Honoring Dauntless Truthtellers

Lupita Nyong’o / presented Anita Hill with the 2019 PEN Courage Award at the American Literary Gala on Tuesday at the American Museum of Natural History

2019 PEN America Literary Gala hosted by John Oliver featured speeches from Lupita Nyong’o, Alec Baldwin, Robert Caro, Lina and Walid Al-Hathloul, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, and PEN America President Jennifer Egan. Gala Raises Over $2.6 Million for PEN America’s Work to Defend Freedom of Expression

At the American Museum of Natural History in New York on Tuesday, PEN America gathered leaders in literature, journalism, media, activism, and culture at the 2019 PEN America Literary Gala. The role of lone individuals in using written and spoken words to unmask and upend power was on potent display in honorees including professor, lawyer, activist, and Chair of The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality Anita Hill; history-making investigative journalist and author Bob Woodward; writer-activists and women’s rights champions Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan, imprisoned for opposing the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia and punished for their role in overturning the country’s ban on women driving; and Scholastic Chairman and CEO Richard Robinson, recognized for leading the company’s charge to inform the next generation and inspire them to be empathetic, engaged citizens. The night was emceed by comedian John Oliver.

Seated among guests in the Museum’s Millstein Hall of Ocean Life were this year’s literary hosts, luminaries of the writing community who attended to support and help advance PEN America’s mission: Uwem Akpan, Rumaan Alam, Casey Barrett, Preet Bharara, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Carolyn Burke, Robert A. Caro, Roz Chast, Ron Chernow, Susan Choi, Erica Dawson, Masha Gessen, Peter Godwin, Robie H. Harris, James Hannaham, David Henry Hwang, Min Jin Lee, Hari Kondabolu, Hari Kunzru, Kevin Kwan, Jay McInerney, Dinaw Mengestu, Paul Muldoon, Lynn Nottage, Gregory Pardlo, Jodi Picoult, Phoebe Robinson, Aidan Donnelley Rowley, Salman Rushdie, Mona Simpson, Zadie Smith, Gay Talese, Vicky Ward, and Tara Westover. Other notable guests included Carl Bernstein, Candace Bushnell, Tonya Lewis Lee, Cynthia McFadden, Nicolle Wallace, and Robert Costa.

Time’s Up is a movement against sexual harassment and was founded on January 1, 2018, by Hollywood celebrities[2] in response to the Weinstein effect and #MeToo. As of December 2018, it has raised more than $22 million for its legal defense fund, and gathered nearly 800 volunteer lawyers
Anita Hill

Academy Award-winning actress and Sulwe author Lupita Nyong’o presented Anita Hill with the 2019 PEN Courage Award, conferred each year for dauntless exercises of free expression, in recognition of Hill’s singular role in challenging sexual harassment in the workplace and the attendant abuse of power. “As an organization that protects and amplifies the voices that those in power seek to silence, it is fitting that PEN America honors Anita Hill tonight,” said Nyong’o. “She had no safety in numbers. She was one woman calling Time’s Up decades before the wider society was ready to blow the whistle. She made her accusations against a man who would sit on the nation’s highest court and wield power for decades to come. Twenty-eight years later, amid an unstoppable wave of personal revelation and truth-telling that emulates Hill’s initial heroic act, a paradigm shift is occurring. With the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement, we can speak together.”

Following an extended standing ovation, Anita Hill gave a speech tracing the significance of using her voice as a force for change: “As a descendant of a people who just a few generations before me were by law prohibited from learning to read and write, tonight’s honor is particularly meaningful. By virtue of her race, my maternal grandmother, born in 1870, was never offered a public education, and therefore never learned to read or write. But she saw to it that my mother, born in 1911, went to school, read throughout her life, and wrote. She wrote letters to me regularly during my college years. And her letters typically chronicled farm life, church life, and family life. Though she passed away years ago, when I read her letters, I hear her voice. Yet I also wonder what she might have written if she had felt truly free to express all aspects of her life…I am here today to say that I have my voice. And my ancestors’ story reminds me that I must never take having my voice for granted, and I must never abuse it. It’s taken generations to gain this privilege, the privilege I have to write and to speak out with the truth, and to speak truth to power. It’s taken that long, and I will never, ever give it up.”

