Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s “If He Hollers Let Him Go” on The Believer
How do you write a profile about someone you never get to interview? Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah‘s smart, articulate examination of comedian Dave Chappelle tells us the answer is to investigate the effects that person has on others, the ripples they make. By looking closely at the cultural influences and impacts of this very public person, as well as talking with people who worked with him and knew him well, Ghansah creates the shape of Dave Chappelle, an almost negative-space, which is perhaps a better portrayal of the now-reclusive artist than an interview would be anyway. And because she doesn’t have any actual exchange with Chappelle, Ghansah is forced to rely upon her own critical savvy and ability to astutely fill in the blanks. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah is so freakin cool in this piece, I pretty much just wanna find her and hang out with her. —Lauren
I avoided reading Eat, Pray, Love for a long time. Heck, I didn’t even read it when I was in Bali, mainly because I felt saturated with the continuous commentary coming from all travelers about its merits. When all the EPL hoopla had passed, I finally picked up the book, and it made me laugh until I cried. I became a member of the Elizabeth Gilbert posse fan club (EGPFC), and my love of her has only continued to grow. With her new novel out, The Signature of All Things, she has been on the interview circuit. Steve Almond of the New York Times wrote about how she reacted to the idea that her novel will attract a “different level of reader” than Eat, Pray, Love.
She can’t help hearing the implicit slight in this praise: “You might be lucky enough to get out of your ghetto, now that you’ve found a better grade of readers, meaning male readers. I want to say: ‘Go [expletive] yourself! You have no idea who the women are who read my books, and if I have to choose between them and you, I’m choosing them..’ ”
In an interview for Salon with writer Adam Skolnick, who she met in Bali while writing Eat, Pray, Love, she talked about the different reception her writing about men had received vs. her writing about women.
Well, look, it has not escaped my attention that when I wrote about men and men’s journeys they gave me the National Book Award nomination, the National Book Critics Circle award nomination, the National Magazine Award nomination, the Hemingway award, the PEN/Faulkner, you know they just showered me with love. I think especially because I was a woman writing about men’s journeys and I wrote about them lovingly. Then when I wrote about women’s emotions and women’s journeys I got shunted off. It was crazy to watch. I was like, oh, is that all it takes to lose all respect, to write about women’s lives? That sucks.
And it does.
Jennifer Lunden’s “Exposed” in Orion Magazine
Lunden, a social worker and affiliate practitioner at True North Health Center in Falmouth, Maine, writes about breast cancer, “the mammogram myth, and the pinkwashing of America.” Beginning with a personal narrative that draws on her own experiences receiving mammograms at 41, Lunden quickly delves into the rise of breast cancer awareness, breast cancer’s causes, and how our nation chooses to propose solutions, drawing on scientific articles as well as the writings of Malcolm Gladwell and Barbara Ehrenreich. She then turns to how our nation funds breast cancer awareness–by focusing on cancer treatment drugs rather than on prevention. Lunden connects routine mammograms with the rise of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and its key player–“Zeneca, the pharmaceutical giant that became known as AstraZeneca following a merger in 1999.” The company’s support of cancer awareness seems philanthropic, but Lunden connects it directly to the fact that they are the producers of Tamoxifen, “the most widely prescribed breast cancer drug on the planet.” She writes:
Zeneca launched National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—and the slogan “Early detection is the best protection”—in 1985, and for the first few years the corporation was its sole funder. It still wields control over the marketing. Which means it wields control over the message. And the message is this: Breast cancer is an individual problem and an individual responsibility. The sensible woman gets annual mammograms and, when diagnosed, seeks cancer treatment.
Why, Lunden wants to know, do we not focus on cancer prevention by reducing the amount of endocrine-disrupting compounds, which are known to increase the risk of breast cancer?
Culprits include Bisphenol A (BPA), which is in the interior lining of almost all metal food and beverage cans; phthalates, found in air fresheners, perfumes, nail polish, baby-care products, cleaning products, and insecticides; parabens, found in underarm deodorant and cosmetics, including creams, lotions, and ointments; synthetic musks, found in fragrance; nonylphenol ethoxylate, found in cleaning products and air fresheners; alkylphenols, found in hair products and spermicides; bovine growth hormone (rBGH/rBST), found in most cow’s milk and other commercial dairy products; many pesticides and herbicides; and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, found in charred or grilled meats and in cigarette smoke. Oral contraceptives and hormone-replacement therapy have also been found to increase the risk of breast cancer.
A woman attempting to steer clear of all these toxicants would find it virtually impossible.
Lisa Fay Coutley’s “Why to Kill your Paradise” on Passages North
Number 61 in Passages North‘s “Writers on Writing” series, poet Lisa Fay Coutley strikes a bittersweet and, to me, familiar note as she muses on her return home to northern Michigan on Lake Superior’s shore after spending several years getting her PhD in creative writing. Finally able to return to her paradise with her boys, she finds herself “foundering without the structure and community. How does one go from the rigor of a PhD program to days wide open for writing? You are ridiculous, I thought. Bitch, you are killing your paradise. If you can’t be happy here, where can you be happy?”
Yet there I was, walking in the woods with the new pup as I have every other morning for the past two months—the trees behind me barely visible in the still-dark, the sun pressing so heavy against the lake, dividing her instead of breaking open over her. It was not exquisite (though it should be). I was terrified. I was sure that this was what it meant to fall out of love with living.
Perhaps it’s because I can only relate to this longing–wanting so long to be done with academic duties, or some other duty, so I can return to the place I love, only to find that I can’t seem to be quite as happy, quite at home, as I envisioned myself being. It’s the writerly dilemma, Coutley suggests, drawing on poets Mina Loy and Larry Levis, that the writer is ever-plagued with a search, which “is about a longing for the self, for a love of life, for the desire to keep reaching for meaning when words can only ever approximate feeling.”