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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.

  • 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

  • Politics May 22, 2008

    Déjà Vu in South Dakota

    It's going to take a concerted national effort to defeat the state's latest anti-choice ballot initiative.

    Katha Pollitt

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  • Society May 8, 2008

    Backlash Spectacular

    From campus to courtroom, longstanding gains for women are being eroded everywhere you look.

    Katha Pollitt

  • April 30, 2008

    Preachers and Politics

    For years, Democrats have been trying to shed their secular image in order to appeal to voters who think Jesus is a Republican. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, because now, thanks to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Democrats have got religion and everything that comes with it -- weirdness, wrath, insult, blowhardiness, vanity, paranoia, divisiveness and trouble. When Barack Obama told the 2004 Democratic convention, "We worship an awesome god in the blue states," this probably wasn't the result he had in mind.

    By repudiating Wright Tuesday, Obama missed a chance to call on McCain to turn away from his own problematic clerical helpers. McCain still welcomes the endorsement of the televangelist John Hagee, who has famously attributed Hurricane Katrina to God's wrath at homosexuals, calls the Catholic church "the great whore," claims the Koran commands Muslims to kill Jews and Christians, condemns the Harry Potter books as witchcraft, and wants a world war over Israel, whose most aggressive settlement policies he vigorously supports, because it will precipitate the Second Coming of Christ.

    As Sarah Posner lays out in an excellent post for TAPPED, Wright and Hagee have a lot in common. Both believe that chickens come home to roost--in New Orleans, on 9/11--and that God sends them. Both think America is sinful. Both have bizarre ideas with terrible, real-world implications: Hagee wants the US and israel to attack Iran to bring on the end times; Rev. Wright claims the United States government invented the HIV virus "as a means of genocide against people of color."

    Katha Pollitt

  • April 24, 2008

    Why Tom Hayden Makes Me Scream

    I want to do my bit for Obama, so I vowed I would give up attacking Obama-supporting progressives for the duration of the presidential campaign. No circular firing squads for me! Believe me, it hasn't been easy, and now Tom Hayden's "Why Hillary Makes My Wife Scream" has pushed me over the edge. Who cares what Tom Hayden's wife, the peaceful organic Barbara, feels when she watches Hillary on TV? Hayden is employing an ancient literary-political device, in which a man wards off charges of sexism by citing the example of a woman: I'm not averse to votes for women, but my wife, sir, won't hear of it! Barbara is female -- so that makes it okay for Hayden quote her comparing Hillary Clinton to "a screech on the blackboard" and Lady Macbeth. Because those are certainly similes that have never been used before! And that have no misogynist connotations, as in a woman who seeks public power is shrill and strident, a would-be despot who'll stop at nothing to achieve her evil ends, and is just so darn unlikeable, too. So bitter! As for Clinton flack "that Kiki person" -- when Hayden makes fun of a woman's girly first name and finds her just too ridiculous even to have a last one, that is not at all like rightwingers mocking Lani --Lani! ha ha ha! -- Guinier back in the day.

    By rummaging in the tired old grabbag of male-chauvinist cliches, Hayden undermines the point he eventually gets around to making: that Clinton's attacks on Obama for guilt-by-association with Rev. Wright and Bill Ayres are vile and low and will come back to haunt her should she win the nomination. Not only is she alienating Obama supporters she'll need for the general election, she's inviting attacks on herself for her own past connections with leftwing figures and causes. Hayden calls on progressives to "send a message" to Hillary to "immediately cease her path of destruction." (Cease her path?) Fair enough.

    Well, here's my message to Tom Hayden: Cease your path! Every time you and your fellow progressives write your sexist/nasty/catty garbage about Hillary Clinton -- and every time the Nation publishes it, which is far too often -- you alienate women whose energy and votes you will need if Obama wins the nomination. When you start talking about "millions" of young voters and black voters refusing to work for Hillary because of her unfair attacks on Obama you invite "millions" of women to say, well, why should I work for a candidate whose prominent supporters call my candidate Lady Macbeth?

    Katha Pollitt

  • Religion April 24, 2008

    Men of the Cloth

    When it comes to keeping women pregnant and in their place, polygamous Mormons and the Pope have a lot in common.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Higher Education April 9, 2008

    Sweatin’ to the Koran

    What do burqas, Osama and fascism have to do with six hours of man-free exercise time at Harvard?

    Katha Pollitt