#WCW: Hisaye Yamamoto

The Japanese-American author was born in 1921 and passed away in 2011, but it was her work about first and second generation Japanese-Americans that saw her rise to prominence, as she detailed their experiences in the wake of World War II in a bid to bridge the cultural divide between the two.

Yamamoto was born in Redondo Beach, California, to Japanese immigrant parents. Her parents were from the Kumamoto Prefecture in Japan and immigrated to California where they farmed strawberries. Under the California Alien Land Law of 1913, Yamamoto’s family was not allowed to own agricultural land and so they moved around as she was growing up.

She was also no stranger to struggle and loss, all of which fueled the amazing writer that she was. Yamamoto wrote for a daily newspaper for Japanese Californians under the name Napoleon for a bit before she and her family were sent to Camp Poston in Arizona shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. More than 112,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their homes on the West Coast and sent to internment camps, under Executive Order 9066, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Despite the harsh conditions at the camp, Yamamoto continued to write and worked as a reporter and columnist for the camp newspaper, the Poston Chronicle, even in the midst of loosing her brother in the war.

The end of the war saw Yamamoto returning to the Los Angeles area to begin working as a columnist for the Black-owned newspaper, the Los Angeles Tribune, which aimed to diversify the voices in journalism and unify the Angelo Black community with Asian Americans.

Over the next three years, while working as a reporter, Yamamoto witnessed the racism that minority groups faced, which eventually led her to become a literary champion for those who were discriminated against. Following Yamamoto’s death in 2011, Elaine Woo wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Her experiences [at the Los Angeles Tribune] deepened her awareness of racism to a point of nearly unbearable anguish.”

Yamamoto published her first short story, The High-Heeled Shoes, in 1948. That was followed up in 1950 by another short story, ‘The Legend of Miss Sasagawara’, where she continued to be vocal in the fight against war, racism and violence. She then left journalism to pursue writing full-time. She enjoyed exploring topics related to the intersection of gender, race, and ethnicity, and her work was influenced by the adversity she overcame at the prison camp.

Yamamoto remained a life-long advocate in the fight against war, racism, and violence. She wrote: “Painfully, in the two to three years of my employment, I came to realize that our internment was a trifle compared to the two hundred years or so of enslavement and prejudice that others in this country were heir to.”

In 1986, Yamamoto’s storytelling won the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement for her contributions to American multicultural literature.

In honor of the beginning of Asian American history month, we celebrate the life and legacy of this great author for this week’s #WCW. Perhaps Yamamoto’s best-known piece is, “Seventeen Syllables,” wherein a young girl tells the story of her mother, who writes haikus to transcend the boredom of working on a farm. However, the mother is punished for her hobby by her ignorant husband. The point of the story seems to mirror Yamamoto’s own life, which illustrates that one should always find a way to make art, even if it is suppressed or misunderstood.

Her commitment to using her talents to highlight her experiences as well as the experiences of others changed the way that people related to each other, raised global awareness and solidified the importance of fighting for justice in all forms.

Hisaye Yamamoto Google Doodle - YouTube

#WCW: Shielding the World From the Coronavirus w/ Dr. Kati Kariko

Katalin Kariko at her home in Jenkintown, Pa., in February. Dr. Kariko’s early research into mRNA eventually led to development of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

Katalin Kariko, 66, known to colleagues as Kati, has emerged as one of the heroes of Covid-19 vaccine development. Her work, with her close collaborator, Dr. Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania, laid the foundation for the stunningly successful vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Her entire career is one of determination, drive, vision, and the courage to continue forward, even when the path before you is unclear. Dr. Kariko has focused on messenger RNA, or mRNA — the genetic script that carries DNA instructions to each cell’s protein-making machinery. She was convinced mRNA could be used to instruct cells to make their own medicines, including vaccines.

She grew up in the small Hungarian town of Kisujszallas. She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Szeged and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at its Biological Research Center.

