom with six kids under the age of seven plus a complete set of octuplets and no more sense than a goldfish. Must there always be an woman whose out-of-control female body gives us something to gawk at? Step aside, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Palin (remember all that ridiculous conspiracy theorizing about her baby really being Bristol's?), Jessica Simpson's weight and the endless procession of celebrity baby bumps. Photos of Suleman's naked grotesquely distended pregnant belly rule the internet, along with much speculation about her resemblance to Angelina Jolie (plastic surgery?), her finances (unclear), the father (mysterious) and the fertility doctor who violated professional guidelines by implanting so many embryos in her (time to regulate!).
Suleman, who says she's only trying to make up for her lonely childhood, seems completely insane to me. Indeed, she's been treated for a variety of psychiatric conditions. But she's obviously not too crazy to try to seize the day. She hired a pair of publicists who gave new meaning to the word "chutzpah." In response to a horrified editorial in USA Today,they wrote that she would raise her children in a "caring, Christian home" with the help of that child-raising village Hillary Clinton likes to talk about. They've even set up a website where said villagers can send good wishes, cash and presents. A caring, Christian home! Take that Phyllis Chesler, who, mistakenly identifying Suleman's father as Palestinian (he's Iraqi), wonders if she'll "become a poster child/mother for....free baby formula and diapers? Or for Jihad?" Here in the US, it's Christian fundamentalists like those in the Quiverfull movement who think God put women on earth to breed armies of the faithful.
I've received a number of e mails urging me to defend Suleman on feminist grounds. But really, there is nothing feminist about borrowing all this trouble. We're supposed to be reasonable creatures, remember? Talk about giving single mothers by choice a bad name! Suleman seems to have combined an extraordinary degree of planning for conception with no realistic planning for childraising. If the Suleman house was a daycare center it would be illegal. Even if all the octuplets are healthy, a big assumption, the fact that three of her six older kids are receiving disability payments from the state of California -- one is autistic, the others have undisclosed problems -- underscores how hard it will be to give all these kids the attention they need. Just helping an autistic child to thrive is a huge amount of work all by itself.
Have you been wondering about the best possible moment to donate to the campaign of progressive labor lawyer/ writer/ activist Tom Geoghegan? As you may know, he's running in the Democratic primary for Rahm Emanuel's seat in Congress. Well, it's today. Midnight tonight, February 11, is the FEC filing deadline for campaign contributions.
Why does this deadline matter? A strong showing encourages donations from those who've been waiting to see if the campaign has legs. It also attracts press. So far, none of the candidates have gotten much attention in the local media -- you could help change that.
Even a small donation, added to others, really helps. So don't be shy, visit
The Mountain Country Women's Clinic in Livingston MT has been open for one week. There were 51 picketers, and patients from hundreds of miles away. That tells you that for all the talk about how there are "too many abortions," right now in much of the country clinics are too few and too far between.
It's not too late to Pledge-a-Picketer, a peaceful, nonviolent, amusing way to show your support for Dr. Wicklund's commitment to help women regardless of their ability to pay. It's a scandal that she needs to spend precious funds on a security system, but that's the world we live in -- her previous clinic was targeted by an arsonist. Set your own rate -- a dollar? a quarter? Even a postcard of support would be nice.
(Want to read the post of which this is an update? If Nation blogs were designed like 99 percent of the blogs in the world, you'd just scroll down. But for some reason ours are designed so that you have to click on the blog title, in this case And Another Thing, which will bring you to the intro paragraphs of earlier posts, which you can then click on to get the whole story. Exhausting,I know.)
Dr. Susan Wicklund, whose 2008 book This Common Secret, detailed her life as an abortion provider, has just opened a clinic in Livingston, Montana. Even before it opened on February 2nd, the clinic was being picketed by opponents of abortion rights. In the mail below, Wicklund's co-author, Montana writer Alan Kesselheim, explains how you can turn their protests peacefully against them. (I've pledged $1 per picketer. That puts me in a slightly weird position: Do I hope lots show up so the clinic gets plenty of cash, or few show up so that I can save mine?) If you want to pledge, e mail Martha_Kauffman@msn.com.