Carl Bernstein

Two-time Pulitzer Prize and two-time National Book Award winning journalist and author Robert Caro (The Power Broker, The Years of Lyndon B. Johnson) introduced peerless investigative journalist and author Bob Woodward, winner of the 2019 PEN America Literary Service Award for his 47 years of work at the Washington Post and 19 bestselling nonfiction books. His writings have held the White House accountable for decades—and moved citizens across the political spectrum to do the same. Presenting the award, Caro spoke of the journalistic triumph of breaking the Watergate Scandal, which he and his partner Carl Bernstein achieved by knocking on the doors of 100 potential sources at their homes in the evening.

Bob Woodward

Caro said of Woodward, “What is a great reporter? Someone who never stops trying to get as close to the truth as possible. Sometimes it means taking a list of 100 names, going through that list name by name, and crossing out those names one by one until you have found and done your best to talk to everyone. That’s reporting; that’s the search for the truth. Novelists, poets, nonfiction writers—we are all trying to search for, illuminate, and provide insight into whatever truth there is. In his entire career, Bob Woodward has never stopped trying to seek out facts, as many facts as he could get.”

Bob Woodward reflected on Richard Nixon’s resignation: “Why? Why all the criminality? Why all the abuse of power? It was hate, the poison of hate, that awful, destructive force of utter contempt for other people. It was the engine of his presidency in so many ways and it, in the end, destroyed him. Now, 45 years later, President Donald Trump publicly exploits the divisions in this country without restraint. The Trump rallies are primal amphitheaters. He has turned hate, in his own way, into ammunition for personal and political warfare.” Woodward, whose most recent book, Fear: Trump in the White House, addressed the current administration’s untruths in perpetuating this hate, and their parallel to 1974, continuing, “Ben Bradlee, the editor at the [Washington] Post, used to tell us how you deal with the stress of reporting a story when it’s hard: Nose down, ass up, moving slowly forward to the truth.” Following his speech, Carl Bernstein joined Woodward onstage to share in the celebration of his former colleague and longtime friend.

The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award annually recognizes journalists imprisoned for their work and, with the public profile of the award, globally amplifies the urgency of their cases. Of the 44 jailed writers who have received the award since 1987, 39 have been released due in part to the global attention and pressure the award generates. This year, PEN America honored journalist, blogger, and activist, activist and social media commentator Loujain Al-Hathloul, and blogger, columnist, and activist Eman Al-Nafjan, who have spoken out about women’s rights and the now-lifted ban on women driving, part of Saudi Arabia’s restrictive guardianship system. They are currently detained incommunicado, with Saudi authorities refusing to disclose information about their health conditions.

copyright: PEN American, Eman Al-Nafjan and Loujain Al-Hathloul, Nouf Abdulaziz’s photograph is not publicly available, for privacy and safety reasons.

Al-Hathloul’s sister and brother Lina and Walid Al-Hathloul traveled to New York to accept the Award on the writer-activists’ behalf. Lina imagined Loujain feeling daily what Rosa Parks described when she said, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free, so other people would be also free.” Lina told the crowd of PEN America supporters that by awarding Loujain, along with Abdulaziz and Al-Nafjan, the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, they were becoming “the voice of the voiceless…who was once the voice of the voiceless but has been sent behind bars to be silenced as well.” Walid added, “The idea of knowing she is not forgotten, and that people still stand with her, is the strongest breath of freedom she can inhale when everything else has been made to break her.”

John Oliver

John Oliver remarked, “That’s as visceral a reminder as any of what this evening is all about…PEN America’s advocacy on behalf of these courageous women and so many others around the world who are under threat, imprisoned, or even worse for exercising their expression rights is so necessary right now. Together we can make sure that they know they are not forgotten. If we stand with them against forces of authoritarianism, censorship, and silencing, together we can make a difference—as happened with the journalists just released from prison in Myanmar—which is remarkable, and it doesn’t happen without pressure.” Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo—who reported on mass atrocities by the Myanmar army against the Rohingya people in Rakhine State, and were last year’s PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees—were granted amnesty on May 6, 2019, and freed from Insein prison.