In 1985, when the university’s research program ran out of money, Dr. Kariko, her husband, and 2-year-old daughter, Susan, moved to Philadelphia for a job as a postdoctoral student at Temple University. Because the Hungarian government only allowed them to take $100 out of the country, she and her husband sewed £900 (roughly $1,246 today) into Susan’s teddy bear. (Susan grew up to be a two-time Olympic gold medal winner in rowing.)

But for many years, her career was fragile, moving in and out of labs, gaining and losing funding, and sometimes stalling completely. She migrated from lab to lab, relying on one senior scientist after another to take her in, never making more than $60,000 a year. Dr. Kariko’s struggles to stay afloat in academia have a familiar ring to scientists. She needed grants to pursue ideas that seemed wild and fanciful. She did not get them, even as more mundane research was rewarded.

Spending some time working on a mRNA based vaccine against H.I.V with a one Dr. Weissman, Dr. Kariko uncovered that the immune system recognizes invading microbes by detecting their mRNA and responding with inflammation. They further developed their idea to add pseudouridine, a molecule in tRNA that allowed it to evade our immune responses. It was a basic scientific discovery with a wide range of thrilling applications. It meant that mRNA could be used to alter the functions of cells without prompting an immune system attack.

Their work, as per usual, was met with enormous amounts of criticism. Grants they wrote got rejected and scrutinized, with reasons often citing mRNA as not being a good therapeutic option. Leading scientific journals rejected their work. When the research finally was published, in Immunity, it got little attention.

Dr. Weissman and Dr. Kariko continued to study their method, and showed they could induce cells to make proteins they had selected. The scientists thought the same method could be used to encourage the body to make any protein drug, like insulin or other hormones or some of the new diabetes drugs. Crucially, mRNA also could be used to make vaccines unlike anyone seen before. Instead of injecting a piece of or a weakened form of the virus into the body, doctors could inject mRNA that would instruct cells to briefly make that part of the virus.

After talking to pharmaceutical companies and venture capitalists alike, their pitches fell on deaf ears. No one cared,” Dr. Weissman said in an interview. “We were screaming a lot, but no one would listen.”

Eventually, though, two biotech companies took notice of the work: Moderna, in the United States, and BioNTech, in Germany. Pfizer partnered with BioNTech, and the two now help fund Dr. Weissman’s lab.

Which brings us to present day. Soon clinical trials of an mRNA flu vaccine were underway, and there were efforts to build new vaccines against cytomegalovirus and the Zika virus, among others. Then came the coronavirus.

On Nov. 8, the first results of the Pfizer-BioNTech study came in, showing that the mRNA vaccine offered powerful immunity to the new virus. To celebrate, she ate an entire box of Goobers chocolate-covered peanuts. By herself.

Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman were vaccinated on Dec. 18 at the University of Pennsylvania.

I took many lessons from Dr. Kariko, but the most I have gleaned from her exceptional story is that being confident in your vision, can and will always pay off. If you can envision something, and you work towards it relentlessly, it will be yours. No questions asked. By turning scientific promise into medical reality, her and her team have changed the way vaccines can be administered forever.

The Last Hour Ride w/ Sybil Ludington, The Female Paul Revere

File:Ludington statue 800.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

This week’s #WCW is a bit of a history lesson, so we will be taking a bit of a trip back in time. Her name was Sybil Ludington, and she was a heroine of the American Revolutionary War. On April 26, 1777, at only 16 years old, she made an outstanding, all-night horseback ride to alert militia forces of 400 men in the towns of Putnam County, New York, and Danbury, Connecticut, of the approach of British forces.

As the daughter of militia leader Colonel Henry Ludington, Sybil leaped into action on that fateful day when a rider came to the Ludington house in Dutchess County, New York to warn them about a British attack on nearby Danbury, Connecticut. With Col. Ludington’s men on leave and the messenger too tired to continue on, it was Sybil who rode through the night gathering almost the whole regiment by daybreak.

