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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.


  • Election 2008 August 28, 2008

    Hillary Does the Right Thing

    Will the Hillary diehards follow her lead and support Barack Obama?

    Katha Pollitt

  • August 28, 2008

    I Heart Michelle Obama

    Michelle Obama's performance Monday night was spectacular. She was confident, warm, relaxed and eloquent, also smart, beautiful,radiant, gracious, stylish, humorous and tall. I want to be her when I grow up. She accomplished, seemingly effortlessly, what she had to do: she replaced the angry-black-Pantherish terrorist- fist-bumping Michelle of right-wing (and not only right-wing) fantasy with Michelle, the normal, everyday, working-class-rooted loving wife and (working) mother. She presented herself and her family -- her parents, her brother, her daughters, and her husband -- as part of an ongoing all-American story of devotion to faith, family, hard work,community, sports, and, yes, country.

    When she talked about her childhood--her father and his slow deterioriation from multiple sclerosis, her parent's hopes and sacrifices for her and her brother--I cried. I know, I know, how hokey that is, but I'll bet all over America, people were wiping their eyes.

    In her column about the speech, even Mona Charen paused momentarily in her Obama-bashing labors to declare herself moved and impressed. Then, of course, it was back to business: Michelle's 1985 Princeton senior thesis, the Rev. Wright, a quotation from a New Yorker profile suggesting that Michelle Obama thinks America has some problems--because that is just so, so not true.

    Katha Pollitt

  • August 26, 2008

    In Search of the Elusive PUMAs

    Monday, August 25

    Good Omen: the people sitting in front of me on the plane read The Nation! Anna and Russ from Washington DC are coming to the convention as tourists. Apparently a lot of people are doing this. Who knew? Anna and Russ are huge Obama fans, and (like everyone I will meet today) are confident he will win in November. For extra fun they've brought along their two year old, Juliet. Brave souls. "What do you say about George Bush?" says Anna, using her singsong mommy voice. "Do you remember what we call George Bush?" I imagine it's something not too favorable, but Juliet, who has clearly already begun her life in politics, just gives a diplomatic smile.

    You're not supposed to write about interviewing cabbies, which is too bad because the extremely good-looking and cheerful Somali driver who takes me into downtown Denver has a lot of interesting things to say about American intervention in Africa that I'll just keep to myself. But I have to report that, like most of the taxi drivers I've met in the last year, he's for Obama. "America used to be admired all over the world. It's fixable! If foreign policy changes, America is America again." Put that way, it sounds so simple. "If he loses, it's because of race. When people say 'we don't know who he is' -- that's race. When people say, 'he's really a Muslim' -- that's race. He went to a Christian church for twenty years, but he's really a Muslim? What kind of a Muslim is that?" Not for the first time, I'm struck by how many ordinary people not only have as much political acumen as most pundits, but have learned to talk like them too. Why can't this driver go on TV, and Chris Matthews drive a cab?

    Katha Pollitt

  • August 9, 2008

    Good-Bye, John Edwards

    So now we know. John Edwards did have sex with that woman, Rielle Hunter, just as the National Enquirer said. So much for all those jokes about Bat Boy and Hillary's alien baby. I always thought the Edwards rumors were true, because rumors like that usually are (says she cynically) , and I defended this view in many an e mail. But every time I started to write something about it here I would get into a debate about monogamy, privacy, Puritanism, the reliability of tabloids etc with one of our more polyamorous editors, and the air would leak out of my balloon. I would think, Well, really, what do I know? and Oh why add to poor Elizabeth's troubles? I still sort of think that.

    So good-bye to Edwards, aka the electable white man. I suppose you could say he's done the nation a favor by further tarnishing that overrated and outdated brand. (If you don't want to hear about women who give themselves names like Rielle and their love children, elect more female candidates!) If he had had more substance to begin with -- a thicker resume, more raw political talent,a bigger, more enthusiastic following, a more, how to put this, compelling and endearing personality -- an affair might not be fatal to his future. After all, Clinton got elected despite Gennifer Flowers. But , as Gail Collins points out, there just wasn't that much to Edwards, besides his policy proposals. Apparently the electorate intuited that. Fortunately, or we'd have just handed the election to McCain.

