Ad Policy

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 26, 2007

    Who’s the Victim in the Case of Michael Vick?

    Michael Vick has a 10-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons for $130 million. His skill at running, kicking and throwing a football has won him the admiration of millions -- until now. As you probably know, Vick has been charged with involvement in the cruel and illegal "sport" of dog fighting. Americans may not care if an athlete beats his wife, but we love our pets. Breeding and training dogs to fight and kill, disposing of the losers by hanging, electrocution, slamming them repeatedly onto the floor -- this is definitely taking machismo too far.

    In his recent piece for The Nation's website, Dave Zirin makes some valid points. Yes, Vick deserves some semblance of the presumption of innocence in the media. (Vick claims others ran the dog fight business from his Virginia house without his knowledge when he wasn't present.) And yes, there's racism in some of the virulent attacks on him on sports and news websites. References to lynching, the n-word and OJ do suggest something besides love of animals.

    But I was appalled by Zirin's attempt to shift focus away from Vick to "the self-righteousness of the media" and the hypocrisy of "American culture" which "celebrates violent sports -- especially football -- and is insensitive to the consequences that the weekly scrum has on the bodies and minds of its players" like Earl Campbell and Andre Waters and other middle-aged ex-footballers who suffered long-term damage from old injuries. Like the accusations of racism, this sounds like a rather desperate bid to change the subject. Why should one concern displace the other? Can't one both feel revulsion at animal torture and want the game to be safer? At least the the players were volunteers, richly rewarded for the risks they took. Nobody asked the dogs if they wanted to have their throats ripped out.

    Katha Pollitt

  • July 25, 2007

    The Democrats Increased Funding for WHAT?

    I'm way late on this, so I hope you've already squawked to your congressperson about a particularly nasty bit of gristle buried in the big fat bratwurst that is the 125-page Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. Passed by the House on July 19 by a comfy 276-140 vote, HR 3043 increases federal funding for abstinence-only education by $27.8 million -- $4 million more than Bush asked for. That brings to a whopping $141 million the amount of your taxes the feds will spend annually on religion-ridden error-strewn information-denying propagandistic-boondogglish school programs that--as a Congressionally mandated 10-year evaluation by Mathematica Policy Research showed back in April -- do not even work.

    These are the same programs that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) blasted in a report last December for spreading such falsehoods as : condoms don't protect against pregnancy, half of gay male teens are HIV positive, a 43-day old embryo is a "thinking person," 10% of women who have abortions become sterile, and the HIV virus can be transmitted through sweat and tears. My personal favorite, as described by The Washington Post:

    "Some course materials cited in Waxman's report present as scientific fact notions about a man's need for ‘admiration' and ‘sexual fulfillment' compared with a woman's need for ‘financial support.' One book in the ‘Choosing Best' series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. ‘Moral of the story,' notes the popular text: ‘Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man's confidence or even turn him away from his princess.' "

    Katha Pollitt

  • July 20, 2007

    Hillary Clinton Wears V-Neck Top! Details at 11.

    Of all the silly, breathless, overthinky pieces about Hillary Clinton's appearance, I mean campaign, this labored bit of style-section psychobabble by Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan has to be the most inane. It seems that on Wednesday Senator Clinton was shown on C-Span giving a speech on the Senate floor about oh, whatever, and under her rose-colored jacket she wore a black top that's a millimeter lower than the ones she usually wears. OMIGOD! The Senator has breasts! Two of them! "The cleavage registered after only a quick glance," Givhan, um, reports. "No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn't an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable."

    Cue mini-essay about the semiotic significance of various ballgowns worn by the Senator as First Lady, her subsequent move as Senator into a "desexualized uniform" of black pantsuits, and more gasping OMIGOD! about Wednesday's venture into something a bit less staid. "It's tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!" Tops like the one Clinton wore offer a "teasing display," they're "unnerving," a "provocation." Why? "To show cleavage requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her appearance, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of style, Clinton is as noncommittal as ever."

    The Senator's blouse is like an unzipped fly? That's the sort of brutal vulgarity I'd expect from Don Imus and other misogynistic Hillary-haters. I don't have Givhan's mind-reading abilities, so I can't say whether Clinton felt ambivalent or noncomittal about her neckline or how that would reveal itself ("Um, Dianne, Barbara, do you think this blouse is too, um, you know?"). But I spent some moments in "scrunch-faced scrutiny" of the C-Span video (thoughtfully provided by the Post) and I just don't get what Givhan is so worked up about. Granted I'm using dialup and the picture is kind of blurry, but I don't even see anything I would call cleavage.

    Katha Pollitt

  • July 13, 2007

    2,4,6,8! This Beheading is Really Great!

    Why is the anti-war movement so lacklustre when 70% of Americans want to bring the troops home by spring and George W. Bush is the least popular president in history?

    Some reasons are obvious: lack of a draft, low casualties, not much TV coverage, perceived futility of big rallies and marches. My fellow columnist Alexander Cockburn has a different idea. In his current Nation column, Alex argues that the anti-war movement is weak because it fails to show "international political solidarity" with "Iraqi resistance fighters."