Born in New York in 1761, Ludington was the eldest of twelve children. In addition to working as a farmer, Ludington’s father was a gristmill owner who served in the military for over sixty years, including during the French and Indian War. He was loyal to the British crown until 1773, when he switched sides and joined the Patriots in the American Revolution. He was promoted to Colonel of his local regiment. His land was along a route between Connecticut and the coast of Long Island Sound that was vulnerable to British attack.

Some accounts say she volunteered; others say that her father asked for her service, but either way, she rode through the night alerting the Colonel’s men of the danger and urging them to return to the fight. She rode all night through dark woods and in the rain, covering upwards of 40 miles. By the time she returned home, hundreds of soldiers were gathering to fight the British.

April 26, 1777 – Global Women's History

Much like the ride of Paul Revere, Ludington’s message helped Patriot leaders prepare for battle. But Ludington was less than half Revere’s age and rode more than twice as far to carry her warning. While Paul Revere’s ride was immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, Ludington’s tributes have been on a somewhat smaller scale. She was honored with a postal stamp in 1975. And, it is said that Ludington even received the appreciation of a grateful general, when George Washington, himself, came to her home to say “thank you.”

Ludington was honored with a stamp by the Postal Service in 1975. There is a statue of her by Lake Gleneida in Carmel, New York and there are historical markers tracing the route of her ride through Putnam County.

Using Yoga to Get More Zzzzzz’s

Yoga is a gentle and restorative way to wind down your day. A national survey found that over 55% of people who did yoga found that it helped them get better sleep. Over 85% said yoga helped reduce stress. You can use supportive props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks to make poses comfortable so that you can stay in the pose for longer and continue to breathe.

Studies have been done to support this notion, showing the benefits of including yoga in your daily rituals. A study published recently in the journal Alternative Therapies In Health and Medicine showed how untreated, undiagnosed insomnia puts older adults at risk of accidents, falls and a lower quality of life. Researchers looked at the effectiveness at yoga in treating insomnia in adults older than age 60. For 12 weeks, men and women in the study participated in twice-weekly yoga classes and additional daily sessions at home. The yoga group reported significant improvements in overall sleep quality, sleep duration and sleep efficiency (measured by the percentage of time in bed that they were actually asleep).

Practice these yoga poses right before bedtime and stay in them about 3 to 5 minutes each. Use your Ocean Breath in each pose, with the exception of Corpse Pose, where your breath returns to normal.

Do each for a minimum of five exhalations, having your mouth in an O-shape in order to elongate your breath for the best results.

Stop! You're doing bridge pose wrong! — A Simple Twist Yoga

 1) Bridge Pose: Lie on your back and bend your knees with your feet close together but not touching. With your arms along your sides and palm facing up, press your feet into the floor, reach your tailbone to your knees, and lift your hips into the air, tucking in your pelvis and using a block or cushion for support underneath your lower back if preferred. This position opens up your hips and quads and allows you to observe your belly as you breathe.

2) Supported Fish: Lie on your back with a pillow supporting your shoulder blades. Position your arms out at 45 degrees from your hips with your palms up. You can keep your legs straight or have your knees bent and together with your feet slightly apart. This will help relax your upper-back muscles and stretch your chest.

Yoga To Immediately Relieve Neck And Shoulders Pain - Man Flow Yoga

 3) Spinal Twist: This movement warms up the lower back and hips. We’ll start on the floor. Lie down next to your bed, on your back with your legs straight, arms straight, palms on the ground, and head facing the ceiling. As you inhale slowly, bring your right knee up towards your chest, grab your knee with both hands and pull it in to your chest. As you exhale switch legs and then exhale and bring the left leg towards your chest and repeat. Repeat for 3-5 breaths.

4) Legs Up the Wall: Lie on your back with bent knees and move your buttocks as close to the wall as possible. Bring your legs up the wall, lift up your hips, and put a pillow under your lower back to keep your pelvis off the floor. Keep your feet apart a few inches and relaxed. After a day spent standing or sitting, your legs will feel lighter and your body will feel more balanced overall.

