Pulitzer Prize-winning Investigative Journalist: Katherine Boo

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Katherine Boo ’88. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!

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Katherine “Kate J.” Boo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist recognized for documenting the lives of people in poverty.

Early Life

Boo grew up in and around Washington with her two Minnesotan parents who originally moved to Washington when her father became an aid to Representative Eugene McCarthy. Her family name is actually Swedish and pronounced, “Bö,” by use the American version, hence her last name, “Boo.” Growing up, Boo was a late bloomer and prodigy. Unlike her peers, she never received the elite education they did. After high school, she became a clerk typist for the General Services Administration upon taking the civil service exam on her own account. She also worked as a secretary for two years and attended three different colleges prior to attending Barnard.

Unfortunately, a degenerative illness left her spending more of her time reading at home and taking night classes instead. Throughout her years at Barnard, Boo typed for The Columbia Daily Spectator and graduated in 1988.

Post-Barnard

From writing editorials for The Columbia Daily Spectator, Boo was hired by Jack Shafer, former editor of the Washington City Paper, now a columnist for Reuters. He described her to have the “soul of a poet but the arm strength of an investigative reporter.” Boo soon began editing the work of others, and moved up the ladder to The Washington Monthly from there. Moreover, she became recognized for combining her “investigative digging, on-the-street reporting and brilliant writing” while working at The Post. Yet for some reason, Boo could never settle, so she returned to her vocation: “writing about the lives of the poorest people in America.” For months, spanning to even years, she followed people and documented, mostly, “how this or that social policy played out in the lives of ordinary people, most often women.” She wrote “The Marriage Cure”, for the New Yorker in 2003, detailing “the humiliating difficulties faced by two African-American women taking part in a government-sponsored marriage programme.”

In 2004, marrying Sunnil Khilnani, former employee in Washington and director of the India Institute at King’s College London provided her with the opportunity and privilege of traveling to India and learning about the lives of the poor. That’s not to say it was an easy task. At times, it almost felt pointless because of the many stakes against her. Nevertheless, like the fighter she is, Boo didn’t let anything bring her down or hold her back. She explained :

 If you don’t write about it, then there’s no chance [of changing anything]. If you write about it, there’s a small chance. I try to be optimistic that if you present some of these conundrums, then policy-makers will take notice. I do think there are smart people thinking about these things, and I don’t think I’m the only person who cares.

Boo also described her visits as:

I wasn’t trying to gather people around a table and talk to them,” Boo tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies. “I was just going where they went. I was doing what they did, whether it was teaching kindergarten or stealing scrap metal at the airport or sorting garbage. And I would sit and listen and talk to them intermittently as they did their work.

Her book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, focuses on Mumbai as she cleverly brings the residents of Annawadi to life. She strongly believes that:

readers will [not] get invested in what potential is being squandered if they don’t engage with the people in the story as individuals. When you have a kid who is killed, I want the reader to feel what I felt and what the people of Annawadi felt, and because of that, get involved in the problems of criminal or social justice.

This is the heart and soul of her book. She wants other people to share and understand her vision and perspective.

Honors and Awards

Boo’s “reporting from disadvantaged communities in the United States and abroad has earned her a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Genius Grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing.” Behind the Beautiful Forevers was also a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize and adapted for the stage by the National Theatre. Furthermore, it was one of the 10 books President Obama recommended for future world leaders.

Future Work

Boo is currently in the process of writing her next book, “an exploration of social mobility in low-income families that draws on years of intimate reporting in African-American neighborhoods in Washington, DC.”

Resources

Read and listen in on an NPR interview with Boo, a Q&A with her editor, Kate Medina, and another interview with Guernica magazine.

Aziza Rahman ’20

Sources

Behind the Beautiful Forevers. ” Q&A with Katherine.” Interview by Kate Medina. Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Summary article, http://www.behindthebeautifulforevers.com/qa-with-katherine/.

Brennan, Emily. “Reporting Poverty.” Guernica, Guernica, Sep. 4 2012, accessed June 22, 2018, https://www.guernicamag.com/reporting-poverty/.