This year’s Publishing Honoree, Richard Robinson, has been at the helm of Scholastic for over 40 years, overseeing the company as it has informed and inspired young readers. Alec Baldwin, a neighbor and friend of Robinson, introduced him, saying, “Dick is someone who exemplifies PEN America’s mission—a mission that resonates deeply with me personally, as we continue to fight for a free press and to acknowledge the importance of freedom of thought and creative expression. Dick understands the importance of language—how much depends on our ability to express our ideas, to access books that can change us and challenge us. Under his leadership, Scholastic has become not just the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, but also an organization that helps schools, teachers, and parents work together to make great stories accessible and relevant to millions of young people.”

Baldwin quoted a letter to Robinson, penned for the occasion by Scholastic author J.K. Rowling: “You’ve centered your life and your business around the fundamental belief that every individual child should be enabled to develop their potential to the fullest possible extent, and that a key part of that is the ability to read, and to discover other worlds through stories. I’m just one of the people who is incredibly grateful to you for having made this your mission.”

Robinson remarked that PEN America “knows that the basis of our democracy is being challenged, and that the ability of young people to develop a fact-and-reason-based approach to the world is critical to our future.” He continued, “The history of Scholastic in this area has often been controversial. We have been banned in schools in the ‘30s and ‘50s for being too soft on communism; in the ‘40s and the ‘60s for promoting liberal views on race, civil rights, and the Vietnam War; in the ‘70s for articles on student rights—not a popular subject in schools; in the 80s and 90s for climate change; and in the 2000s for the Iraq war. Despite these controversies and temporary bans, schools have relied on our balanced approach to help young gain basic knowledge about their world, with the larger goal of helping kids know how to build and maintain a fragile democracy.”

Susanne Nossel

PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel said, “Tonight’s honorees span generations, geographies, and cultures but are united by their fearless fealty to truth. Whether by buckling up to document a law-defying drive across the Saudi border, publishing an expose of the rot in the White House, or taking the witness stand against a man about to be anointed for life to the highest court in the land, their willingness to imperil their lives, sully their reputations, and sacrifice their freedoms to write and speak truth are the embodiment of what PEN America exists to safeguard.”

PEN America President Jennifer Egan said, “Thank you all for joining us tonight to champion literary expression and insist upon its cultural and civic value, both around the world and here at home.”

This feature is courtesy of PEN America and Wikipedia; photo credits: Lupita Nyong’o courtesy of Daniel Benavides under CC BY 2.0; the Times-Up logo is in the public domain; Anita Hill courtesy of Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 3.0Carl Bernstein courtesy of Larry D. Moore under CC BY-SA 3.0; Bob Woodward courtesy of Jay Godwin and generously released into the public domain; Eman Al-Nafjan and Loujain Al-Hathloul courtesy of and copyright of PEN America; John Oliver courtesy of Steve Jennings under CC BY 2.0; and Susan Nossel courtesy of PEN America under CC BY-SA 4.0.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champion’s the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

#MeToo ~ Anita Hill, recipient of this year’s PEN Courage Award

Anita Hill in 2014 speaking at Harvard Law School

“Women who come forward with sexual misconduct allegations are often portrayed as “crazy, vindictive, promiscuous or prudes,” reactions that explain why many don’t come forward sooner.” Anita Hill [MORE]

This week PEN America announced that professor, lawyer, and chair of The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, Anita Hill, is the recipient of this year’s PEN Courage Award, conferred in recognition of her singular role in challenging sexual harassment in the workplace and the attendant abuse of power, and a career spent combating the silencing force of sexism. The award, which honors dauntless exercises of free expression, will be presented May 21 at the 2019 PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

“As a Yale Law School graduate pursuing a promising career as a legal scholar and lawyer, Anita Hill stepped alone into the glare of the public spotlight to call out abuses that others insisted be forgotten or overlooked. She has devoted her life since then to teaching, writing, and speaking out—in the process, helping to catalyze a global movement that is essential to the achievement of equality . . .

“Today, amid a worldwide reckoning over pervasive sexual harassment, Hill is leading a major effort to break the cycle of abuse and silence in Hollywood, rallying the entire entertainment industry to effect cultural change and establish accessible and clear channels of safety and accountability. As an organization that recognizes the pernicious force of inequality in eroding the right to free expression, and one that elevates those who take the greatest risks to speak out, PEN America is proud to honor Anita Hill.” ,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America.