Your breath is key to be able to relax in these poses. Breath in yoga is equally important—if not more important—as the physical pose. Use a gentle and calming yoga breath technique called Ujjayi Breath, also known as Ocean Breath or Victorious Breath. Inhale deeply through the nose. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting the back of your throat as if you are saying “ha” but keep your mouth closed. This exhalation should sound like the waves of the ocean (or like Darth Vader from Star Wars). Use this slow and steady breath to soothe yourself in each of these poses.

Interested in trying this before bed tonight? Here is a quick 5 minute yoga practice for you to try! Let me know in the comments below if you notice any changes in how to felt or your ability to fall asleep.

Until next time tribe,


#WCW: Sending Signals w/ The Mother of Wifi, Hedy Lamarr

Hair, Photograph, Retro style, Beauty, Black-and-white, Lip, Polka dot, Portrait, Eye, Pattern,

When was the last time you got somewhere without using your GPS? Well, you can thank this bombshell of a woman for your GPS and Bluetooth devices of today. Known for her beauty and brains, this woman led a life of innovation and captivation. Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-American actress and inventor who pioneered the technology that would one day form the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems. As a natural beauty seen widely on the big screen in films like Samson and Delilah and White Cargo, society has long ignored her inventive genius, and it is a shame.  

Lamarr was originally Hedwig Eva Kiesler, born in Vienna, Austria on November 9th, 1914 into a well-to-do Jewish family. An only child, Lamarr received a great deal of attention from her father, a bank director and curious man, who inspired her to look at the world with open eyes. He would often take her for long walks where he would discuss the inner-workings of different machines, like the printing press or street cars. These conversations guided Lamarr’s thinking and at only 5 years of age, she could be found taking apart and reassembling her music box to understand how the machine operated. Meanwhile, Lamarr’s mother was a concert pianist and introduced her to the arts, placing her in both ballet and piano lessons from a young age. 

Lamarr’s brilliant mind was ignored, and her beauty took center stage when she was discovered by director Max Reinhardt at age 16. She studied acting with Reinhardt in Berlin and was in her first small film role by 1930, in a German film called Geld auf der Straβe (“Money on the Street”). However, it wasn’t until 1932 that Lamarr gained name recognition as an actress for her role in the controversial film, Ecstasy.

Lamarr was indeed a genius as the gears in her inventive mind continued to turn. She once said, “Improving things comes naturally to me.” She went on to create an upgraded stoplight and a tablet that dissolved in water to make a soda similar to Coca-Cola. However, her most significant invention was engineered as the United States geared up to enter World War II.

The two came up with an extraordinary new communication system used with the intention of guiding torpedoes to their targets in war. The system involved the use of “frequency hopping” amongst radio waves, with both transmitter and receiver hopping to new frequencies together. Doing so prevented the interception of the radio waves, thereby allowing the torpedo to find its intended target. After its creation, Lamarr and Antheil sought a patent and military support for the invention. While awarded U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 in August of 1942, the Navy decided against the implementation of the new system. The rejection led Lamarr to instead support the war efforts with her celebrity by selling war bonds. Happy in her adopted country, she became an American citizen in April 1953.

Meanwhile, Lamarr’s patent expired before she ever saw a penny from it. While she continued to accumulate credits in films until 1958, her inventive genius was yet to be recognized by the public. It wasn’t until Lamarr’s later years that she received any awards for her invention. The Electronic Frontier Foundation jointly awarded Lamarr and Antheil with their Pioneer Award in 1997. Lamarr also became the first woman to receive the Invention Convention’s Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. Although she died in 2000, Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for the development of her frequency hopping technology in 2014.

A strong combo of beauty and brains, Hedy inspires us to accept all parts of ourselves, the smart and the sexy, and forge our own way forward, never allowing society to box us into what it thinks we should be.