McGrath, Charles. “An Outsider Gives Voice to Slumdogs: Katherine Boo on Her Book ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, Feb. 8, 2012, accessed June 22, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/09/books/katherine-boo-on-her-book-behind-the-beautiful-forevers.html.

NPR books. “Finding ‘Life, Death And Hope’ In A Mumbai Slum.” Interview by Fresh Air. NPR, Feb. 8, 2012. Audio and summary article (Nov. 16, 2012),  https://www.npr.org/2012/11/16/165272652/finding-life-death-and-hope-in-a-mumbai-slum.

Rustin, Susanna. “Katherine Boo: Slum dweller.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies, June 8, 2012, accessed June 22, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2012/jun/09/katherine-boo-behind-beautiful-forevers.

“Katherine Boo.” Lyceum Agency, Lyceum Agency, 2018, accessed June 22, 2018, http://www.lyceumagency.com/speakers/katherine-boo/.

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American Author: Sigrid Nunez

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Sigrid Nunez ’72. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!

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Sigrid Nunez is a published author of seven novels: A Feather on the Breath of God (1995), Naked Sleeper (1996), Mitz: The Marmoset of Bloomsbury (1998), For Rouenna (2001), The Last of Her Kind: A Novel (2005), Salvation City (2010), and The Friend (2018).

Brief Backstory 

Nunez is the daughter of a Chinese-Panamanian father and a German mother. As a child, Nunez desired to become a dancer. She started off with a drive to write and, wrote stories about animals and children among others. As she grew older, that passion still stuck. However, around the age of 12, Nunez dove into studying ballet, and began pursuing it in high school. Throughout her study, she realized that not only did ballet pose to be really difficult, but it was also physically painful. Having started late in the game also significantly affected her confidence in pursuing it as a full-fledged career. Moreover, coming to Barnard took another unexpected toll. Nunez chose Barnard because “it was in Manhattan” and because she didn’t intend to go to college: “no dancer goes to college.” Nevertheless, she still chose Barnard. But throughout her first academic year (1968), she was a complete wreck; she didn’t even attend her academic classes, let alone her dance (ballet) classes. It’s not to say they weren’t great; Barnard has an amazing dance department. Rather, it was the realization of losing a childhood dream that she so desperately wanted to pursue that turned Nunez’s world upside-down.

Nunez eventually returned to attending all of her classes. She describes her experience with dancing, however, as:

I still have that in me. I know I know what it is to dance and to be a dancer. But what I feel is probably close to other kinds of loss. Like say you’re young and you fall in love with someone, and then you lose that person. And you go on and love other people and have a life and so on, but you know that that person was the one you loved the most, and that you’ll never love like that again. And though you move on you don’t ever completely get over it. That loss is part of your life and who you are forever.

She studied creative writing with Elizabeth Hardwick, an American literary critic, novelist, and short story writer, who also happen to be her professor, and later graduated from Barnard in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree (B.A.) in English.

Beyond Barnard

After Barnard, Nunez went onto obtain her Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) from Columbia University alongside working for Robert Silver as an assistant at the New York Review of Books. She soon switched and began working as an assistant for Susan Sontag, a formidable critic, essayist, and novelist in 1976 instead, an arrangement suggested by the editors. With Sontag battling stage IV breast cancer, such an arrangement was much needed.

Nunez recounts her rocky relationship with Sontag in her memoir for Sontag, Sempre Susan. While working for Sontag, Nunez became romantically involved with her son, David Rieff, which was a majorly complicated aspect of their relationship. In the memoir, Nunez writes how Sontag referred to herself, Nunez and Rieff as, “‘the duke and duchess and duckling of Riverside drive,'” which, to Nunez, raised a red flag. Aside from Sontag’s intimate relationship with Rieff that Nunez felt to be rather invasive, Sontag was actually “generous in her comments” and she encouraged Nunez to remain optimistic about her potential of becoming a successful writer. However, because Nunez didn’t find Sontag’s fiction in any ways appealing, and she was at that stage where most 25 year-old unpublished writers desire encouragement over criticism, she didn’t respect any of Sontag’s critiques about her writing.