In 1991, Hill served as a witness during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She gave her testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee of fourteen white men and a global television audience. She described numerous instances of sexual harassment while working for the soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Other women who had made similar allegations against Thomas were not called to testify.

In her career as a university professor and scholar, Hill has been a steadfast champion of women’ rights. She joined the faculty of Brandeis University in 1998 and in 2015 was named University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s Studies. She is the author of two books (1997’s Speaking Truth to Power and 2011’s Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home) and numerous opinion pieces (including a New York Times piece entitled “How to Get the Kavanaugh Hearings Right,” published during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh). In December 2017, Hill was appointed Chair of The Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, which was established by a coalition of Hollywood studios, television networks, streaming services, music companies, talent agencies, trade associations, and unions. In this role, she is leading an industry-wide effort to identify and establish best practices and solve problems related to harassment, bias, equality, and diversity in the entertainment community.

In addition to Hill, PEN America will honor other women’s rights champions at its May Gala: Saudi writer-activists Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Eman Al-Nafjan, imprisoned for opposing the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia and the female driving ban in the region, will receive the 2019 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. Additionally, PEN America will recognize peerless investigative journalist Bob Woodward with the Literary Service Awardand Scholastic Chairman and CEO Richard Robinson for his outstanding leadership in publishing. Past Courage Award honorees include student activists against gun violence (2018) and organizers of the Women’s March (2017). The Gala raises essential funds that fuel PEN America’s free expression advocacy efforts. Comedian and political commentator John Oliverwill host this year’s event.

This feature is courtesy of PEN America; photo courtesy of Tim Pierce under CC BY 2.0.

If you are viewing this from an email subscriptions, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view the video.

About the PEN Courage Award

The PEN Courage Award was established in 2015 to honor exceptional acts of courage in the exercise of freedom of expression. The Award is granted after consultations among PEN America staff and Trustees with specific relevant expertise on matters of freedom of expression. In some cases, outside expertise from PEN America’s membership, partner organizations, and network of contacts is enlisted to inform internal analysis and deliberations. All final decisions regarding Award determination and recipients are made by the Executive Committee of the PEN America Board of Trustees.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Wild Women in Art, Poetry and Community featuring Gretchen Del Rio’s Art and Victoria Bennett’s “The Howl or How Wild Women Press Came to Be”

Spirit of the Wolf

‘The spirit of the wolf resides in my heart
Mostly peacefully, but ever wild
Running in time to the blowing wind,
Dancing in the clouds that drift in the heavens
The spirit of the wolf resides in my soul.”
– Gretchen Del Rio

The Howl or How Wild Women Press Came to Be

by Victoria Bennett

Snow Owl by Gretchen Del Rio

At twenty-six, I met an owl. It turned out to be one of the axis moments on which my life pivoted. It was a cold January day where frost lingered in the shade but the sun was shining, the kind of day where things seems possible because you have survived the darkness of winter. The trees stood bare of leaves, branch-fingers stretched out expectantly, waiting for Spring. I was waiting too, holding a sense of change quietly behind my eyes. I watched the crows fly, black wings against blue sky, looking for carrion, listened only to the sound of water and wind and some crow caw above. This was what I was trying to remember – the feel of my touch, the scent of the sky, the hopeful warmth of sun just after the midwinter. My life had become so much darkness, so much noise and pollution and not seeing. This was the counterbalance and so far, it was working. Slow, slow days, allowing the words to surface and sound and where words could not come, allowing the brush to paint or the body to move. All was changing. I was changing. The woman I was underneath was beginning to take shape, and to my surprise, I liked her.

But first, the owl. I was stood beside the ash, eyes closed, when I heard a scratch from above. I opened my eyes and saw the owl, white feathers thick for winter, watching me. Awake. Not daring to move, I simply looked and allowed it to look at me, until after a few moments, it flew away. The owl came, and I was listening because I was ready to hear, and I was ready, it seemed, to shift shape again.