6 Ways to Stay Connected To Self w/ the AHP!

What Is Art Therapy? Benefits and How It's Used to Help Heal - Dr. Axe

As you know, I have a special connection with the Arts and Humanities Program at Georgetown. I worked with the team a few summers ago and they’ve been close to my heart ever since. Check out a list of their current offerings here. They’ve been working extremely hard in maintaining the connections to those within the Lombardi Cancer Institute Family given our new normal. They have an array of class offerings that you can join from anywhere in the world, so check out some of these fun and innovative ways to connect below!

  1. Take an Art Class!

Art since the beginning of time has been a staple in communication. Recently, art has been solidifying it’s place in mental and physical health as healthcare’s focus has shifted to holistic health. Heather Stuckey, DEd discusses how art can be a way for us to deal with overwhelming emotions when words may fail us. She discusses many instances where patients with some kind of visual art therapy available to them had positive outcomes across the board from improving mental health to reducing hospital room visits.

So here’s a challenge, start your week out creatively with AHP Artist-in-Residence Jennifer Wilkin Penick. Each Monday at 2PM March 15th-May 3rd via Zoom, she will guide you through a FREE one-hour art project, art technique, or creative prompt.

No experience is required and you will need only very basic supplies: scissors, glue, paper, and some sort of color media (paint, paint pens, markers, colored pencils, etc.). Each week you will make art that encourages you to relax and to recharge creatively.

2. Join a Writing Group or Workshop!

Studies have shown that individuals who have written about their own traumatic experiences exhibit statistically significant improvements in various measures of physical health, reductions in visits to physicians, and even boosting your immune system. So go ahead, grab one of those four-for-a-dollar marble composition books or another fancier option and set aside a dedicated space and time for journaling. And for now, put aside the screens when journaling — writing by hand stimulates and trains the brain in a way digital communication doesn’t. From reducing stress to keeping your memory sharp, incorporating journaling into your daily routine can have some major benefits!

Join AHP Artist-in-Residence Michelle Berberet for a weekly Expressive Writing Workshop via Zoom Tuesdays at noon ET from March 16th – May 4th 2021. You can register here. The workshop will be about 45-60 minutes depending on the number of participants and how many choose to share.

Check out a sample below!

3. Get To Moving-but Online!

A growing interest in dance and movement has accompanied recognition of the mind and body benefits of motor activity. Through the movement of mind and body in a creative way, stress and anxiety can be relieved, and other health benefits can be achieved as well. The AHP has a Movement for MS class that was birthed as the result of Julia Langley, faculty director of the Georgetown Lombardi Arts and Humanities Program (AHP), Carlo Tornatore, MD, director of the neurology department at Georgetown University Medical Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital (MGUH) and Erika Mitchell, DNP, FNP-BC, researcher and director of nurse practitioners in the department of neurology at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital (MGUH) came together in 2017 to discuss the potential benefits of a music and movement based course for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

You can register for this experience here!

4 and 5. Start a New Hobby, Like Knitting or Quilting!

For many, activities like meditation or yoga have become life-changing habits that help to bring calm both to mind and body in times of stress, anxiety or pain. But did you know that knitting can also help you cope with mental health challenges? Knitting not only brings you joy, it has physical and mental health benefits too such as reducing anxiety and chronic pain. Quilting can also keep you mentally sharp. Researchers in the Journal of Public Health talked to quilters, many of whom reported that quilting gave them the opportunity to learn new skills and challenge themselves. This mental engagement helped them feel good about their abilities and aided in relationship building.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced knitter, join AHP Artist in Residence Claire to learn new skills Wednesday March 17th-May 5th (8 weeks) at 10AM-11AM to solve knitting problems, and have fun with friends who love to knit. Projects will range from single square knit animals, to more complicated dolls, and simple items of clothing. Join AHP Artist in Residence Lauren for another series about quiltmaking and self-care. The log cabin pattern is one of the most versatile techniques in our quilting toolbox. Narrow strips of fabric are sewn out from a center to make traditional beloved log cabin blocks. Each week we will explore fun and easy ways to use the same strips with a sample lesson to try the new technique. Drop-in students may make a hot pad each week. Repeat students are encouraged to plan a larger project. This class is appropriate for both novices and intermediate quilters. Hand stitching or the sewing machine may be used.