Sontag passed away in 2004.

Post Sontag

Nunez has also taught at Columbia, Princeton, Boston University, and the New School. Additionally, she has recently been a visiting writer (writer in residence) at several institutions including Amherst, Smith, Baruch, Vassar, and the University of California, Irvine. She plans to visit Syracuse University in the spring of 2019. Nunez has also been “on the faculty of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and of several other writers’ conferences across the country.” Her honors and awards include “a Whiting Writer’s Award, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, and two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters: the Rosenthal Foundation Award and the Rome Prize in Literature.

Resources

Read Sigrid Nunez’s interviews with The Morning NewsThe Paris Review, and Signature to learn more about her life and career. In addition, her novel, The Friend (2018) and Sempre Susan (2014) each alone provide an opportunity to obtain an in-depth insight of Nunez as a person and the parts of her life that don’t meet the public eye.

Aziza Rahman ’20

Sources

Birnbaum, Robert. “Sigrid Nunez.” Interview by TMN, The Morning News LLC, March 29, 2007. Summary article, https://themorningnews.org/article/sigrid-nunez.

Camp, James. “‘Sempre Susan’: Sigrid Nunez Studies Sontag While Smooching Her Son.” Observer, editorial@observer.com, March 22, 2011, accessed June 18, 2018, http://observer.com/2011/03/sempre-susan-sigrid-nunez-studies-sontag-while-smooching-her-son/.

La Force, Thessaly. “Sigrid Nunez on Susan Sontag.” The Paris Review, The Paris Review, April 4, 2011. Summary article, https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/04/04/sigrid-nunez-on-susan-sontag/ .

Muscolino, Joe. “Behind the Books with Sigrid Nunez, Author of Sempre Susan.” Interview by Signature. Signature, October 6, 2014. Summary article, http://www.signature-reads.com/2014/10/behind-the-books-with-sigrid-nunez-author-of-sempre-susan/.

Nunez, Sigrid. “Bio.” Sigrid Nunez, Chloe Art and Design, accessed June 14, 2018, http://sigridnunez.com/bio/.

Smith, Wendy. “Sigrid Nunez’s Love of a Dog,” Publishers Weekly, PWxyz, LLC, November 17, 2017, accessed June 18, 2018, https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/75421-sigrid-nunez-s-love-of-a-dog.html.

Poet, Playwright, and Astrologer of a Generation: Ariana Reines

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Ariana Reines (’03). To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!

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Ariana Reines lives a life full of language and interpretation, crafting a path out of the diverse but interconnected fields of writing, translation, performance, and astrology. Reines has written a variety of poetry, plays, and prose, all the while teaching workshops and astrologizing (her term). Her writing immerses itself in themes of love, the body, eroticism, abjection, spirituality, technology, and the occult, among others.

Her Life

Reines, originally from Salem, MA, studied French and English when she came to Barnard. While she was here, Reines won creative writing awards, worked in the writing center, and was a selected to be a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society before graduating Summa Cum Laude. She went on to get a masters in Media & Communication from the European Graduate School (2006), and spent two years as a doctoral fellow in French and Romance Philiology at Columbia (2004-2006). After the earthquake in 2010, Reines traveled to Haiti several times to help with relief efforts in a naturopathy clinic there. Now, she continues to write, teach workshops around the word, and provide astrology readings.

A Bit on Her Craft

In a conversation with fellow writer Ben Lerner, Reines characterizes her performance art as distinct from the public nature of her writing, but goes on to draw connections between the two art forms in terms of the “hospitality” required for both:

Performance is not something to professionalize, or to aspire to. But I do receive these invitations. In a way my job is to receive and respond to invitations. My intentions with performance are much more private than with writing. But the hospitality necessitated by writing with care taught me to try to be hospitable with performance also.

