Saturday, December 3, 2016

Review of "UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour" in MS MAGAZINE

Abuse and Empowerment: Donna Kaz’s “Un/Masked” Compels Us to Speak Up

November 30, 2016 by Marina Delvecchio

Donna Kaz’s Un/Masked: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl on Tour chronicles the birth of a feminist. Through a narrative spanning abuse, activism and her urgent struggle to solidify her place in theater, Kaz provides her readers with a dynamic storyline that keeps us turning the pages in search of empowerment—hers and ours.

Applying humor, candor, and in some places, the form that playwrights use when constructing scenes and dialogue, we see how the artistic mind finds solace and empowerment while navigating the trenches of love and abuse.

Kaz is in her early twenties when she meets Bill. Much older than her, and much more experienced in the nuances of relationships, in Bill we encounter a narcissist entrenched in his own self-worth. For the next three years, Kaz becomes the target of his unfettered rage when he feels insecure with his acting or his work.

Eventually, we’re propelled forward twenty years—the late 90’s—during which she becomes involved with the Guerrilla Girls, an activist group of feminists who wear gorilla masks and protest the male-dominated arena of the arts. Along with the gorilla masks, the women’s anonymity is further established when they each assume the moniker of a dead artist in a poetic attempt to represent and give voice to artists, poets, musicians and writers the male industry of the arts renders invisible. Kaz assumes the name of Aphra Behn, the first English female known to have made her living as a writer during the 1600’s. 

Concealed behind the gorilla mask and Aphra Behn’s name, Kaz finds a voice that refutes the secondary and silenced inferiority meant for female artists in an industry that produces plays, music, art and theater only created by men and only honoring men. The Guerrilla Girls spent their free time advocating for their rights to be artists, to produce their own work, to share with the world creative outlets that rest on female power and volition and to open doors for the next generation of female artists entering this very patriarchal and male-run platform of the arts.
Being a Guerrilla Girl and advocating for other women inevitably guarantees Kaz the courage she needed to also express the abuse she suffered at the hands of her intimate partner twenty years earlier. She not only named the abuse, but she also, finally, named her abuser, which cut him off entirely from her life, allowing her to move on, fall in love and marry and pursue her: 

Read more here

Monday, November 28, 2016

Reports from the Front – West Coast Book Tour “UN/MASKED” - post election

Dear Book,

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Aphra Behn here. It is great to be back on the road again and once more heading for the west coast – the place where I wrote part of my memoir, “UN/MASKED” – first at Lit Camp (a three day retreat/workshop) and the second at Mesa Refuge (a longer, self directed retreat for writers).  In addition, about half of “UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour” takes place on the west coast - so it feels oh so appropriate and right to be returning.

Venice Pier

I arrived in LA three days before my Book Soup/Peace Over Violence readings so I could catch up with old friends and get used to the time change. The city was experiencing an unusually hot fall – temperatures were in the 80’s. I stayed at a hotel near Venice Beach and for the first three days was up by 6 and out running on the Venice Pier, stopping for a smoothie on the return. Wow, had so forgotten how incredible the light in Los Angeles is. No wonder female artists love this city! 

After three days of soaking it all up I settled down to the task at hand – choosing, preparing and rehearsing my readings.

Oh yes, authors must prepare as if they are actors. Readings are, after all, a chance to connect with a new audience, not an opportunity to bore people and put them to sleep. Well, I guess if you goal is to lull your audience it is okay to put people to sleep. I remember the environmental performance artist, Bob Carroll, used to do a show downtown NYC in the 70’s called “The Salmon Show” and would start by telling everyone he loved to sleep so if you wanted to nod off, go right ahead. I want to engage, entertain and not drone on so I hunker down to rehearse.

With Daniela Kuper

Monday, November 14, 2016, Book Soup

My friend and fellow author, Daniela Kuper (Hunger and Thirst), met me in LA and helped me prepare. On November 14 we hopped in an Uber and crawled to Book Soup in West Hollywood. It literally took us an hour and 15 minutes to travel what should have taken 20 minutes. #LAtraffic has gotten so much worse.

