I recently read an essay called “On Pandering” by Claire Vaye Watkins that got a lot of attention for shining a light on the experience of being a female professor/writer in academia. Of her many fascinating insights, two of her points stood out to me on an “oh hell yes” level.
1) She describes her realization that so much of her life, and every woman’s life really, has been spent “watching boys do stuff.” The sobering truth of that statement kind of blew my mind. The list of things that we’ve made a pastime of watching is uncomfortably long, and she starts to see — because we buy into this pastime and because the literary canon we’re all fed and taught to respect is almost exclusively white dudes — that she’s unwittingly bought into the idea that that is what her work should aspire to. And she starts to recognize that female experiences such as motherhood aren’t often seen as legitimate subject matter when it comes to writing and storytelling.
2) The next point I really loved (and it pretty much follows the previous point) is one that I’ll just quote directly because it’s so damn good: “Let us embrace a do-it-yourself canon, wherein we each make our own canon filled with what we love to read, what speaks to us and challenges us and opens us up, wherein we can each determine our artistic lineages for ourselves, with curiosity and vigor, rather than trying to shoehorn ourselves into a canon ready made and gifted us by some white fucks at Oxford.”
And so that is what I’ll shed light on here: my own curated canon of writers, araises, storytellers, musicians, who speak to me. They happen to be female, because I get a lot out of being able to identify and relate to the person who’s behind the thing I’m consuming. And I think they’ll speak to you too, if I know my readers at all. I hope this list will give you a bunch of funny, smart, new stuff watch, read, and listen to.
During my trip to New York this past summer, I visited MOMA and saw the exhibition, Yoko Ono: One Woman Show. It was nice to learn about her finally get her due for the groundbreaking work she did in the 60s, and really cool to see her point of view expressed via all kinds of mediums, from a standalone spiral staircase in the middle of the room to a guy writhing underneath a black sheet called “Bag Piece.” I took a photo of the description of Bag Piece and I really loved what she had to say about it: “I didn’t know how to explain to people how shy I was. When people visited I wanted to be in a big sort of box with little holes where nobody could see me, but I could see through the holes. So later, that developed into my Bag Piece where you can be inside, and see outside , but they can’t see you.”
My favorite part of the show was her 1964 book, Grapefruit, which is full of whimsical instructions. Each page was on display, most of them containing just a line of her “instructions.” My favorite was “Pea Piece”: “Carry a bag of peas. /Leave a pea wherever you go.”
Molly Young is possibly my ultimate literary crush, and sort of my writer idol (wridol?) because we’re the same age and I’ve been reading her work since I graduated college. I discovered her via some random feature on the Urban Outfitters blog of all things, and became a die-hard reader of her then-blog, Magic Molly, where she would share hilariously astute observations about her days in New York and insightful and often ridiculous excerpts of overheard conversations. These days she writes regularly for GQ, New York Magazine, Elle, and more.
Okay, I know this one seems obvious. But aside from being the creator of GIRLS, and the author of Not That Kind of Girl, you may have heard that Dunham recently started the Lenny Letter, which is a site/newsletter chock full of essays about feminism, friendship, style – just everything under the sun about modern life for women. I know saying “modern” in conjunction with “woman” sounds like anything but – like an excerpt from The Bell Jar or something – but I think you know what I mean. Anyway, I love that the e-newsletter comes straight to your inbox in its entirety. You can just read the whole long form essays and not have to leave your cozy inbox. Please read this hilarious and surprisingly touching essay by Jenny Slate about getting a “vagacial.” Please, just do it.
Yeah, I had to give Jenny Slate her own shout out. There are so many ways to be enchanted by this funny lady. Marcel the Shell, anyone? If you like her brand of quirky humor, check out the movie she wrote, directed and starred in last year, Obvious Child. Also, the WTF Podcast episode where she opens up about her SNL story is super compelling. I love following her on Instagram for her cute outfits, and sweetly funny captions. I just love her outlook – she has such a natural, palpable love of living. I hope she writes more stories for Lenny Letter!
So Super Sam
I discovered So Super Sam, the DJ and party creator, on Instagram. For a long time before I ever even listened to her mixes, I just enjoyed her sporty style – she’s got the clean, minimal look down. But once I finally listened to her mixes, I was hooked. I put them on while I’m doing laundry because I share her love of nostalgic R&B, slow jams, and soulful-yet-upbeat sound.
I’m kind of obsessed with the storytelling podcast, The Moth. I listen to it every weekend while I’m doing chores or running errands. One of the best storytellers they’ve had (IMHO) is Jessie Klein, a writer and stand-up comic who’s graced The Moth stage a number of times. My favorites were when she shared her anguish in finding a wedding dress that she and everyone in her life approves of (story here) and, in yet another wedding story, being somewhat of a misfit at her sister’s nuptials at Disney World of all places (here).
There you have it! Hoping to make this a series since there are many more I’d like to add. I’d love to learn some of your favorite female makers and thought leaders. Let me know!