Eve Ensler deals in honesty: Playwright to speak in Manchester, Vt.


MANCHESTER -- Eve Ensler answered the question of what to do after writing a critical and artistic success like "The Vagina Monologues" a long time ago.

Since it was first written and produced in 1996, her play has been translated into 48 different languages and performed in more than 140 countries. But Ensler, it turned out, was just getting warmed up.

Since then she has also authored several other works centered around perspectives on feminism, such as her plays "The Treatment" and "The Good Body," as well as two best-sellers, "Insecure At Last: Losing it in our Security-Obsessed World," and "I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls around the World."

Last year, she published a new book, "In the Body of the World." On Wednesday, Ensler will travel to Manchester to discuss her latest work as part of the ongoing "Off the Shelf" series of author discussions sponsored by the Northshire Bookstore.

What makes Ensler's work so compelling is that she is unafraid of bringing "taboo" subjects into the forefront, said Jessica Krawczyk, one of Northshire's booksellers.

"Ensler also has an in-your-face, unapologetic and humorous way of targeting the reasons why society tends to shun away from these subjects and how this mindset becomes ingrained in society," she said. "Ensler has the capacity to draw women and men in from different age groups, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds and really engage them in criticizing ‘acceptable' social norms while highlighting the importance of questioning -- and at time fighting -- these normalcies."

Ensler's latest book deals with her attempts to come to terms with the physical and sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father as a child and the sensation of living "outside her body" as a consequence.

Following a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she visited in 2011 and saw firsthand some of the suffering endured by women caught in the middle of warring militias eager to control the sources of that country's mineral and natural resource wealth, she learned she had uterine cancer. While undergoing the debilitating treatment for the disease, which included rounds of chemotherapy and other medications, she found a silver lining of sorts. She describes the treatment as liberating and transformative in one online forum, and it prompted her to describe the journey of reconnection to her body as a kind of memoir in her new book.

One of the themes that runs through Ensler's work is open honesty and a stripping away of the anxiety many women feel about their bodies, and "In the Body of the World" continues of her exploration of that. It also ties in to the other major theme she has written about and been politically active about -- curbing violence toward women. She played the central role in organizing V-Day, following her success with "The Vagina Monologues," which has attempted to raise awareness around the issue.

"I find Ensler's writing to have the right mix of deplorable and surprising facts regarding the human condition, humor to stop you from feeling frustrated as you read about these really terrible things that are being done to women, children and the Earth both here and abroad, and the kind of honesty you find in a friend who won't tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear," Krawczyk said. "She rarely sugarcoats anything, and I think that's important when you are talking about the issues Ensler brings to the public."

Ensler's impact and influence has been large, and not just among women; the people who buy her books run the gamut, said Martha Cornwell, another bookseller at the Northshire Bookstore.

She first encountered Ensler's work while a student at Wheaton College, where she twice helped produce "The Vagina Monologues" as an undergraduate. It also led her to West Africa to work with women's cooperative in ending female genital cutting and sex work for children under 18, she said.

"As a bookseller, [I find] Ensler's work is universal, and the diversity of folks who ask for any of her books continues to surprise me," she said. "My favorite moments are the conversations I have with folks buying her books, especially the grandmother who bought the book ‘to see what all the fuss about vaginas is.' "

Joe Donahue of WAMC/ Northeast Public Radio will interview Ensler during her "Off the Shelf" appearance in Manchester. Launched in March 2012 with an appearance by Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC personality, the series has hosted writers such as Neil Gaiman, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jeffrey Toobin, Anne Rice and Jodi Picoult.

The first 30 minutes of the event is a taped, live interview for eventual broadcast on the radio, and goes out across more than 200 affiliated stations. The second half-hour or so gets less structured, with questions taken from the audience, said Mary Allen, the director of events and publicity for the Northshire Bookstore.

"It's an opportunity to engage in a conversation," she said.

If you go ...

What: 'Off the Shelf' with Eve Ensler

Where: Maple Street School, 322 Maple St., Manchester Center, Vt.

When: 7 p.m., Wednesday,

Admission: Tickets are $16 and one copy of her new book, or $20 for two seats and one copy of the book. Tickets are available northshire.com or at either of the bookstore's locations -- in Manchester and in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Information: call the bookstore at (802) 362-2200.


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