Book Soup is like walking through an interesting old curio shop – there are tons of books as well as posters, pens, notebooks, cards and other cool stuff to finger through.  Book Soup proudly displayed this awesome poster of my reading in the window.

Many friends and fans showed up and crammed into the small space they reserve for readings.  I shared my story – how it was a bookstore and a book that turned me on to feminism (“Our Bodies, Ourselves”). The night ended with a signing and my west coast book tour was officially launched.

“Kaz is a vivid writer and presenter. Her timely memoir deals with her evolution from abused woman (actor William Hurt) to feminist-activist Guerrilla Girl. At her reading (Book Soup, L.A.) she held the audience close and offered the first sane, creative post-election advise I've heard.” – Daniela Kuper, author of “Hunger and Thirst

Tuesday, November 15 – Peace Over Violence

Thanks for that quote, Daniela.  My work with Peace Over Violence (formerly LA Commission on Assaults Against Women) is detailed in “UN/MASKED.”  It was via this organization that I first identified as a survivor of domestic violence and where I trained to work the LA Rape and Battery hotline for the first time. So, to read and sign books about my experience here was very special.  I decided to read some of the hardest parts of the book for this stop. I had stayed away from reading about domestic violence because, well, it is difficult to read aloud. But Daniela encouraged me and reminded me that Peace Over Violence was the perfect location to test reading these sections of the book. It worked. I got over my fear and the audience thanked me for choosing those passages to read. At the end of the night executive director Patti Giggans joined me on stage and we shared stories from the old days. The conversation with the audience quickly turned to the election and how we can combat violence in America.

Me and Patti Giggans at Peace Over Violence 

November 16. Book Passage, San Francisco

I catch an early flight north to San Francisco! I have just enough time to check into my hotel and grab a bite to eat before heading over to Book Passage in the Ferry Building. What a beautiful store, in a beautiful location with an incredibly warm staff.  Book Passage book lover extraordinaire, Ama, discussed my book with me and then gave the warmest intro I have received thus far.  Even though the audience was small, those present were attentive and asked the most thoughtful questions. My favorite was about how one deals with liability when writing about someone still living. I signed over 20 books for Book Passage locations all over SF and went out for oysters afterwards with two old friends. Later, from my hotel room I could hear the sounds of anti-Trump protests. I heart San Francisco.

November 17 – Travel day

I am off to Seattle where the temperature is in the 40’s. As soon as I land I continue my search for more west coast shellfish and the perfect oysters by having lunch at Taylor’s Seafood near my hotel. This combo seafood shop/oyster bar was a warm welcome to Seattle. After a trip to Whole Foods (through traffic almost as bad as Los Angeles), I get a good nights sleep.

November 18. Hugo House

with Michelle Tea  

Tonight I read with Michelle Tea at Hugo House. The event is actually at Fred’s Wildlife Refuge, an awesome event space on Capitol Hill with terrific lighting, a bar and a small stage.  There are three of us on the bill.  Former employee of Feminist Press, Kait Heacock, begins with a few words and Jordan O’Jordan starts the party off with three songs. Jordan is a warm and caring soul who sings from the heart, his only accompaniment a 5 string banjo.  After that I’m up – reading and throwing bananas to an almost packed audience of 50 or 60.  For the first time I name my batterer, William Hurt, before I read a section about him. It feels natural and good. The audience gives me a really warm reception and I feel terrific bumping into and meeting Michelle Tea for the first time as I exit.  She reads from “Blackwave” – is funny and serious, her comic timing perfection.  Afterwards, Eliot Bay Books  provides copies that Michelle and I sign while chatting with the crowd.

I’m exhausted, spent, craving one more plate of oysters but decide on watching reruns of “Star Trek” and ordering room service.  I sleep soundly, wake up the next morning to a clear sky and a smooth trip back to the big apple.

Thanks for the memories, LA, SF and Seattle.  Until next time, book.

Love, Aphra