Karen Hartman: Women Authoring Change

By Hedgebrook Staff

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Categories: Women Authoring Change,

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Karen_Hartman_200x250Karen Hartman is a playwright and a Hedgebrook alumna. We asked her about her work and about being a Woman Authoring Change.

 

Tell us about your work as a writer—do you write in multiple genres/forms?

I’m mostly a playwright, at home with anything live: original plays, musicals, adaptations, and recently a form I’m calling semi-documentary that has an extensive interview component. The most significant other genre for me is nonfiction prose. Sometimes I want to speak in my own voice, compose a complex thought. Theater is not a great medium for that. Prose does the job.

 

Do you consider yourself an activist?

As of about the last five minutes, I do consider myself an activist. January 22, 2016 was the 43rd anniversary of Roe vs Wade, and Amelia Bonow and I organized #TogetherForAbortion, a network of conversations about abortion that happened live in all 50 states. That’s the first political event I’ve ever organized. Generally speaking I hate to plan, I guard my time, and I don’t like to manage people, so actual event-like activism feels alien and bewildering most of the time. But I saw this one clearly, and Amelia jumped on board with a pile of resources – and also because it was a network of events each host dealt with her own food, chairs, etc. and I could do most of it from my laptop, which is my happy place.

I will add that Hedgebrook was the seed for #TogetherForAbortion. I’d written an OpEd a year before, calling for pro-choice women to talk about abortion more, and I’d followed Amelia’s #ShoutYourAbortion movement with glee. I heard Amelia ask Gloria Steinem a question at the Hedgebrook event (for which Vito Zingarelli helped me score a last-minute ticket), and I thought “I like this person. Why not be brave and convivial like Gloria says, and call her up?”

 

Would you characterize your writing as activist? Why or why not?

A tiny slice of my prose writing is explicitly activist.

The rest (including all the theater) is something I might call Intimist – another debt to Hedgebrook for this term, which popped into my mind the morning after a group of women and I talked about abortion, and then menopause, and whether there is really such a thing as “baby lust,” some of the unsaid subjects. It’s an extension of the Second Wave feminist ideal of the personal being political –expanding the stories we tell, giving visibility is a political act.

I write plays from inquiry and moral confusion, on subjects that trouble me. So it’s not activist in that sense of holding up a sign saying, “Think X. Do Y.” And yet I trust the power of revealing what was ignored or hidden, making a range of lives more known, including different kinds of protagonists (and sometimes more than one protagonist). There is a politics in just shedding some light.

 

What impact do you hope your writing will have in the world?

I was recently moved by Susan Gubar’s, Memoir of A Debulked Woman, Enduring Ovarian Cancer. Here is a scholar who has contributed so much to feminist theory, and now she turns her full academic and personal power on the story of her own failing female body, and the political context in which that body went undiagnosed for so long. This struck me as a supremely generous political act, a gift to women.

Especially in accumulation with The Madwoman in the Attic, the critical and seminal scholarly work Gubar co-edited with Sandra Gilbert in the 1970s (so important to me as an undergraduate), the range of storytelling power she has brought over time strikes me as incredible. I was stunned that this brilliant scholar would turn her body, too, over to us readers. That sounds sacrificial but it’s not. It’s potent.

That’s a model, for me.

 

What’s the best feedback you’ve received from a reader/audience member?

Love is the best feedback.

 

About Karen Hartman:

Karen Hartman held the Playwright Center’s 2014-15 McKnight Residency and Commission for a nationally recognized playwright. Current: Roz and Ray (Alley Theatre’s Alley All New Festival), The Book of Joseph (Chicago Shakespeare Theater), Project Dawn (People’s Light & Theater Company), and a Yale Repertory Theater commission about the landmark Supreme Court case Ricci vs DeStefano. Her new dialogue for Mozart’s The Magic Flute appeared at Meany Center in Seattle, 2015. Goldie, Max, and Milk premiered at Florida Stage and the Phoenix Theater, nominated for the Steinberg and Carbonell Awards. Other works: Goliath (Dorothy Silver New Play Prize), Gum, Leah’s Train, Going Gone (N.E.A. New Play Grant); Girl Under Grain (Best Drama in NY Fringe); Wild Kate, ALICE: Tales of a Curious Girl (Music by Gina Leishman, AT&T Onstage Award); Troy Women; and MotherBone, score by Graham Reynolds (Frederick Loewe Award). New York: Women’s Project, National Asian American Theatre Company, P73, the New York Fringe (Best Drama), and Summer Play Festival. Regional: Center Stage, Cincinnati Playhouse, Dallas Theater Center, the Magic, and elsewhere. Publications: TCG, DPS, Playscripts, Backstage Books, and NoPassport Press. Awards: Sustainable Arts Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation at Bellagio, the N.E.A., the Helen Merrill Foundation, Daryl Roth “Creative Spirit” Award, Hodder Fellowship, Jerome Fellowship, Fulbright Scholarship. Prose: New York Times and The Washington Post. An alumna of New Dramatists and longtime Brooklynite, Karen is now Senior Artist in Residence at the University of Washington School of Drama.

 


 

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

 

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