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Jewesses with Attitude

Maira Kalman's Imaginary Best Friend Forever

I started off my Friday with some morning enlightenment from Maira Kalman's meditations on law and women breaking barriers -- women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Sojourner Truth.

In the latest posting on her "And the Pursuit of Happiness" illustrated column/blog for the New York Times, Kalman illustrates her trip to the Supreme Court and her visit with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She writes about how Ginsburg went into law "to combat the forces of injustice" but then could not get hired as a lawyer. And how Ginsburg described illness as "a distraction that must be defeated so you can focus on the real work." Somehow seeing the image of the authoritative yet delicate Ginsburg sitting on a couch in one panel and her authoritative yet delicate robe hanging in a closet in separate panel was striking -- and an example of the what it is to see Kalman's view of the world. 

Maira Kalman is an illustrator and author whose online columns regularly receive hundreds of comments from adoring readers. Her Jewish background pops in and out of the columns, in this case hinted at through the mention of an aunt in Israel and her father Pesach Berman. Akin to the Jewish Women's Archive's own interest in the stories of both celebrated and unheralded women, Kalman gives the last word on the topic of courage not to Eleanor Roosevelt but to her 92-year-old aunt: "Self-confidence," she says, is the most important thing. 

We often spend more time on this blog writing about activists than we do artists. But I'm happy today to introduce Maira Kalman into the mix, especially on a day when her column addresses so many confident, trailblazing women. Her work is personal, clever, playful yet impeccably executed, touching, and always full of social commentary in those unbelievable colors and lines. It is simply lovely.

On a personal note, I have a special affection for her work dating a few years back to when she drew my cousin reading a poem at artist Louise Bourgeois's salon. More recently one of my oldest friends, Joanna, (another Jewish woman who is an illustrator -- you should see her book Shmo), studied with her at School of Visual Arts. And I also just truly love the pleasure Kalman takes in hats, food, and history (all very important things in my life). So discovering that her latest column, "May It Please the Court," was a perfect fit for the Jewish Women's Archive was an extra delight. We were especially giddy (some here even a little teary) about her line "move over Jane Austen, as my imaginary Best Friend Forever. Make room for Ruth Bader Ginsburg." 

What it comes down to is that we want to be Maira Kalman's imaginary Best Friend Forever, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg's too. Preferably sitting with both of them under those beautiful pink magnolias. 

How to cite this page

Emily. "Maira Kalman's Imaginary Best Friend Forever." 24 April 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 29, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/maira-kalman>.

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