A life of its own

DetailThe Harvard Advocate launches the Women’s Issue with a series of free events featuring students and professionals including graphic memoirist Amy Kurzweil and fiction writer Samantha Hunt.

By Isa Flores-Jones '19

The Women’s Issue of the literary journal The Harvard Advocate launches publicly this week at an event 7 p.m. Monday, March 4 at Harvard Book Store. That moment will be the realization of an idea that began within the walls of the magazine’s headquarters on South Street in Cambridge and then quickly took a life of its own.

“We started out thinking it should be an insert in the [regular cycle] of the magazine,” says Sabrina Li ’20. “But pretty quickly it became apparent that it should be a separate publication.”

Li and Owen Ojo ’19, who will host the event on Monday, are on the executive board of the magazine, for which fiction writer and lecturer in the Harvard English Department Laura Van Den Berg is the adviser. The magazine is supported by the Office for the Arts at Harvard and the Harvard College Women’s Center.

Also featured at the lauch will be students Patricia Liu ’21 and Jeanine Zheng ’20, and professional writers Amy Kurzweil (graphic memoir) and Samantha Hunt (fiction) , all of whom are featured in the issue. The visit by Kurzweil and Hunt, which includes a free luncheon open undergraduates (RSVP required) and a free open-to-the-public workshops (walk in) on March 5, will be the first in a series of readings and events on campus around this issue and theme.

“We wanted to create community with this issue,” Li said. And Ojo: “We were surprised by the amount of people who came forward to work on the

Advocate Cover by Te Palandjian
The Women's Issue cover by Te Palandjian '21
magazine.” “Surprised and excited,” Li added.

To that end, the team gave a great deal of forethought to the diversity of both contributors and editors. “What is women’s art or literature?” Li said. “Definitely not just one thing. We were afraid of receiving work that was only based in trauma, or, you know, women in the context of men.”

Roughly the size of a songbook, the magazine’s cover (designed by Te Palandjian, ‘21) demands attention. A pair of yellow and pink hands stretch across a background of undulating black lines, reaching for and from the outsized letters that spell out the issue’s theme. Within its pages, the contributors’ works do not conform to one notion of female identity. The issue, featuring 64 artists, is as thematically wide-ranging as it is stylistically diverse.

“I think if the pieces do come to a conclusion,” Ojo said, “it has to do with collectivity: ‘I have someone behind me, whether it’s a grandmother, a mother or a friend.’”

The strength of such intergenerational memory is a major theme of Kurzweil’s memoir The Flying Couch. Three pages of the graphic work are excerpted in the Women’s Issue, with pen and ink panels presenting Kurzweil’s interviews and relationships with her mother and grandmother and the history of the elder matriarch’s flight from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Kurzweil spoke to the difficulty of writing about close family.

“What I was conscious of treading around was caricature, specifically of my grandmother, because I think it's really easy to fall into flattening characters that aren’t yourself,” she said.

Instead, Kurzweil sought to capture her generation’s “different approach to healing … a journey through history” that differs from the ways her mother or mother’s generation processed their own stories.

Hunt’s contribution touches on the complexity of being the mother of one’s own reality. Her A Love Story places the reader squarely in the mind of a woman grappling with the strangeness of family experience in relationship to: the human body, a partner, the dark night outside and the threat it may or not pose to her family.

For Hunt, the writing process is foremost a process of self-knowledge. Instead of writing for a particular audience, the author instead spoke about inspiration: “In all honesty,” she said, “writing to me feels more like listening than speaking.

All of the events on March 4 and 5 are free. The luncheon on March 5 is open to undergraduates; the workshops on the same day are open to the public.