    Where's the love that US leftists felt for the Sandinistas and the Salvadoran FMLN--the sister cities, the links between unions, the love affairs between the "demure sisters in the struggle from Vermont or the Pacific Northwest" and "some valiant son of Sandino or downtrodden Nica sister, liberated by North American inversion from the oppressions of Latin patriarchy"?

    Katha Pollitt

  • Jails and Prisons July 12, 2007

    Pardon Whom?

    Dear George Bush: Don't stop with Scooter Libby. Why not go all the way and pardon everyone unfairly held behind bars?

    Katha Pollitt

  • Ad

  • July 6, 2007

    Women’s Rights are Human Rights, Iranian Edition

    Via Feministing comes awful news from Iran. For participating in a banned rally for women's rights in June,2006, twenty-four year old Delaram Ali has been sentenced to 34 months in prison and ten lashes. The demonstrators--around 100 women and a number of men -- were peacefully protesting flagrantly biassed Sharia-based laws, including those governing divorce, inheritance and the courts, in which a woman's testimony is worth half of a man's. Police violently attacked the rally and arrested 70 demonstrators; Ali is the seventh to be convicted. Her lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, offers a defiantly hopeful interpretation of this cruel and unjust verdict: "The women's movement is expanding and this worries the government."

    More details hereand here.

    Katha Pollitt

  • July 5, 2007

    Weird Religion, Anglican Edition

    According to two senior Church of England bishops, recent terrible floods in the UK are expressions of God's wrath at excess consumption -- or possibly excess gayfriendliness. "We have a responsibility in this and God is exposing us to the truth of what we have done," the Rt. Rev .James Jones, bishop of Liverpool, told The Telegraph .

    "We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation, as well as the environmental damage that we have caused." said the Rt. Rev. Graham Dow, bishop of Carlisle. "The sexual orientation regulations [which give greater rights to gays] are part of a general scene of permissiveness. We are in a situation where we are liable for God's judgment, which is intended to call us to repentance." According to the Telegraph, Dow " expressed his sympathy for those who have been hit by the weather, but said that the problem with ‘environmental judgment is that it is indiscriminate.'"

    Now just hold on a minute here. God left thousands of innocent Britons homeless-- to say nothing of other recent flood victims from Texas to Pakistan -- to make a point about something those people had nothing to do with? A point no one, except a handful of clergymen, seemed to get? If God is powerful enough to cause floods, why isn't he powerful enough to target his smitings to, say, the annual meeting of Exxon shareholders or Friends of the Incandescent Light Bulb? Surely God is aware that environmental catastrophes hit the most vulnerable hardest. The CEOs and superconsumers in their 4000-square-foot mansions have insurance, to say nothing of Hummers in which to make a quick escape to their condo in the city.

    Katha Pollitt

  • June 27, 2007

    Not Quite Knocked Out by Knocked Up

    Last night I finally saw Knocked Up, Judd Apatow's hilarious new movie, a raunchfest with a family-values core --- carrying on with accidental pregnancies, marriage as responsible adulthood, staying together for the sake of the kids. I'm not going to get into that here, except to second Dana Stevens' great piece in Slate on Hollywood and TV's cowardice about abortion (referred to in Knocked Up by the hero's slacker roommate as "rhymes with shmashmortion" and, by the heroine's ice-cold mother, as "taking care of it").

    As she points out, legions of single women in their twenties who get pregnant accidentally like Alison (Katherine Heigl) or Jenna (Keri Russell) in Waitress, have abortions; on the big or small screen, they have miscarriages or babies. In the movies, I might add, accidental babies solve the very issues (men, work, money, dreams) that, in real life, they often worsen. Jenna gives birth, dumps her abusive ox of a husband, wins the baking contest he'd barred her from entering and opens her own pie diner. Alison falls in love with Ben (Seth Rogen), her one-night drunken stand, and, after spending the whole movie hiding her pregnancy to keep her celebrity-reporting job at E!, gets outed -- and promoted. Pregnancy polls really well-- who knew?

    Actually, though, the real subject of Knocked Up is the immaturity of men: only under the most desperate circumstances will they put aside their bongs, or their porn, or their even more idiotic friends. If a woman had made this movie she'd be labelled a total man-hater: there isn't one man in it who isn't basically a teenager. But a woman never would have made this movie, because women don't have the fantasy in which willowy creamy world-class beauties like Alison, with brains, great clothes, and tons of self-confidence in bed and out of it, go for men like Ben (Seth Rogen), who is not only an unemployed and underbathed stoner with no ambitions and no visible means of support, but physically unattractive to an alarming degree. A real-life Alison wouldn't have spent one night in his filthy teenage-boy lair of a bedroom, or hung out for one evening with his uber-slacker friends . I'll give you that she might have called him when she discovered she was pregnant-- but offer to entwine herself in coparenting for life with a one-night stand she couldn't even get through breakfast with the next morning? Invite this virtual stranger to all her prenatal checkups? I didn't even invite my husband!

    Katha Pollitt

  • Society June 21, 2007

    Anything Boys Can Do…

    The Dangerous Book for Boys does no boy a favor by resuscitating the Anglo-imperial manly ideals. And what about girls?

    Katha Pollitt

  • June 13, 2007



    New York City

    Katha Pollitt, Our Readers and Perry Anderson