They gave us women the month of March. How generous granting us one of the seven months with 31 days. Right after February, designated as Black History Month, which also happens to be the shortest month of the year with only 28 days unless it’s a leap year with 29 days of commemoration. The lists, the distinctions, the remembrances are always “by no means exhaustive,” with shout-outs to the well-known and the unsung. My homage honors the women whose work whether in print, song, dance, or their very being formed my personal playbook from girlish to ladylike to bad ass.
Day 1. Gloria Steinem. Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. Paperback purchase made in college. Student for life.
Day 2. Eartha Kitt. Rejuvenate! (It’s Never Too Late). Chanteuse. Catwoman. Civil Rights Activist. Eartha Kitt’s book features breathing and stretching exercises from the then spry 70-something, diet advice: try not to break bread with people full of negative energy, and her account of giving Lady Bird straight talk about the war in Vietnam which led to her being blacklisted. Kitt returned triumphant in 1978 as a guest in President Jimmy Carter’s White House. She died Christmas Day, 2008 at the age of 81.
Day 3. Patti Smith. Just Kids. Punk rock’s fairy godmother, Patti Smith, shares a story of friendship, love, hard work, surviving on lettuce soup, and her mother’s saying “that what you do on New Year’s Day will foretell what you’ll be doing the rest of the year.” She spoke and sang at the University of Houston in April of 2010. Reading that book was the only moment I wished I had a daughter who I could share it with.
Day 4. Sei Shōnagon. The Pillow Book. Witty and poetic observations of life in the Imperial Court recorded by a Japanese lady in waiting from approximately 1000 years ago. Her lists of Adorable Things (duck eggs, an urn containing the relics of some holy person) and Things That Give a Pathetic Expression (The voice of someone who blows his nose while he is speaking) make for excellent bedtime reading.
Day 5. Billie Holiday. The Billie Holiday Songbook. Her entire catalog is an American songbook filled with stories of loving men who do you wrong (My Man) and commentary on our nation at its worst (Strange Fruit). She lifts you up with God Bless the Child and takes you down with her recording of Gloomy Sunday, also known as the Hungarian Suicide Song with lyrics heavy in grief. She died in 1959 at the age of 44.
Day 6. Sue Coe. X, (Raw One-Shot). These words accompany the illustration:
At the center of the web – a wriggling louse who lurks within the lily White House. 6 hounds greet you at the gate, eyes glinting, salivating hate. Tea is served at a quarter to 4. Well-manicured hoofs daintily pour. As for the starving outside the place, they also get nourishment-a dose of mace. That mace can sting. Let freedom ring.
I viewed Sue Coe’s giant paintings depicting the American horror story of the late 80’s as as sophomore in high school at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. It was the first art exhibit I attended that came with a parental advisory. Sadly, her works portraying the brutality of misogyny and racism don’t appear the least bit dated.
Day 7. Anna DuTerroil, Diagnosis of Aesthetic Behavioral Responses Toward Art Among Students in Elementary Teacher Education Programs. My mother’s dissertation for her Ph.D. in Education. I was nine years old. The dedication page reads: To my children, Rene and Dana, who are an aesthetic experience, and to their father Gibson, for his undying love and devotion.
Day 8. Susan C. Ross. The Rights of Women-the Basic ACLU Guide to a Woman’s Rights. At the time of publishing (1973), Ross was a partner in a firm specializing in feminist litigation. The special editor was none other than the Notorious RBG. The manual covers everything from reproductive rights to name change.
Day 9. Donna Summer. Live and More. Her first live album recorded at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, 1978. I was eight years old skating circles around the dining room table while the 8-track played on our stereo. Her disco jams inspired me to later join a roller derby league.
Day 10. Anaïs Nin. Delta of Venus. I picked up a copy at a used book store when I was in high school because the cover is everything. I carried it around like a badge of courage. There’s an inscription inside that reads: To Rosemary from Glenn, Best Wishes and Good Luck.
Day 11. Misty Copeland. Life in Motion. An Unlikely Ballerina. Copeland is the first African-American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. In 2015, she made a graceful and warm-hearted appearance in Houston before a crowd of children from the Boys and Girls Club while sitting beside Lauren Anderson, the first ever African-American woman to earn a principal role in a major ballet company (the Houston Ballet).
Day 12. Simone Beck & Louisette Bertholle & Julia Child. The Art of French Cooking. I read cookbooks like novels (the food tastes better that way) and this is a classic along with illustrations by Sidonie Coryn. Her drawing of a Charlotte Malakoff is frame-worthy (almond cream with fresh strawberries served cold). This book is my mom’s copy. Her favorite dish is boeuf bourguignon.
Day 13. Judy Blume. Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. Girlhood.