Dear Friends of Dr. Susan Wicklund:
As most of you know, Susan Wicklund has been hard at work trying to open a women's reproductive health clinic in the Bozeman/Livingston area. It has not been easy. It has taken several years. Deals have fallen through because word leaked out and landowners were intimidated by violent threats. Other potential arrangements have collapsed due to financial difficulties, political controversy, or simple logistics.
To the outrage of many feminists and family planners, yesterday Democrats heeded President Obama and dropped from the stimulus bill aprovision that would have made it easier for states to offercontraception through Medicaid to low-income women not covered byMedicaid now. This followed several days in which Republicans mocked theitem as frivolous pork, like Las Vegas's proposed Mob Museum or thereseeding of the national mall. And how dare Nancy Pelosi suggest thatwomen should be helped to avoid unwanted pregnancies in the midst of aneconomic crisis! It's eugenics and China's one-child policy rolled intoone. You wonder how giving women more freedom to plan their kids equalsforcing them not to have any? Ask Chris Matthews, that noted expert onwomen, who on last night's Hardball seemed to think the US hadnarrowly escaped becoming a reproductive gulag:" It turns out the ideaof getting people to have fewer children didn't sell as national policy. Maybe people don't like Washington, which has done such a bang-up jobregulating the sharpies on Wall Street, to decide it's now time toregulate the number of kids people might be in the mood for."
There are people who thought Obama practiced some clever politicaljiu-jitsu by bending over backwards to meet Republican objections. Supposedly, this bipartisan gesture would make it harder forRepublicans to reject the bill. Whoops, guess not: House Republicansjust voted against it unanimously. Backup theory: Well, now Obamalooks reasonable and statesmanlike, while Republicans look rigid andinsane. The stimulus will pass, and Republicans will get no credit.Low-income women get the shaft, but they should be used to it by now.
But then there are those who think birth control really doesn't belongin the bill.Matt Yglesias writes, "Unlike some, I'm not per se outragedby the idea of dropping a family planning provision from the stimulusbill in response to conservative objections. I'm all for the provision,but it's genuinely tangential to the point of the bill, so if this isreally what's standing between us and a universe in which a substantialnumber of conservative get on the stimulus train so be it." Over atSlate's XX Factor, E.J. Graff, rather surprisingly, agrees.
(Daniel Pollitt, who is professor of law emeritus at the University of North Carolina and my uncle, sent me his reflections on The Blogojevich-Burris flap. I figured I should put them up before New York Governor Paterson selects his own personal Senator.)
The F.B.I. was bugging Illinois Governor Blagojevich and recorded him commenting that the opportunity to name the Senate replacement for Barack Obama was "golden" (apparently there is no one offering a pot of gold for the appointment).
On this, Democratic Senate leaders announced that anyone appointed by Blagojevich would be "tainted" and would be denied a seat in the Senate. The Illinois Secretary of State piled on, saying he would not sign or affix the State Seal to any Blagojevich appointments.
I love the idea of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day of community service rather than a day to shop for bargains on mattresses and sweaters. The USA Service website lists all sorts of opportunities, but by the time I logged on most of the actual organized events in New York City were full, and somehow, lugging a bag of old clothes to the Housingworks thrift store, apparently our town's backup proposal for latecomers, lacks that certain thrill.
So in the spirit of the day, I offer some classroom proposals from Donorschoose.org as a challenge to those of you out there who are in the same fix as me: you want to honor MLK Monday-- and Inauguration Tuesday-- but haven't quite found the way. As you may already know, Donorschoose.org is a website where teachers put up their classroom needs, and donors--that's you -- can give any amount they want to fund them.
I hope you'll check out my Giving Page here. I've focussed on high-poverty schools around the country.You'll find opportunities to fund supplies for the only debate team in the South Bronx, guitars to rebuild a once-famous music program in Baltimore, classroom essentials for Chicago kindergarteners and more.