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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.

  • Politics December 17, 2008

    ‘Tis the Season to Be Generous

    Ten great groups that help people who are worse off than you are.

    Katha Pollitt

  • December 8, 2008

    Bill Ayers Whitewashes History, Again

    It couldn't have been easy for Bill Ayers to keep quiet while the McCain campaign tarred him as the Obama's best friend, the terrorist. Unfortunately, the silence was too good to last. On Saturday's New York Times op-ed page, he announced that "it's finally time to tell my true story." Like his memoir, Fugitive Days , "The Real Bill Ayers" is a sentimentalized, self-justifying whitewash of his role in the weirdo violent fringe of the 1960s-70s antiwar left.

    "I never killed or injured anyone, "Ayers writes. "In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village." Right. Those people belonged to Weatherman, as did Ayers himself and Bernardine Dohrn, now his wife. Weatherman, Weather Underground, completely different! And never mind either that that "accidental explosion" was caused by the making of a nail bomb intended for a dance at Fort Dix.

    Ayers writes that Weather Underground bombings were "symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam War." That no one was killed or injured was a monumental stroke of luck-- an unrelated bombing at the University of Wisconsin unintentionally killed a researcher and seriously injured four people. But if the point was to symbolize outrage, why not just spraypaint graffiti on government buildings or pour blood on military documents?

    Katha Pollitt

  • Economy December 3, 2008

    Barack Obama, Feminist in Chief?

    Obama should make gender equality a keystone of his presidency--and the economic stimulus is a great place to start.

    Katha Pollitt

  • December 2, 2008

    Can you help “Nickie”?

    In the endless debate over abortion, we can forget the concrete reality in which pregnant girls and women so often live. Feminists for Life and other anti-choice groups make it sound as if an unwanted pregnancy is just one of life's little challenges --some baby clothes, some food stamps, some campus housing for college-going moms and tots, and everything will be fine. It's usually not so simple. The appeal below popped up in my inbox this morning. It's from the DC Abortion fund, which raises money for low-income women's abortions.

    "Nickie" needs a lot of things -- beginning with a family free from domestic violence -- but one thing she doesn't need, or want, is a baby. Her pregnancy places her at risk in all kinds of ways.Can you help her? Even five dollars, added to the donations of others, would make a difference.

    You can donate here.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Reproductive Rights November 19, 2008

    The People’s Choice

    Finally, a prochoice president. Here are five ways to solidify his position.

    Katha Pollitt

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  • November 10, 2008

    Election Updates –Good News and Not

    For the Election Day causes I've written about here and in my column,there's good news and, well, not so good news.

    First the hurrahs. By a whopping 69%, Milwaukee voters passed a binding referendum requiring private employers to give workers nine paid sick days a year (employers of fewer than ten workers must give five days). Workers can use their days for themselves or for or a sick child or other relative. They can also use them to attend to medical and legal issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

    Congratulations to 9to5, which spearheaded a dynamic coalition of union and community groups, and waged a terrific grassroots campaign . Milwaukee now joins San Francisco and Washington DC in taking this bold step to create a healthier and more humane workplace for its citizens, and offer an important helping hand to women and to working parents.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Media November 6, 2008

    Sayonara, Sarah

    God's gift to journalism--and to feminism.

    Katha Pollitt

  • October 26, 2008

    It’s Crunch Time in South Dakota

    Election Day is around the corner, so if you still have two dimes to rub together, you have just a few days to send them where they can still do good on November 4. I'm sending mine to Women Run! South Dakota. This is the umbrella organization for progressive pro-choice Native American women running for the state legislature: among them, Charon Asetoyer, Faith Spotted Eagle, Theresa Spry, Diane Long Fox Kastner, and incumbent Senator Theresa Two Bulls (the first, and so far only, Native American woman elected to the State Senate,now running for a third term). These are community organizers (take that, Sarah Palin!) with deep local roots, long-time activists on women's health, domestic violence, native american rights, and poverty issues. They would bring progressive grassroots leadership to a state where women currrently make up only 16% of the state legislature (and only four of those women are pro-choice), Native americans have long had trouble exercising their right to vote, and where not coincidentally, rightwing politics, including repeated attempts to make abortion a crime, have been the rule for far too long.

    Here's WomenRun's Laura Ross on the situation on the ground:

    Katha Pollitt

  • Election 2008 October 22, 2008

    Culture War: Out of Juice?

    The culture wars may fail at the top of the ticket this year, but expect right-wing mayhem further down the ballot.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Political Figures October 8, 2008

    Follow-ups for Sarah Palin

    Don't let reproductive rights get lost in the run-up to Election Day.

    Katha Pollitt