One week after the owl and I met, I had a dream. In this dream, I was with a woman walking along the river. She told me I was to call the Wild Women together. This did not seem strange or unusually prophetic. I had found a deep resonance with the stories I had found in the Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book Women Who Run with the Wolves and so the archetype of the Wild Woman was something I was familiar with, but the sense of purpose was surprising, and so, the next morning I got up and started to write the posters for what was to be the very first of the Wild Women workshops.

“The reason that people awaken is because they finally stop agreeing to things that insult their soul.” Gretchen Del Rio

Six weeks later, I stood in my living room, the fire in the stove burning and the tea hot in the pot. Before me sat twelve women, very different in ages and styles, but all sharing something special: they had all responded to the call. And so it came to be, the Wild Women group was born and I was to be their mother-wolf for this journey. As I stood there, faced with women whose individual and collective ages outstripped my own, I felt petrified. Who was I to stand here and say “this is the way of being woman”? Yet, that is exactly what I was to do. I did not know where it would take us, take me. I was just willing to begin, brave enough to speak out and hopeful enough to believe.


… and in that one word, I started something that would sustain me through my twenties, thirties and into my forties. I had met my clan. Together, we found the courage to stand up and say, “This is who I am…”.

That was nearly twenty years ago. Since then, working with the Wild Women, I have gone on to set up Wild Women Press, published several books of poetry from the group, worked with over 2000 women (and some brave men) on a number of amazing projects, hosted the (in)famous Wild Women Salons, made creative connections around the globe, and performed live at events around the UK and USA. It is a space of celebration and activism. There is no business plan or professional career path. It can lie dormant, hibernating as we nuzzle down and grow our ideas in the dark, or it can awake with passion and create for change on a global scale. We have used our creativity to create positive change, to be part of the world we want to live in andleave for those who follow. Sometimes we act on a very local level, sometimes on a global one.

Recently, I have been collaborating with the creators of the #MeToo poetry anthology. This is a very important movement for me personally, and for us as a group. As soon as I heard Deborah Alma was wanting to put together an anthology of poems from this movement, I offered my support, and the platform of Wild Women Press. It was obvious from the very beginning that there would be many more poems than there were pages in the book, and so #UsTogether was created, to give a platform for some of these other voices. Alongside the launch of the book, Wild Women Press are hosting a selection of these poems, in honour and celebration of the courage and sisterhood of all those who have spoken out as part of the #MeToo movement.

One of the core aspects of the group is the respect and celebration of each individual woman. Although in the beginning it was me who stood at the front of the room, every woman in the group was to go on to inspire and lead, using their own experiences, passions, talents, and knowledge to guide them in how they would to do that. In a similar vein, we will be launching an online Wild Women Press blog later in 2018, sharing our ideas and perspectives. Over the next year, we will be gathering Wild Women from around the globe to contribute, extending our circle of clan further. We would love to hear from other women, who would like to be part of a clan of contributors. If you are passionate about something, and would like to be part of a global group of Wild Women writing, creating, and being part of a positive change, please do get in touch.

In 2019, it will be our 20th Anniversary, and 20 years since we published our first book, Howl at the Moon: Writings By Wild Women. To celebrate this, we will be publishing a new book of poems by Wild Women – and this time, we are extending the howl out to others. We will be putting out the call for submissions soon, on our website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

For now, we continue to meet as a group every couple of months, and once a year, we spend four days at our Wild Women Gathering, celebrating, creating, and sharing our stories (and eating way too much food). We have witnessed births, marriages, divorces, unemployment, career changes, graduations, new beginnings, and painful goodbyes. What began as a workshop group, has become a place we now call home, and a wild family. You can sometimes find us on the fells or beside fires. We howl often, laugh lots, and when prompted, bare our teeth. Our coats are all a little more silver, and our eyes a little more wise, but we are still discovering. We are the Wild Women, and we welcome you.

Victoria Bennett
Founder, Wild Women Press


© 2018, “The Howl or How Wild Women Press Came to Be” and the wild-women word-heart illustration, Victoria Bennett, All rights reserved; 2011 and 2018, water color paintings, Gretchen Del Rio, All rights reserved

Poet, publisher, activist and wild woman, Victoria Bennet

VICTORIA BENNET (Wild Woman Press) is an award-winning poet, creative activist and full-time home-educating Wild Mama to her son, Django. Originating from the borderlands below Scotland, she is the Founder of Wild Women Press and has spent the last quarter of a century instigating creative experiences in her community. Her poetry has appeared in print, online and even in the popular video game, Minecraft. She has published four collections and performed live across the UK, from Glastonbury Festival to a Franciscan Convent.