6. Start Your Yoga Routine!

There is no doubt that incorporating yoga practice has incredible health benefits, all of which have been very well documented.

One study demonstrated the powerful effect of yoga on stress by following 24 women who perceived themselves as emotionally distressed. After a three-month yoga program, the women had significantly lower levels of cortisol. They also had lower levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue and depression. Another study of 131 people had similar results, showing that 10 weeks of yoga helped reduce stress and anxiety. It also helped improve quality of life and mental health.

Join AHP Movement Artist in Residence Alison Waldman for a gentle, adaptive mat yoga class incorporates breathing and mindfulness with seated and standing postures at a slow and welcoming pace for students of all levels. Each class is joined by a string musician who will play live in the final relaxation at the end of class.


Check out their Annual Poetry Cafe Event here!

The Poetry Café celebrates the healing that comes through the written word as it is spoken or sung. The Poetry Café is full of inspiration, courage, reflection, enthusiasm, and vulnerability.

Above all, this event represents another wonderful collaborative event between the Arts and Humanities Program and Mission & Pastoral Care, which continues to create meaning in the experiences for patients and staff members.

#WCW: Getting Tournament Tough w/ Masako Katsura

Masako “Katsy” Katsura: The First Lady of Billiards

Masako “Katsy” Katsura  sometimes called the “First Lady of Billiards”, was a Japanese player who took the billiards world by storm in the 1950s. Katsura blazed a trail for women in the sport by competing and placing among the best in the male-dominated world of professional billiards. First learning the game from her brother-in-law and then under the tutelage of Japanese champion Kinrey Matsuyama, Katsura became Japan’s only female professional player. In competition in Japan, she took second place in the country’s national three-cushion billiards championship three times. In exhibition she was noted for running 10,000 points at the game of straight rail.

Masako Katsura was born on 7 March 1913 in Tokyo. Little is known about Katsura’s childhood in Japan. When her father died, 12 year old Katsy went to live with her elder sister and her sister’s husband, Tomio Kobashi, who owned a billiard parlor. This you could say, was her first exposure to the sport she would change the world with. The time spent honing her craft molded her into a fine player and taught Katsura the fundamentals of various carom billiards games. Katsura practiced diligently, and began competing against Japanese men and beating them. At just 15, Katsura won the women’s championship straight rail tournament of Japan.

In 1937, Katsura met Kinrey Matsuyama, who had won Japan’s national three-cushion championship multiple times. Matsuyama was also U.S. national champion in 1934, was the runner-up three other times and had four second-place finishes in world competition at 18.2 balkline prior to World War II. Matsuyama was impressed with Katsura and began teaching her top level play. By 1947, Katsura was a long-established billiard star in Japan—the country’s only female professional player.

Katsura’s participation in the 1952 World Three-Cushion Billiards title marked the first time that a woman had competed for any world billiards title. This was only ten years after Ruth McGinness became the first woman to have ever been invited to play in any men’s professional billiard championship (the New York State Championship of 1942). The defending champion was the then 64-year-old internationally renowned Willie Hoppe, who would retire later that year with 51 world titles to his name between 1906 and 1952 in three forms of carom billiards, three-cushion, (four sub-disciplines of) balkline and cushion caroms. Before the tournament, speculation had it that when Hoppe met Katsura in the championship in the race to 50 points format, he would defeat her with Katsura still needing at least 40. After seeing her play, Hoppe said “she has a fine stroke and can make shots with either hand. I look forward to playing with her.” The public was fascinated by the novelty of a woman player. Life magazine reported that “San Franciscans who did not know a cue from a cucumber crowded in to see her… Katy… stole the show.”