Day 14. Sister Helen Prejean. The Death of Innocents-An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions. Her follow-up to Dead Man Walking again weaves her personal stories against the backdrop of public policy in an unflinching examination of the death penalty. She is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in Louisiana but spends much of her time on the road speaking out and seeking justice as she encouraged me to do in my copy.
Day 15. Edith Piaf. Edith Piaf at Carnegie Hall. Her rendition of Lovers for a Day destroys me every time with the sound of the shattering glass at the end breaking your heart into a million pieces.
Day 16. Toni Morrison. Song of Solomon. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Smith-Williams, assigned this book in my senior year of 1989. A bold move considering the African-American female author stood out in a predominantly older white male reading list. No offense to Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice was also required reading that year) but the life of Macon “Milkman” Dead III and all those names like Railroad Tommy, Spoonbread, Quack-Quack, Funny Papa, and Fuck-Up blew my teenage mind.
Day 17. Diane Arbus. Diane Arbus. “Nothing is ever the same as they said it was. It’s what I’ve never seen before that I recognize.” I had never seen photographs like hers before when I was turned on to her work while studying photography in high school.
Day 18. Ruth Reichl. Garlic & Sapphires. The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. Fearless food critic, foodie, and the last editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.
Day 19. Terry McMillan. Waiting to Exhale. Savannah, Bernadine, Robin and Gloria.
Day 20. Marie Kondo The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In our disposable, click and buy, fast fashion culture asking if an object sparks joy forces me to meditate on my possessions and their meaning in my life, as well a question new acquisitions. Plus, I really dig folding. A few of my favorite things that spark joy as pictured above: Nana’s pillbox, Chateau Marmont matchbook, feathers from Ronnie’s Sex Shop on Route 62, South Africa.
Day 21. Sophia Loren. Recipes & Memories. The pasta chapter is my favorite. Winner of the 1961 Academy Award for Best Actress in Two Women making her the first to win an Oscar for her role in a foreign film. She didn’t attend because she didn’t think she was going to win. In 1991, she was there to receive her Honorary Award from the Academy.
Day 22. Sandra Cisneros. Woman Hollering Creek. Born in Chicago, longtime resident of my birthplace, San Antonio, she now lives in Mexico. She is why the NEA is vital to our country. In the acknowledgements of her book, Cisneros gives a shout-out to the National Endowment for the Arts “for twice saving me in one lifetime.”
Day 23. Betty Friedan. The Feminine Mystique. “For all the new women, and all the new men.” Friedan’s book was published in 1963. She died in 2006. Her thoughts on the current state of the American wife are sorely missed.
Day 24. Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar. “Show us how happy it makes you to write a poem.” Not so much.
Day 25. Rubye DuTerroil, nee Gibson, my grandmother (father’s side). The Role of Women in 19th Century San Antonio. Her Masters Thesis from 1949. Many women were in the hotel biz including the Menger Hotel, founded by W.A. Menger and taken over by his wife when he died in 1871. Rubye earned her B.A. & M.A. at St. Mary’s University. She taught at Ursuline Academy and Loma Park Elementary. Former Miss San Antonio. Master of side-eye, crossword puzzles, and washing my hair in the kitchen sink. To watch as she lit her unfiltered Pall Mall on the gas stove and slice me a wedge of peach cake was a life lesson in the multi-tasking women do every day.
Day 26. Round 46: Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter. Performance and installation at Project Row Houses in Houston’s Third Ward, March 2017. “I am my sister’s keeper.”
Day 27. All the Nancy Drews. Mildred Wirt Benson was the ghostwriter for books 1-7, 11-25, and 30. Her last one was The Clue of the Velvet Mask. My favorites were The Clue in the Jewel Box and The Clue in the Diary with Nancy channeling a Grace Kelly vibe straight outta Hitchcock. I carried a Nancy Drew lunchbox and hid my eyeglasses in it because I didn’t like how they looked. Somehow, my vision didn’t suffer or stop me from reading.
Day 28. Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale. I no longer own a copy but I still have my college paper comparing the book and the 1990 movie starring Natasha Richardson who tragically died in 2009. Stay woke ladies. PS: I got an A.
Day 29. Sophie Tucker. My Dream (Her Latest & Greatest Spicy Saucy Songs). Vaudeville OG. Entertainer who called herself a “perfect 48” – singing in English and Yiddish with a whole lotta swagger. Last of the Red Hot Mamas.
Day 30. Grace Coddington. Grace – A Memoir. Fantastical fashion visionary aka creative director of American Vogue.
Day 31. Rose Pantusa. The Everyday Diary. 1932. San Antonio, TX. My grandmother’s year of ironing, occasional factory work, mass, and cute boys. Nana forever.