Such a mindset reflects the care with which Reines approaches the multifaceted forms of creativity in her work. It also indicates the open vulnerability of Reines’s writing, as well as the complex ways in which she goes about addressing the reader. In the same piece, Lerner and Reines discuss the use of first and second person in their writing. Reines’s comments about her use of the pronouns “you” and “I” also speak to the issues of media, politics, and technology that her writing takes up:

The earlier “you,” the one in the first two books [The Cow and Coeur de Lion], was the Bush-era “you.” It’s the “you” of YouTube and advertising. It’s really brutalized. It’s what the impoverished “I” is made of. The “I” is just the object of the address of advertising, of George W. Bush, of ATMs. And the weird thing is that “you,” like the “thou,” the divine “thou,” isn’t expected to respond, only to buy in. You’re not expected to answer, just to ante-up or pay in. Even if there’s a comment box.

Reines’s concern for the “I” comes up again in her episode of NPR’s Bookworm. In the podcast, Reines articulates the importance of the “I” to the ethics of poetry, and advocates for its return to American writing. Host Michael Silverblatt identifies Reines as, “one of the crucial voices of her generation.” This label is quite fitting, as Reines’s work addresses many current issues in a complex, yet oftentimes emotionally clarifying, way.

Her Work

Reines has written a number of books of poetry and chapbooks. Her full collections of poetry include Alberta Prize winner The Cow (2006), Coeur de Lion (2007), Mercury (2011), and A Sand Book (forthcoming 2019). Other publications include The Origin of the World (2014), Thursday (2012), Beyond Relief (with Celina Su, Belladonna*, 2013), as well as Tiffany’s Poems and Ramayana (a set of chapbooks from 2015). She also judged the 2013 National Poetry Series. Her 2009 play “Telephone” won two Obie awards, and was published this year by Wonder Books.

Reines has completed several works of translation, including Charles Baudelaire’s My Heart Laid Bare (2009), Jean-Luc Hennig’s The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal: Days and Nights of an Anarchist Whore (2009), and Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials Toward a Theory of the Young-Girl (2012).

She has performed at the Whitney Museum of American ArtSolomon R, Guggenheim MuseumThe HammerThe Swiss InstituteRenaissance Society, and has taught at UC Berkeley, Columbia University, The New School, Tufts, Poets HouseThe Poetry ProjectThe Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, the Fine Arts Work Center, ANCIENT EVENINGS, and more.

To read more… 

In addition to Reines’s books, you can read more of her writing on her website. Also, check out her current column on Artforum!

-Sarah Barlow-Ochshorn ’20

Sources

Lerner, Ben and Ariana Reines. “Ben Lerner & Ariana Reines.” BOMB Magazine. October 1, 2014. https://bombmagazine.org/articles/ben-lerner-ariana-reines/.

Poetry Foundation. “Ariana Reines.” Accessed June 4, 2018. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/ariana-reines.

Reines, Ariana. “About.” Accessed June 4, 2018, http://lazyeyehaver.com/.

Reines, Ariana. “Ariana Reines” Interview by Michael Silverblatt. Bookworm, NPR. April 24, 2008. Audio, http://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/shows/bookworm/ariana-reines.

Tea, Michelle. “Coming Up @ Radar: Ariana Reines!” Radar Productions. June 4, 2012. http://www.radarproductions.org/2012/06/04/coming-up-radar-ariana-reines/.

 

Poet, Independent Scholar, and Activist: Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Alexis Pauline Gumbs ’04. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!

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Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a “queer Black troublemaker, Black feminist evangelist, prayer poet priestess,” and “widely published author.” She is also the founder of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind educational program, co-creator of the Mobile Homecoming experiential archive, and a “21st century cyber-enabled schoolteacher running the Indigo Afterschool program” for “creative black girl geniuses in 6th grade” at the Indigo Night School.

Brief Scope of the Past

Gumbs grew up in “tokenizing spaces” where she found herself to be the only Black or queer person. As a result of her unique identity and peculiar set of oppressions compared to others, Gumbs has always been on edge, prepared to be “misunderstood” and “disrespected.” She expected people to “tolerate her at best” and “to have to fight for dignity that isn’t so freely granted to people of color and/or members of the LGBTQ community. However, Gumbs’ father always managed to channel his daughter’s expectations into “transformative love,” embracing how difference challenges people to “question and re-write who we are and how we love each other.” He was her greatest support system.

