Friday, November 10, 2006
Arbitrary and sad Friday
At some point last night this blog received its five millionth visitor. Thanks, whoever you were! And the 4,999,999 who preceded you (though of course I know that some people have visited more than once). I credit Howard Dean and his “fifty-state strategy” for my blogging success. Rahm Emanuel had nothing to do with it. And I’m sorry I wasn’t around to welcome my five millionth visitor personally, but I was having dinner with some friendly folks at Northwestern University. Thanks also for all the great suggestions for lunch conversation with U. No.! I’m going to print them out and read every one to him. We should be there all afternoon.
And no, we won’t be ordering any pie.
But I am not a happy blogger today, because late last night I learned that Ellen Willis died earlier in the day of lung cancer. Ellen Willis was one of my Prose-‘n’-Politics Heroes when I was growing up: I would read her stuff in the Village Voice when I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and say, “goddamn! I want to write like that someday.” (I would sometimes say this aloud while riding the rush-hour 7 train to and from high school. It made an impression.) From her support for abortion rights and socialist feminism in the late 1960s as a founding member of Redstockings to her critiques of Women Against Pornography in the very late 1970s (which anticipated the work of most “sex-positive” feminists by about ten or fifteen years, though of course Carole Vance and the “pleasure and danger” theorists were working the same beat in the 1980s), Ellen Willis was fierce and crisp and always laser-smart. And she was a fine, fine writer—the kind of writer any kid with a taste for cultural criticism should study and admire. That means you kids on the Internets, too! Stop reading this blog and go read Ellen Willis’s stuff. Start with Don’t Think, Smile! Notes on a Decade of Denial. Your assignment is to write a 5000-word review by the end of the year. Go.
Which reminds me. There should be a school of feminism named just after her: the Ellen Willis Radical Critique with Democratic Socialist Politics and Also Some Really Savvy Rock Criticism, All in Piquant Prose school of feminism. I nominate this young woman for membership.
I finally got the chance to meet Ellen Willis almost ten years ago, in the very city I’m in now (the windy one), at a conference at the University of Chicago. I was seated right across from her at lunch, and I went into complete fanboy mode, saying, “Ms. Willis, hi, we haven’t met, but my name is Michael Bérubé and I’ve been a fan of yours for twenty years, and it’s just such a thrill to meet you in person at last.” And she said, smiling ruefully, “oh, now that makes me feel old.”
She was not old: she was only in her mid-fifties at the time. And she was not old yesterday, either: she was only 64. Though I knew her only through her writing, I will miss her.
Saturday: Her New York Times obit is here, and I managed to find an earlier photo of her on the Google, too:
Also check out Alice Echols’s terrific book, Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-75 for an account of Ellen Willis’s early work and the brief history of the Redstockings and much, much more.