Poetry publications include:
Anchoring the Light
Fragile Bodies
Byron Makes His Bed
My Mother’s House – a Poetry & Minecraft Collaboration with Adam Clarke, that explores grief and letting go

What We Now Know – digital VR music collaboration with Adam Clarke and The Bookshop Band, inspired by the #MeToo anthology

angel300-c12182011© Gretchen Del Rio


she’s present

returned to bite through the umbilical of tradition,
to flick her tongue
and cut loose the animus-god of our parents,
like a panther she roams the earth, she is eve wild in the night,
freeing minds from hard shells
and hearts from the confines of their cages,
she’s entwined in the woodlands of our psyches
and offers her silken locks to the sacred forests of our souls ~
naked but for her righteousness,
she stands in primal light,
in the untrammeled river of dreams
the yin to balance yang
the cup of peace to uncross the swords of war ~
through the eons she’s been waiting for her time
her quiet numinosity hiding in the phenomenal world,
in the cyclical renewal of mother earth,
whispering to us in the silver intuition of grandmother moon
watching us as the loving vigilance of a warming sun ~
she, omen of peace birthed out of the dark,
even as tradition tries to block her return,
her power leaps from the cleavage of time

© Jamie Dedes

Gretchen Del Rio

Illustration ~ the lovely watercolor painting by Gretchen Del Rio with its girl-tree, panther and other spirit animals was the inspiration for my poem, Her Power Leaps, on the return of the divine feminine. The back-story on the painting is interesting. Gretchen says, “I painted this for a fourteen year old Navaho girl. It is for her protection and her power. She sees auras and is very disturbed by this. She is just amazing. Beauty beyond any words. You can see into the soul of the universe when you look at her eyes. She has no idea. I loved her the moment I saw her. My blessings for her well being are woven into the art.” Such a delightful piece. I purposely posted it full-size so that everyone can enjoy the detail. Bravo, Gretchen, and thank you. / Jamie Dedes

©2011, water color painting; Gretchen Del Rio, All rights reserved; 2016, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved.


“#MeToo: rallying against sexual assault and harassment, a women’s poetry anthology” edited by Deborah Alma; “Persephone’s Daughters,” empowering readers and writers who’ve experienced gendered abuse

Will be out on March 8. Pre-order HERE.

#MeToo Anthology, The Back Story

by Deborah Alma, Editor

The #MeToo (Fair Acre Press, March 8, 2018) anthology came straight out of a long thread on my Facebook page in October 2017, just as we were talking about the Harvey Weinstein allegations on the news and before I had even heard of the #MeToo campaign. I asked women friends of mine to add their name on the thread if they hadn’t experienced any form of sexual harassment in their lives and I was surprised to find that of the 200 women that started to share some of their stories , 2 or 3 told us that it had never happened to them. My surprise was not that there were so few, but that there were any women at all.

Of course over the years we have shared these stories with our friends, sisters, mothers, partners and sometimes with the police, or in court. It has been the water we swim in as women. But saying something publicly has always been difficult and brave. The words would stick in our throats, for so many reasons.

But something was released and given a space within social media. It was easy to add our voice to the rising shout of #MeToo. We felt the sisterhood. Many women were emboldened by this to share more difficult stories, more details.

I’m a poet, and an editor and someone suggested we collect these stories somehow and it was obvious to collect them as poems. It was what I could do.

I am very proud of this book, proud of the poets for sharing and for the courage in putting their names to their words. I have been amazed by the wonderful collaboration in its making; all of us women.  Jessamy Hawke is the daughter of an online friend and she came forward and offered to make new line drawings for the book, the striking cover was made for the book by my friend Sandra Salter and all the work of editing and publishing was donated. Jess Phillips MP gave us her introduction and it’s been endorsed by Amanda Palmer and Rachel Kelly amongst others.

