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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.

  • 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

  • History April 3, 2008

    Blowing Smoke

    In Nicholson Baker's cut-and-paste history, the "good war" is bad.

    Katha Pollitt

  • March 30, 2008

    Dear Hillary…Love, Ralph

    I have no idea whether Hillary Clinton should stay in the primary race or not. People who've done the math say there's just about no chance she can squeak past Obama, which would make it kind of pointless to keep going. But of all the people who could conceivably advise her to campaign till the bitter end, I'll bet the last person she'd like to hear from is Ralph Nader. I translate his letter, which John Nichols quotes approvingly in The Notion, as follows:

    Dear Hillary,

    I didn't care about the consequences of my 2000 run (not that I ever admit that there were any! Florida? Not my fault! ) and neither should you care about the consequences of staying in the primaries. Consequences is for sissies and people who don't care about the First Amendment and other high-minded stuff. Besides, the Democratic party is evil! If dragging out the primaries till June or July hurts it in November, so much the better -- you might do for the Dems in 2008 what didn't do (did not! did not!) in 2000. I understand exactly how painful it must be to have everyone crushing so hard on Obama-- he's bewitched a lot of my former supporters too, which I just don't get, since he is, after all, a Democrat, like, um, Al Gore. It's like they've forgotten that the parties are basically the same and that the most important thing is to just express yourself no matter what. In fact, if you lose the nomination, why not run on your own? that's what I'm doing -- it's fun!

    Katha Pollitt

  • Gender and Sexuality March 13, 2008

    John Q. Public

    Just once it would be nice to see a male politician caught in a sex scandal stand up there at a press conference all by himself.

    Katha Pollitt

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  • Election 2008 February 28, 2008

    Ralph Rides Again

    What the *&#@! is wrong with this guy?

    Katha Pollitt

  • February 24, 2008

    McCain May Be Old, but He’s Still a Threat

    Liberal smarties and sophisticates are having fun mocking John McCain , but assuming he gets the nomination, he will a formidable candidate. He may look like a grumpy old man -- specifically, as my friend Kathleen Geier joked, the grumpy old man who yells at kids to get off his lawn -- or the nutty old uncle who rags on everyone at Thanksgiving before passing out in front of the football game. But that's another way of saying McCain is a familiar, indeed family, character. It does not require an imaginative stretch to get John McCain. How many voters know someone like Barack Obama?

    McCain is white, male, patriarchal, a war hero with decades in the Senate. So what if he's old? In politics old can be good ( for men), especially to the older voters -- older white voters -- who dominate the polls. Besides, McCain's not so old that he couldn't get himself a much younger trophy wife, and even if Cindy McCain looks brittle and unhappy and like she hasn't eaten in a decade, she is always there by his side, a visual reminder of his manly prowess. McCain is brash and sly and seemingly unguarded, unlike the famously self-protective Hillary Clinton, and he loves to schmooze with reporters, who adore him and like most of the rest of America, refuse to see how conservative he is. It's like they're saying, Oh go on, Uncle John! you're just saying you love Sam Alito to get me riled up!

    Obama v. McCain could be change/youth/black/exciting/internationalist against experience/maturity/white/steady/superpatriot. Put that way, it could come down to how many white male Democrats, who might vote for Hillary, won't vote for a black man, let alone one whose middle name is Hussein. They won't care about McCain's favors for business --too complicated, and anyway everyone does it -- and they certainly won't care if he had an affair with lovely lobbyist Vicki Iseman, as the New York Times sorta-kinda suggested. They might like him even better for that.

    Katha Pollitt

  • February 11, 2008

    A Campaign to Stop Stoning

    Iranian judges apparently didn't get the memo about the moratorium onstoning issued in 2002 by Ayatollah Shahroudi, head of the judiciary.According to Amnesty International, nine women and two men arecurrently in prison awaiting this cruel and barbaric punishment, whichis usually meted out for sexual transgressions.

    In May of 2006 a man and a woman were reportedly stoned in Mashhad and the government hasofficially confirmed the stoning on July 5, 2007 in the village ofAghche-kand of Jafar Kiani, convicted of "adultery" along withMokarrameh Ebrahimi, with whom he had two children. She has beensentenced to stoning also and is currently in prison with one of herchildren.

    In the most recent case, two sisters, Zohreh and Azar Kabiri, havebeen sentenced to stoning for "adultery." (This sentence came afterthe ninety-nine lashes meted out for "inappropriate relations," which came aftera trial notable for its lack of due process.). Equality Now has the whole horrific story, with addresses of officials to address letterscalling for a ban on stoning and the decriminalization of "adultery."

    Katha Pollitt

  • February 4, 2008

    Why I’m Supporting Barack Obama

    Hillary Clinton is smart, energetic, immensely knowledgeable, and, as she likes to say, hard-working. I've been appalled by the misogynous vitriol (and mean-girl snark) aimed against her. If she is the nominee I will work my heart out for her.

    But right now, I'm supporting Barack Obama. On domestic politics, their differences are small-- I'm with her on health care mandates, and with him on driver's licences for undocumented immigrants; both would probably be equally good on women's rights, abortion rights and judicial appointments. But on foreign policy Obama seems more enlightened, as in less bellicose. Maybe Hillary Clinton's refusal to say her Iraq vote was wrong shows that she has neo-con sympathies; maybe she simply believes that any admission of error would tar her as weak. But we already have a warlike president who refuses to admit making mistakes, and look how that's turned out. The election of Barack Obama would send a signal to the world that the United States is taking a different tack.

    When Obama won Iowa, I was surprised that I was glad. Much as I would love to pull the lever for a woman president -- a pro-choice Democratic woman president, that is --I realized at that moment how deeply unthrilled I was by the prospect of a grim vote-by-vote fight for the 50 percent+1 majority in a campaign that would rehearse all the old, (yes, mostly bogus or exaggerated) scandals and maybe turn up some new ones too. I wasn't delighted to think success would mean four more years of Bill Clinton either, or might come at the price of downticket losses, as many red-state Democrats fear. Democrats have nominated plenty of dutiful public servants over the years -- Humphrey, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry . They have always lost (or in Gore's case, not won by enough to not lose). Obama may not be as progressive as we wish over here at The Nation-- and maybe someday we can have a serious conversation about why Edwards' economic populism, promoted for years by important voices at the magazine, was such a bust. But Obama is a candidate in a different mold. He's a natural politician who connects with people as Hillary Clinton, for whatever reason, just doesn't, and appeals to the better angels of their nature. He sparks an enthusiasm in people--independents, the young, the previously disengaged. An Obama victory could have big positive repercussions for progressive politics.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Journalists and Journalism January 31, 2008


    The magazine walks into a trap labeled "political correctness," "left-wing anti-Semitism" and "multiculturalist Islam love."

    Katha Pollitt