In 1976, Katsy made an impromptu appearance at Palace Billiards in San Francisco. Casually borrowing a cue from someone present, she proceeded to run 100 points at straight rail without any hesitation, and just as quickly as she appeared, she quietly left the spotlight for good. Prolific pool and billiard author Robert Byrne wrote that after Katsura finished that 100-point run, “without a miss she smiled and bowed to the applauding crowd, stepping away from the spotlight, and disappeared forever from the American billiard stage.

Katsy can teach us a lot, but for the most part, we can learn that following your heart and your passions will always lead you to your destiny.

Masako Katsura Broke Billiards Gender Barrier in 1950s - Pool & Billiard  Magazine

Until next time tribe,


#WCW: Exploring Journalism that Matters with Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag. (Photo by Jean-Regis Rouston/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Susan Sontag changed the world with her progressive writing that forced individual and collective accountability. She was an American intellectual and writer best known for her essays on modern culture. Sontag (who adopted her stepfather’s name) was reared in Tucson, Arizona, and in Los Angeles. She attended the University of California at Berkeley for one year and then transferred to the University of Chicago, from which she graduated in 1951. She studied English literature (M.A., 1954) and philosophy (M.A., 1955) at Harvard University and taught philosophy at several colleges and universities before the publication of her first novel, The Benefactor (1963). During the early 1960s she also wrote a number of essays and reviews, most of which were published in such periodicals as The New York Review of BooksCommentary, and Partisan Review. Some of these short pieces were collected in Against Interpretation, and Other Essays (1966). Her second novel, Death Kit (1967), was followed by another collection of essays, Styles of Radical Will (1969). Her later critical works included On Photography (1977), Illness as Metaphor (1978), Under the Sign of Saturn (1980), and AIDS and Its Metaphors (1989). She also wrote the historical novels The Volcano Lover: A Romance (1992) and In America (2000).

Sontag’s essays are characterized by a serious philosophical approach to various aspects and personalities of modern culture. She first came to national attention in 1964 with an essay entitled “Notes on ‘Camp,’ ” in which she discussed the attributes of taste within the gay community. She also wrote on such subjects as theatre and film and such figures as writer Nathalie Sarraute, director Robert Bresson, and painter Francis Bacon. In addition to criticism and fiction, she wrote screenplays and edited selected writings of Roland Barthes and Antonin Artaud. Some of her later writings and speeches were collected in At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches (2007).

Portrait of Sontag.

A human rights activist for more than two decades, Ms. Sontag served from 1987 to 1989 as president of the American Center of PEN, the international writers’ organization dedicated to freedom of expression and the advancement of literature, from which platform she led a number of campaigns on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned writers.

Her stories and essays appeared in newspapers, magazines, and literary publications all over the world, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Art in America, Antaeus, Parnassus, The Threepenny Review, The Nation, and Granta. Her books have been translated into thirty-two languages.

Among Ms. Sontag’s many honors are the 2003 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the 2003 Prince of Asturias Prize, the 2001 Jerusalem Prize, the National Book Award for In America (2000), and the National Book Critics Circle Award for On Photography (1978). In 1992 she received the Malaparte Prize in Italy, and in 1999 she was named a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government (she had been named an Officier in the same order in 1984). Between 1990 and 1995 she was a MacArthur Fellow.

One thing we can learn from her life is to try your hand at everything you want.

Trying is the only way to know if you were made to do something or not. It is better to have learnt something through experience rather than be clueless about what would have happened if you had just given it a try.

Until next time tribe,


#WCW: Releasing the Storytellers Within with Buchi Emecheta

Buchi Emecheta - Historical Update

Buchi Emecheta, to date is regarded one of the most important female African writers. She is certainly Nigeria’s best known woman writer, and is respected for her imaginative and documentary writing about African women’s experiences in Africa and in Great Britain. Emecheta’s books include 1979’s The Joys of Motherhood. Her work heavily focused o the black and female experience and she was awarded an OBE in 2005 for her services to literature.

