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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 September 21, 2006

    Single-Issue Solipsism

    NARAL ProChoice America wants its sisters in Connecticut to support Joe Lieberman. Are they out of their minds?

    Katha Pollitt

  • Religion September 7, 2006

    Islamo-Fascism–Take Two

    If we really want to understand the Muslim world, we should start by acknowledging that today's "fascists" were yesterday's freedom fighters.

    Katha Pollitt

  • War on Terror August 24, 2006

    Wrong War, Wrong Word

    "Islamo-fascism" looks like an analytic term, but it's really an emotional one, intended to get us to think less and fear more.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Gender and Sexuality July 27, 2006

    No Presents, Please

    The only thing more absurd than the wedding gift the British government just gave Katha Pollitt is the fact that our government denies gays such benefits.

    Katha Pollitt

  • Society June 28, 2006

    Mommy Wars, Round 587

    Antifeminists engage in moral discourse while feminists tend to speak in the language of personal choice. But what happens when choice is a bad idea--for yourself, other women or society?

    Katha Pollitt

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  • Politics June 15, 2006

    Prairie Grass Roots

    In South Dakota, prochoicers are fighting back with a bipartisan initiative challenging the abortion ban and a grassroots effort that has put progressive Native American women on the ballot.

    Katha Pollitt

  • February 22, 2006

    Go Christine!

    I was never wild about the Band of Brothers idea, as Ari notes, and not just because it is such a male (and white) bunch of tired and dreary no-idea candidates. It's a gimmick. A militaristic gimmick. It says Daddy's back and he hates those commie pinko peaceniks just as much as you, patriotic red-blooded red-state America! What's next, Band of Preachers?

    Tammy Duckworth is a great human-interest story, but that's not a reason to support her candidacy. Running her is an act of considerable cynicism-- but it seems to be working. Ari, I'm guessing you'd barely heard of her before a few weeks ago, and you're practically ready to support her. The centrist mantra is working it's magic: Already you're having trouble telling the difference between the candidate who walks the walk and has grassroots support, and the candidate who is basically a photo-op. Who says Duckworth is the more electable of the two, besides the pols who recruited her to run?

    Duckworth wants to stay in Iraq, she's allied with the more conservative wing of the party, and she seems to have very little substantive to say about most issues. She' s trying to push out of the way a candidate who has a lot of support, more local roots, who ran an incredible race last time, and who has much better politics. I would trust Cegelis a thousand times over Duckworth to take progressive stands once elected, including on women's rights and abortion rights. Duckworth told the Washington Post she thinks abortion shouldn't be a federal issue. That's not exactly a ringing defense of abortion rights, since unfortunately it IS a federal issue.

    Katha Pollitt

  • February 16, 2006

    Iranian Teenager to Hang for Self-Defense

    Just relax and take it if a rapist attacks you in Iran. If you fight back, you may find yourself sentenced to death, like 18-year-old Nazanin. Oh, but wait, I forgot, if you do get raped and don't have four male witnesses to the actual physical act, you can be imprisoned, flogged or stoned for having sex outside of marriage. Here's the shocking story, from Iran Focus via Feministing:

    Tehran, Iran, Jan. 07 – An Iranian court has sentenced a teenage rape victim to death by hanging after she weepingly confessed that she had unintentionally killed a man who had tried to rape both her and her niece.

    The state-run daily Etemaad reported on Saturday that 18-year-old Nazanin confessed to stabbing one of three men who had attacked the pair along with their boyfriends while they were spending some time in a park west of the Iranian capital in March 2005.

    Katha Pollitt

  • February 15, 2006

    Accidents Will Happen

    This morning the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that ABC World News Tonight co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas is pregnant--mazel tov! Before everyone piles on about what this means for working women--if her maternity leave lasts longer than a weekend can all women be fired right away?--let's not overlook the most interesting bit. It was an accident! "This was about as unplanned as it gets," Vargas told the paper.

    "I was shocked." (Vargas got the news 10 days before her debut.) So, a hugely successful, smart, rich, married woman with a three-year-old, who has access to the best medical care in the world, and is moreover 43 years old, can have an accidental pregnancy! Who knew? That must mean a woman can have an unplanned pregnancy and not be a careless, stupid, immature slut, who deserves the scorn of right-thinking people. It's great that Vargas is happy with her surprise, but if it could happen to Vargas, it can happen to any woman. Next time someone starts in on abortion as something that no one would need if women were more responsible, feel free to point this out.

    Katha Pollitt

  • February 14, 2006

    V-Day or P-Day?

    Today is Valentine's Day, which on campus means V-Day--over 1,000 productions of The Vagina Monologues will be taking place across the nation to raise funds for battered women's shelters and other projects that fight violence against women. V-Day is popular and successful and feminist--it's even been produced in some Catholic colleges. So naturally the ladies over at the Independent Women's Forum hate it. Every year they go on a tear about how The Vagina Monologues is ruining romance and sending Cupid packing. "V-Day is not celebrated with flowers or chocolates," grouses IWF Director of Policy Carrie L. Lukas. "Young men do not pay graceful tribute to young ladies on V-Day."

    What, no chocolate? This sounds serious! Something tells me the folks at Godiva and Hallmark aren't too worried.

    For the IWF, feminists just can't get it right: when they're not ruining romance by being puritanical killjoys, they ruin it by being raunchy and gynecological. But V-day isn't the only organization with big plans for Valentine's Day. There's also the conservative Christian Liberty Counsel, which is promoting February 14th as an annual Day of Purity, "when this nation's youth can make a public demonstration of their commitment to remain sexually pure, in mind and actions." You can order Live Pure t-shirts and wristbands, just to let the whole world know you are not, not, not thinking about sex. One question: The website urges young people to see abstinence before marriage as "countercultural"--but, um, how does that fit with the official proclamation of the Day of Purity by the Governor of Ohio? Is he some kind of hippie sex hermit?

    Katha Pollitt