Acclaimed feminist poet, public educator, and activist Olivia Gatwood read to Pensacola State College students via Zoom webinar Wednesday, January 20.
When a worldwide pandemic is not hindering her, Gatwood works as a full-time touring artist and educator, teaching workshops on the creative process for writers and providing lectures on Title IX initiatives, proactive solutions to sexual assaults on campuses, and more progressive sex education at schools and universities.
In the course of the roughly hour-long exchange, she covered topics such as queer identity in America, the relationship between the true-crime genre and prejudice and how people of color are largely ignored, and whether it’s worthwhile to try and separate art from politics.
Gatwood gave impassioned readings of nine poems from her latest collection, Life of the Party, explaining each one’s personal significance as she fielded inquiries from hosts Andrew Barbero and Britni Schoolcraft.
Gatwood went on to talk about her book, Life of the Party, a collection mostly about her relationship to true crime while she was living in Boston.
Poems like “Ode to My Favorite Murder,” “Aileen Wournos Takes a Lover Home,” and “Murder of a Little Beauty” concern themselves with how American media helps to glamorize violence against women while simultaneously demeaning them. These poems are also good at shining a light on the innate fear women feel while simply existing in public.
Swapping the focus from true crime to girlhood, Gatwood lifted the tone of the discussion with the reading of her illuminating “When I Say That We Are All Teen Girls,” in which she applies the commonly overplayed tropes of teen girldom to us all, regardless of gender expression or age.
Even though the readings were intense and piercing, the webinar’s overall tone was relaxed, respectful, and personal.
Barbero and Schoolcraft pulled student questions from the chat and asked their own; Gatwood answered with accuracy and introspection. The feel of the discussion was also necessarily political, as they talked about the importance of viewing today’s issues with nuance and complexity, and urgency.
The effects of misogyny, sexual abuse, homophobia, and a system that overlooks these issues largely impact us all, but certainly some more than others. It’s in hearing and understanding these voices, voices like Gatwood’s in which art and politics converge, that we begin to see real change.