Recently, some friends and I saw the film Art & Copy, a documentary about the creative minds that make up the best of the advertising business. Now, there is a lot to be said about the problems inherent in advertising, but even the most skeptical viewer in our group (me), had to admit that she was impressed by the poise, tenacity, and apparent coolness of some of the film's subjects, especially Mary Wells.
Last week, we lost one of North America's most estimable, if underrecognized creators—artist and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett. Catlett was alive for nearly all of the 20th century, witnessing America progress (and regress), her art reflecting history, legacy, and reality of her world, guided by principals of social justice and accessibility.
Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace—better known as Ada Lovelace—described herself as an analyst and metaphysician in her only published article. Seeing as how that article included what is cited as the first computer program and the first incidence of computers being assigned abilities beyond mathematical functions, her description rings true. Born in 1815 to Lord Byron, moody English poet, and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, "princess of parallelograms," Ada was primed to develop what she once called "poetical science."
Jeannette Rankin was a suffragist and the first woman elected into the United States Congress in 1916. A lifelong pacifist, Rankin was the only person in Congress to vote against entering both WWI and WWII. She believed that many of the problems in government were tied to the fact that there weren't enough women in politics and she said many times, "the peace problem is a woman's problem."
Born on August 13, 1860 to Quaker parents Jacob and Susan, Phoebe Ann Mozee early life could not begin to foreshadow the wild adventures she would have. As she grew up, Annie's penchant for hunting became local legend and she started to garner fame and respect in her region for her excellent shot. After winning a competition against a traveling performer and sharp-shooter who she would later marry, Annie Oakley was catapulted into a life of world-wide fame all the while sticking to her guns—both literally and figuratively.
In the midst of her university years, Djebar published her first two novels, La Soif and Les Impatients (she also took on her pen name, fearing that her father wouldn't approve of her writing). The novels were much less politicized than her later writing and received criticism for failing to acknowledge the then-current political climate in Algeria; still, these novels—written in French but set in Algeria, using romantic plots to explore female identity—foreshadowed many of the themes that are central to Djebar's later work.
Elaine May gained notoriety for directing the 1987 Hollywood mega-disaster Ishtar, but before that she broke barriers for women in comedy with longtime partner-in-crime Mike Nichols, and for women in film with her gripping Mikey and Nicky and hilarious The Heartbreak Kid. She's worked against the grain as a writer and director, pushing against systems that normally value women only for their looks and not their wit. And, to top it all off, she's still pretty damn funny.
Ella Baker is best known for her involvement in the civil rights movement during the late 1950s and 1960s, when she helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. These organizations were indeed pivotal, but, as Baker herself said, "One of the things that has to be faced is the process of waiting to change the system, how much we have got to do to find out who we are, where we have come from and where we are going." Baker believed that a revolution entailed an ongoing process rather than a finite blueprint; her accomplishments and ideology then, should be studied as a transformative trajectory rather than as discrete events.
Gloria Anzaldúa lived a pedal-to-the-metal life, refusing to deny any aspects of her dynamic identity and writing her own page in the great book of queer/feminist/critical theory by tearing out 20 others. Her writings are enactments of the "borderland/frontera" concept that she pioneered; her books fly between prose and poetry, English and Spanish, and any number of personal and theoretical topics that she felt compelled to put between a front and back cover. In occupying a space between genres, topics, cultures and identities, she broke the hegemonic norms that sought to restrain her throughout her life.
"If you're looking for quiet, soothing music that will lull you to sleep, put a record on your phonograph and spend the evening at home. But if you want to hear singing that will make the blood pound in your pulse, listen to the brown bomber of sophisticated song at Mona's Club 440. Her name is Gladys Bentley and she's as gifted with the piano keys as with her vocal cords."