The people who count for VIDA count because they love literature. It would probably be an understatement to suggest they prefer reading over math. We wanted to learn more about what drives the individuals who make the annual VIDA Count possible. And because we are so grateful to these interns for so generously volunteering their time, we’ve launched a fundraising campaign to pay our Counters.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Growing up with a writer for a mother, and a lawyer for a father, it’s unsurprising that I turned out a mix of the two. I have a BA in Political Science from Kalamazoo College, and also an MFA in Creative Writing (creative nonfiction) from George Mason University. My political and my creative sides have always converged—I am fascinated with the political power of storytelling, the limitless possibilities that the imaginary, the fictional, and the transparently-real can provide. This has led me to where I am now: working toward my PhD in Folklore Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I study storytelling, specifically immigrant and feminist narratives. I also teach writing, folklore, and literature, and am a co-editor with the feminist chapbook press, Gazing Grain Press.
Why did you decide to become involved with the VIDA Count?
I was raised in Michigan by great storytellers—my mother and my grandmother especially. It was they who inspired me to tell my own stories, and to help others tell theirs. My family was always very political, and I grew up with feminism and civil rights discussed over the dinner table. As a teenager, I was protesting the sanctions against Iraq, writing articles in my school newspaper about Haitian refugees, making t-shirts and posters to wear in protest at school. In my early twenties, I started a fat acceptance blog, and started participating more deeply in feminist discourse. When I learned about VIDA, and what the organization was doing, it seemed natural to volunteer as a Counter. I care deeply about the reality of the literary field, and the Count clearly demonstrates the deep-rooted prejudice against women writers. It’s encouraging to see that begin to change, but it’s even more inspiring to be part of that change. One Count at a time, we’re making the literary landscape a more equitable place. This story is told in the numbers we put together, and I’m glad to be one raised voice fighting for equality.
Do you have a favorite book / poem / novel / short story?
Anyone who knows me knows that I am inexplicably obsessed with the Harry Potter series. I wasn’t a reader before those books, and I found them incredibly comforting as a child. I identified with Hermione, the brainy, booky female with frizzy hair that I so resembled. I still take refuge in them now—my first magical escape.
But beyond Harry Potter, I’ve found several writers I love—from poets like Lucille Clifton, Anne Carson, Anne Sexton, Bob Hicok, and Terrance Hayes, to memoirists and essayists Cheryl Strayed, Anne Lamott, Jo Ann Beard, and so many others.
I also love reading young adult fiction, which takes on the tensions of our world and society in such a straightforward and powerful way that some adult works do not. My current favorite, the Divergent trilogy, is out in theatres for even non-readers to enjoy.
What literary journals would you suggest readers be on the lookout for?
Feminist writers would love So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, where I used to be nonfiction editor. I love reading Ecotone and River Teeth, and The Sun Magazine, among so many others.
Christine J. Widmayer has an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University, where she also taught composition and literature. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Folklore Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she focuses on women’s folklore, heritage, and immigration narrative. In her spare time, she serves as a co-editor at Gazing Grain Press, obsesses over everything Harry Potter, and sings in her car. Her writing can be found in Flashquake.