A pop music critic for the New Yorker and Rolling Stone, a writer and editor at the Village Voice, a professor of journalism at New York University, and a co-founder (with Shulamith Firestone) of the Redstockings radical women's liberation group, Ellen Willis cut a sharp intellectual swath through contemporary American culture. She was both a pioneer of modern feminism and one of its most acute and trenchant critics.
With "We Remember," the Jewish Women's Archive seeks to provide the kind of personal insight into someone who has died that might not emerge in a standard obituary. In the case of Ellen Willis, the remembrances of her colleagues, friends, and family members offer eloquent testimony to her consistently radical thinking, broad influence, and cultural courage. We invite you to visit The Nation magazine's website, in particular, for a moving compilation of reflections upon Willis's life and career.
Many of those writing about Willis try to convey the precision, power, and penetration of her language. It is clear they feel that conventional words and phrases cannot do her justice. In fact, a quick google search yields descriptions not just of her "rapier tongue" and "rapier sharp words and ideas," but also of her "rapier affection."
Beyond the sharpness of her mind, prose, and presence, those writing about Willis point especially to her challenge of left-wing pieties, her deep humanity, and her insistence on the centrality of pleasure. Judith Levine, writing in the Vermont web-weekly Seven Days, cited words by Willis that captured her view that private desire was indelibly connected to public and political possibility: "The power of the ecstatic moment—this is what freedom is like, this is what love could be, this is what happens when the boundaries are gone—is precisely the power to reimagine the world, to reclaim a human identity that's neither victim nor oppressor."