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In These Times: Relevant to our interests?

By Sady Doyle
In These Times

Willis_Essential coverThe word “relevant” is often used to describe the work of cultural critic and essayist Ellen Willis. But it’s generally prefaced by some equivalent or variant of the word “still.” For example, in her back-of-book blurb for The Essential Ellen Willis, released this month by the University of Minnesota Press, Feministing founder Jessica Valenti writes: “It’s incredible that decades after it first made waves, Ellen Willis’ writing is still as relevant as ever.” Meanwhile, in his preface to the section of the book that collects her 1990s essays, Cord Jefferson laments, “I wish Ellen Willis were no longer relevant,” going on to catalogue the depressing topics she covered—racism, sexism, the steady impoverishment of intellectual workers—that we still have to worry about today. And the editor of the collection, Willis’ daughter Nona Willis Aronowitz, notes in the foreword that when reading her mother’s work, “I couldn’t help but see parallels to present-day questions … [they] convinced me of her work’s ongoing relevance.”

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The Essential Ellen Willis