At the age of 19, in 2002, Gumbs founded BrokenBeautiful Press, a grassroots publishing initiative that was inspired by Kitchen Table Press and Redbone Press. The press has published “several poetry collections, educational zines, transformative workbooks and online projects.”

Working alongside her mother, Pauline McKenzie-Day, the two created the Dynamic Duo Doula Team to provide people giving birth with holistic support as an integral healing project. They also collaboratively launched transformative mother/daughter workshops such as Thicker Than Whatever: Unstoppable Mother Daughter Relationships and Love Overflow: A Workshop for Newly Menstruating Young People and the Supportive Adults in Their Lives.

Gumbs graduated from Barnard in 2004.

Beyond Barnard

After Barnard, Alexis Pauline Gumbs obtained a PhD from Duke University in English, African and African American Studies and Women and Gender Studies in 2010. Her research was heavily devoted to Black Feminism, which entailed studying about Black women, motherhood, Caribbean women’s literature, diaspora, activism and queer theory. “She was also the first scholar to research the Audre Lorde Papers at Spelman College, the June Jordan Papers at Harvard University, and the Lucille Clifton Papers at Emory University during her dissertation research.” She then went on to found her two current organizations. She also edited Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines (2016), “a comparative analysis of her archival research on black feminist ideas of mothering from the 1970s and 80s together with the ways marginalized mothers are recreating the world today.” She later published Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity (shortlisted for a LAMBDA Literary Award) in the fall of that same year, and M Archive: After the End of the World in March of 2018.

Gumbs has been selected for Best Experimental Writing 2015, Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize Honoree Award, named one of UTNE Reader’s 50 Visionaries Transforming the World in 2009, was a Reproductive Health Heroine and a Black Women Rising Finalist in 2010, and was awarded a Too Sexy for 501-C3 trophy in 2011. In addition, she was also one of the Advocate’s top 40 under 40 features and one of Colorlines 10 LGBTQ Leaders building a new politics in 2012, one of Go Magazine’s 100 Women We Love and Afropunk’s Afro of the Day in 2013, and was honored to appear on PBS’s American Masters series in 2014 alongside Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Gloria Steinem and Danny Glover in Pratibha Parmar’s film Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth. Her poetic work has also been published in many of the most cutting-edge poetry journals including Kweli, Vinyl, Backbone, Everyday Genius, Turning Wheel, UNFold, Makeshift, Proud Flesh, Sinister Wisdom and ElevenEleven.

Gumbs has traveled all over the U.S., as an itinerant speaker, sharing her social media skills, intimate rituals and educational expertise, and her work alongside legends including Ntozake Shange, Angela Davis, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Mandy Carter, Sonia Sanchez, Gloria Steinem and Julian Bond. Moreover, her Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind curricula, podcasts and videos have reached organizations in over 143 countries, from Chennai, India to Nairobi, Kenya.

Resources

Read her interview with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore featured in BOMB Magazine and Joy KMT featured in Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB)to learn more about Alexis Pauline Gumbs ’04 and her work.

Aziza Rahman ’20

Sources

Brilliance Remastered. “Bio.” AlexisPauline.com, accessed June 1, 2018, http://www.alexispauline.com/brillianceremastered/bio/.

Duke University. “Alexis Pauline Gumbs.” Duke University, accessed June 1, 2018, https://english.duke.edu/alumni/alexis-pauline-gumbs

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. “#ThisIsLuv: How My Dad Became a Queer Black Feminist.” Ebony, Ebony Media Operations, LLC, February 17, 2015, accessed June 1, 2018, http://www.ebony.com/news-views/thisisluv-how-my-dad-became-a-queer-black-feminist-403.

KMT, Joy. “We Stay in Love with Our Freedom: A Conversation with Alexis Pauline Gumbs.” Interview by Joy KMT. Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), February 4, 2018. Summary article, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/we-stay-in-love-with-our-freedom-a-conversation-with-alexis-pauline-gumbs/#!.

Sycamore, Mattilda Bernstein. “We Are Always Crossing: Alexis Pauline Gumbs by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.” Interview by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. BOMB Magazine, March 22, 2018. Summary article, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/alexis-pauline-gumbs/.