I do recognise that it is a painful and difficult to read a great deal of the time. But when taken slowly, and with reading only what you can bear, I trust the reader will hear its rallying cry of anger and impatience. We have had enough.

© 2018, Deborah Alma

DEBORAH ALMA (Emergency Poet) is a UK poet, with an MA in Creative Writing, taught Writing Poetry at Worcester University and works with people with dementia and in hospice care. She is also Emergency Poet prescribing poetry from her vintage ambulance. She is editor of Emergency Poet-an anti-stress poetry anthology, The Everyday Poet- Poems to live by (both Michael O’Mara), and her True Tales of the Countryside is published by The Emma Press. She is the editor of #Me Too – rallying against sexual harrassment- a women’s poetry anthology (Fair Acre Press, March 2018). Her first full collection Dirty Laundry is published by Nine Arches Press (May 2018). She lives with her partner the poet James Sheard on a hillside in Powys, Wales.


#MeToo: rallying against sexual assault and harassment


Freeing the sources of light

Make friends with the light.

It’s been years

since you watched summer turn bad,


felt warm grass chafe your bare legs

and his old man’s fingers

trespass beneath the dress


you never wore again.

That hot summer

you dashed to your childhood garden


but the sun glared,

music buzzed from the wireless,

stung a secret place, the Everlies


and Elvis called heart:

always tender, baby,

always untrue.


And summers afterward

echoed bus rides to city parks

where he kissed your mouth,


fondled your arms.

The sun blurred, twinned

into headlamps,


pinned shadows on the wall-

but it was decades ago.

Welcome the light,


you don’t need a sky’s worth,

just a lodestar for the journey.

White roses in a glass vase,


candle-flame at dusk and the moon

in winter, carrying

its bowl of borrowed sun.

© 2018, Sheila Jacob      


Always just within reach, it is the desk-drawer revolver

or the switch that is flicked when a woman says No

and means No and knows her own mind

and makes herself inconveniently clear;


it is the cocksure roar of boy used to his own way,

one more of the ones we warn each other about,

whose reputations we pass around like classroom

secrets, names itching from girl-hand to woman-hand,


the ones who just adore women, who say their wives

really don’t mind, the ones who wonder, aloud,

and publicly, what hitch qualifies you to claim

this space for your small fierce self,


the ones who will scrape back their chair, stand up

in the kitsch restaurant, tongue catching on the latch

of that single syllable,the alarmed door he will shoulder

open becoming the exit she will depart through. 

© 2018, Jane CommaneAssembly Lines (Bloodaxe, 2018)

Irish Twins

attic rain

the backyard swing

off kilter

We share an attic room. In the corner is an old double bed that smells and sags on one side. My side. Late at night I hear my heart beat. Loud. So loud he will hear it. He will think my heart is calling him up the attic stairs. His footsteps are heavy. He smells of old spice and cherry tobacco. My eyes shut tight. I know he is there. I feel his weight. Never on my side. Always on the side she sleeps. When the bed-springs sing their sad song I fly away. Up to the ceiling. My sister is already there. Together we hold hands. Looking down we see our bodies. We are not moving. We are as still as the dead.

© 2018, Roberta BearyContemporary Haibun Vol.14 (Red Moon Press)


The Return of Persephone, c.1891 (oil on canvas) by Leighton, Frederic (1830-96); 203×152 cm; Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) U.K.; English, public domain

PERSEPHONE’S DAUGHTERS is published online, in print and in film. This magazine’s content is based on a mission to empower women / femme individuals who have experienced various forms of gendered abuse (sexual, emotional, physical, racial, verbal, etc), or other forms of degradation (harassment, catcalling, threats, etc).  Persephone’s Daughters welcomes all identities.

Online Sunday Stories feature personal accounts of those surviving abuse. There is also a film submission category that aligns with the mission. Accepted works are featured online on Film Fridays.  Of note is a post-election mini-issue, a writing and art collection by people who are negatively effected by the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election. Proceeds from the sales of that collection go to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, which provides services, legal help, and advocacy to unaccompanied immigrant children fleeing trafficking, conflict, poverty and more.

The editor’s say that submissions for Issue 5 will likely open in April. The theme is “Sexual Assault Awareness.” Sunday Stories and Film Fridays are currently open for submissions. Link HERE.