    I supported Edwards because he was the only candidate who talked seriously about inequality, but the truth is I never liked him -- the 28,000 square foot house, the canned son-of-a-millworker routine, the endless parading of his family and its perfections, the (as it seemed to me) politically manipulative use of his son's tragic death and his wife's cancer. "I care about the policy, not the person," one of his academic advisers told me when I confessed my visceral dislike, and I felt properly rebuked for my superficiality. What, after all, did I really know about Edwards the person? What difference did his little vanity vibes make when compared with poverty, which only Edwards was willing to declare scandalous -- and curable?

    Katha Pollitt

  • August 4, 2008

    Stealth Assault on Reproductive Rights

    When pro-choicers accuse anti-choicers of being anti-contraception they're often taken as crying wolf -- even though no anti-choice organization explicitly endorses birth control and despite the prominent anti-choice role of the Catholic Church, which explicitly bans contraception. After all, goes the complacent point of view, most women, and most couples, use some form of birth control. Opposition to it seems like something out of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a novel whose futuristic vision of women's subjection to rightwing Christian patriarchs no less a shrewd social critic than Mary McCarthy found preposterous when she reviewed it in the New York Times Book Review in 1986.

    The Bush Administration seems bent on giving Atwood material for a sequel. Last month, Health and Human Services issued a draft of new regulations which would require health-care providers who receive federal funds to accept as employees nurses and other workers who object to abortion and even to most kinds of birth control. This rule would cover some 500,000 hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities-- including family planning clinics, which would, absurdly, legally be bound to hire people who will obstruct their very mission. To refuse to hire them, or to fire them, would be to lose funds for discriminating against people who object to abortion for religious or --get this -- moral beliefs.

    This represents quite an expansion of health workers' longstandingright not to be involved in abortion. And, incidentally, this respect for moral beliefs only goes one way. A Catholic hospital has no corresponding obigation to hire pro-choice workers or accomodate their moral beliefs by permitting them to offer emergency contraception to rape victims or hand out condoms to the HIV positive; a "crisis pregnancy center" would not have to hire pro-choice counsellors who would tell women that abortion would not really give them breast cancer or leave them sterile. Only anti-choicers, apparently, have moral beliefs that entitle them to jobs they refuse to actually perform.

    Katha Pollitt

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  • Election 2008 July 31, 2008

    Flocking to Faith

    Obama's incredible faith-based initiative.

    Katha Pollitt

  • July 17, 2008

    McCain Opposes Contraception — Pass It On

    I realize it's not as world-shaking as the caricature of the Obamas on the cover of The New Yorker, which has the high-end media in a total tizzy. It's probably not even as important as the raunchy joke Bernie Mac told at an Obama fundraiser last week, which was bumped from the tizzy list by the New Yorker story. But can't the commentariat take a break from itself and let the world know how much John McCain opposes birth control? Vastly more people rely on contraception than read The New Yorker or know Bernie Mac from mac'n' cheese. In fact, vastly more people use birth control than believe Obama is a secret Muslim. They might like to know that when it comes to contraception, McCain is no maverick.

    Here's the story. Last week, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who has been helping McCain look bright-eyed and estrogen-friendly, told reporters that women wanted more choice in their health care plans; for example, it bothered women when plans covered Viagra but not contraception. Big mistake! McCain had voted against a bill that would have required plans to cover birth control if they covered prescription meds at all, like, um, Viagra. McCain's nonresponse when queried about this by a reporter was astonishing. As posted on Youtube, he squirms and grins and smirks (Viagra! Embarrassing!) and fumfers about evasively. "I don't know enough about it to give you an informed answer," he manages to splutter, "because I don't recall the vote, I've cast thousands of votes... it's something I've not thought much about."

    So. John McCain  is so opposed to contraception he voted against requiring  insurance plans to cover it like other drugs,  and either so indifferent to women's health and rights or just so out of it he doesn't even  remember how he voted.  That's the way to show American women you really care. 

    Katha Pollitt

  • Religion July 2, 2008

    Who’s Afraid of Judy Maccabee?

    Women increasingly are taking leadership roles in Jewish life--and that's a problem?

    Katha Pollitt

  • June 19, 2008

    Feminists for McCain? Not So Much

    NARAL and Planned Parenthood give him a big fat zero. What else do you need to know?

    Katha Pollitt

  • Election 2008 June 5, 2008

    Iron My Skirt

    Once the bitterness of the present moment has faded, people will recognize they owe Hillary Clinton a standing ovation, even if they can't stand her.

    Katha Pollitt