Judith Arcana


Writer and Performer

Ideal Use:  Immigration Issues, particularly related to young people in the USA; Reproductive Justice and Abortion Rights, Roe v. Wade Anniversary, Mothers’ Day, Women’s History Month; National Poetry Month, Poetry & Social Action, Writing/Literature/Theater

Listen to a sample of “You Don’t Know” (.mp3 file)
Listen to a sample of “What If Your Mother” (.mp3 file)

Judith Arcana is a writer and performer whose poems, stories, essays and books are published widely online and in print. She’s probably best known for writing about immigration and women’s reproductive health, and for her biography of Grace Paley, the writer and activist. Info about Judith’s writing, speaking and performance work + some samples of her writing are on her website: http://www.juditharcana.com/

Judith’s newest book is 4th Period English, a theater piece/dialogue – poems in the voices of high school students talking about immigration and the always-related issues of race, class, nation and border. This short collection, chapbook size, is ideal for classroom group presentation & stage work; a set of Discussion Notes is in the works.

Judith Arcana was a JANE, a member of the underground feminist clinic that helped more than eleven thousand women and girls in Chicago get safe illegal abortions before the US Supreme Court’s Roe decision in January of 1973. She taught women’s health and sexuality classes for the Chicago Women’s Union’s Liberation School, and was part of the movement creating Women’s Studies and campus women’s centers. Judith often works with student and community groups, performing her writing, discussing reproductive justice and motherhood. She appears in the documentary video Jane: An Abortion Service by Nell Lundy & Kate Kirtz, and is quoted (as “Deborah”) in The Story of Jane by Laura Kaplan.

Rooted in that early work for reproductive justice – and going well beyond it – is What if your mother, Judith’s collection of poems and monologues examining a constellation of rarely offered themes: abortion, adoption, miscarriage and the biotechnology of childbirth. She performs this powerful work and talks with audiences about women’s reproductive health and conscious motherhood.

Her book, Grace Paley’s Life Stories, A Literary Biography, is a primary source for activists and writers wanting to learn more about Grace’s life and work. One of the most admired, best loved writer-activists in the USA, Grace Paley (1922-2007) was a source and a spark for thousands of people in dozens of countries. She wrote stories, poems and essays while working for peace, environmental justice and women’s rights. Judith met Grace in 1984, and began then to examine the relationship between Grace’s writing and her personal/political history. With Grace Paley’s life and work as an example, Judith speaks and teaches about poetry & social justice, art & action – art with conscious politics; she talks about the struggle to combine social action and craft, to make art that confronts and entails issues of social responsibility.

Judith’s work has been funded by the Puffin Foundation, the Rockefeller Archive Center and the Union Graduate School doctoral faculty; supported by a Poetry Award from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and a Fellowship from Literary Arts, Inc; and fostered by writing residencies at Soapstone in Oregon, the Montana Artists Refuge, Ragdale in Illinois, the Mesa Refuge in California and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in New Mexico.

A longtime teacher of literature, writing and interdisciplinary topics in women’s studies, Judith taught in high schools, colleges, libraries, living rooms, a prison and a jail. She is an experienced speaker and fine performer of her work with experience on tv and radio as well as many bookstores, campuses and community events.  She holds a PhD in Literature, an MA in Women’s Studies, an Urban Preceptorship in Preventive Medicine and a BA in English. A native of the Great Lakes region, she lives now in the Pacific Northwest.

Speaking and performing, discussing poetry and politics/art and action, Judith has worked with students, staff and faculty from women’s centers, women’s studies programs, gender studies programs, queer studies programs and departments of English, Creative Writing, History, Sociology, Political Science, Biology and others + Law Schools, Medical Schools, members of the Progressive Students Alliance and Student Activities Boards + community organizations, clinics and medical centers around the USA as well as in Canada and Britain.

Here’s what some of the people who’ve worked with her and read her writing have to say about Judith Arcana and her books …….