Emecheta was born with the full name Florence Onye Buchi Emecheta, in Yaba near Lagos, Nigeria on July 21, 1944. Buchi had dreams of being a writer from an early age. She was greatly influenced by an older aunt who routinely told stories to the children in the community after dinner. This influence can be seen in one of her famous quotes, as she states, “What I am trying to do is get our profession back. Women are born storytellers. We keep the history. We are the true conservatives – we conserve things and we never forget. What I do is not clever or unusual. It is what my aunt and my grandmother did, and their mothers before them.” (Malinkowski 188, from interview with Rosemary Bray, Voice Literary Supplement)

Her life wasn’t without it’s challenges, after her father was killed as a soldier in the British army in Burma, she was sent to a Methodist Girls’ High School in Lagos. In 1960, Emecheta married Sylvester Onwordi, a student to whom she had been engaged since the age of eleven. After bearing two children in Nigeria, Buchi followed her husband to London where he was a student. The young family struggled with poor living conditions to help finance Onwordi’s education. Emecheta worked as a library officer at the British Museum and bore three more children, and at the same time began writing. Sylvester was not supportive of Buchi’s efforts, and was sometimes abusive. She separated from her husband in 1966 when he burned the manuscript to her first book, The Bride Price. According to Emecheta, “I was the typical African woman, I’d done this privately, I wanted him to look at it, approve it and he said he wouldn’t read it. And later he burnt the book … and that was the day I said I’m going to leave this marriage and he said ‘what for, that stupid book’ and I said ‘I just feel you just burn my child’” (BBC website).

So at the age of 22, Buchi set out on her own. She struggled to support her children and continue writing. From 1970 to 1974, Emecheta studied and received an honors degree in sociology at the University of London. At the same time, the British left wing magazine The New Statesman published passages subsquently gathered into her later novel In the Ditch (1972). Thus Emecheta began her dual career, working as a social worker with youth and other communities, while writing in the early mornings at the kitchen table with her children playing around her.

Struggling against reluctant publishers and male-dominated audiences, Emecheta published nine novels to date. Her first two published novels, In the Ditch (1972) and Second-Class Citizen (1974) are largely autobiographical, describing a woman’s struggles against sexual discrimination in Nigeria and racism, classism, and sexism as an immigrant to Britain. Other novels including The Slave Girl (1977) and The Joys of Motherhood (1979) address the harmful potential of rigid gender structures amidst otherwise changing Nigerian culture. The allegorical novel The Rape of Shavi (1983) details the clash of Western and traditional African cultures. She has also written four works of teenage fiction, two works of children’s fiction, and an autobiography entitled Head Above Water (1986). She has written numerous plays for the BBC and won several awards, including being selected as one of the Best British Young Writers in 1983.

From 1972 to 1982, Emecheta served as a visiting lecturer and professor at universities in the United States, England and Nigeria. Shortly thereafter, she and her journalist son founded a publishing company in London and Nigeria, named Ogwugwu Afor. Since 1979 Emecheta has also served on numerous British committees as a respected voice for arts, integrationist, and women’s issues, although she rejects the feminist label. She achieved a PhD in social education in 1991. 

In 2017, Emecheta’s son Sylvester Onwordi announced the formation of the Buchi Emecheta Foundation – a charitable organisation promoting literary and educational projects in the UK and in Africa– which was launched in London. She is also featured on a list of 100 women recognized by BBC History Magazine as having changed the world. On 21 July 2019, which would have been Emecheta’s 75th birthday, Google commemorated her life with a Doodle.

I think the lesson we can all learn from Buchi’s life is the importance of preserving and sharing our stories. No matter how colorful and inspiring, or painful and bleak, there is a quiet strength persevering in the face of adversity. Before you know it, you may just look up and realize you have left this world better than you found it.

Google Doodle: 5 tins to sabi about Buchi Emecheta - BBC News Pidgin

Until next time tribe,


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