Judith Arcana’s 4th Period English is so wonderful, I feel privileged to have read it, and I wish it were part of every curriculum starting right now…. This is absolutely terrific writing.….. Alicia Ostriker

These poems are amazing. Inside that strange, raw intersection where immigration and Americanism meet, Judith Arcana’s new collection brings to life a whole population in a typical American high school….….. Diana Rico

Judith Arcana’s polyphonic collection is a labor of love and compassion…. Arcana makes her readers painfully aware of the ways our young people struggle between and among the myriad borders of this world.….. Alicia Partnoy

What I love about this important book is how the work Judith began in Chicago years ago has deepened in poetry and prose with love for the lives of women……. Grace Paley

Judith Arcana’s fierce, funny and bold poetry … is a page-turner that you can’t put down. It’s a passionate rush of language, hope in a hard time, truth in the middle of lies….
….…. Minnie Bruce Pratt

Arcana has written poems about a subject so complex and difficult that I could not imagine them being written. And she tackles the whole range of situations and emotions, from all points of view. She’s articulated the impossible and, therefore, given us a way to think about what couldn’t have been thought.   …….. Toi Derricotte

review excerpts:
This writing “…has the rare quality of being moving, artful and important all at the same time. It’s the kind of work all writers strive for and Arcana’s accomplishment here is tremendous.” …… The Portland Alliance

“This inspired collection of poems by a mother and long-time advocate for women’s reproductive freedom both artfully and politically covers the gamut of reproductive issues from mothering to miscarriages and women’s bodies to babies with a certain honesty that can only be delivered by a true poet.” …… Conscience

This book is a “bold mix of prose and poetry that gives voice, voices, to all sides …. Arcana aims to be useful, and, in doing so, does not limit her scope to abortion, but entwines it with motherhood, poverty, fertility or barrenness, love, fear, desire, and obedience….” There is “no one conclusion, except the importance of choice….The voices in this book – striking, direct, real – offer rich possibilities for the solitary reader as well as for an audience.”  …….. Calyx

“Read Judith Arcana’s book for a lived and heart-felt discussion….She captures the voices of real women and speaks with compassion….sit down and have the complete experience. You will thank the author for her acutely powerful reporting. This is art that matters.”  …… Bridges

praise from audiences:
Judith Arcana was an extraordinary presence in her visit to our campus; her effect on our students was electrifying. As a speaker and as a performer of her writing, she’s a source of energy.  – Marian Rodriguez, JD, [former] Director, Law and Diversity Program, Western Washington University

Enlightening and inspiring – students were impressed with her poetry, her presence, and her knowledge …. Judith does a superb job of reading her poetry! – Janet Wilson, Assistant Professor of Theatre, Illinois State University
Judith has the capacity to bring together the baby boomers of the 1960s and the generation of the 21st century.  She reaches us all.  – Stacie E. Geller, PhD. Director, National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; Associate Professor/Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Director, Center for Research on Women & Gender, University of Illinois at Chicago
Judith is a warm and funny yet powerful and passionate voice for reproductive freedom.
–  David Greenberg, PhD, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette

I met Judith Arcana when we both were scheduled to speak to a group of medical students about issues of reproductive choice….the students, who were all born post-Roe …. were visibly shocked and moved by her words. As for me, listening to Judith helped me realize I’d become complacent, though I’d had an abortion myself, safely, in 1979. I have now a strong sense of the need to recommit to this struggle in light of the very real threats to women’s reproductive freedom we now face. – Karen E. Adams, MD, Associate Professor and Residency Program Director, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Clinical Consultant, Center for Ethics in Health Care, Oregon Health and Sciences University

Judith Arcana ….is a gem – it’s enormously important that she and her writings be made accessible to our students, programs and communities.  – Wendy Judith Cutler, Women’s Studies, Portland State University

Judith Arcana’s visit to our campus was magical…. providing our students with the opportunity to meet an important American poet and feminist activist, and to work with her on their semester long project….Arcana is a treasure!  – Dr. Alison Bailey, Director, Women’s Studies Program, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Illinois State University

Visit Judith’s website: http://www.juditharcana.com/
Check out upcoming events: http://juditharcana.com/index.php/arc/events/
Listen to Judith reading: http://ccfi.educ.ubc.ca/publication/studio/v01n01/studio2b.html
Get Judith’s books from your local independent bookseller, Powells.com or other online sources.

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