"I feel the internet can help to overcome gender issues by empowering women to publish feminist works and to communicate their concerns -- adding strength in numbers with interactivity and community. "

-- Daniela Gioseffi

New poetry by Daniela Gioseffi

Wise Woman's Web

Skylands Writers & Artists Assoc.

Eggs In The Lake

George Jr.

The Poetry Exchange




Daniela's Books at Amazon:

In Bed With The Exotic Enemy

World Wounds And Water Flowers

Books by Gioseffi from Alibris

Women On War & On Prejudice

Daniela Gioseffi, Award Winning Author, Feminist and Environmental Activist

hosted by CK Tower

Daniela Gioseffi Daniela Gioseffi, author of twelve books of poetry and prose, won the American Book Award in 1990 for editing Women On War: International Voices For Survival In The Nuclear Age, and a Ploughshares Fund World Peace Award, 1993, for On Prejudice: A Global Perspective. Her latest books of poems are Going On and Word Wounds & Water Flowers {Via Folios @ Purdue U., 1999 & 95) and her latest volume of fiction In Bed With The Exotic Enemy: Stories & Novella, 1997. She was the winner of a PEN Short Fiction Award and two New York State Council on the Arts Grants in Poetry. Ms. Gioseffi edits the literary e-zines, "Wise Women's Web" and "Skylands Writers." She has published for over thirty years in such magazines as "The Paris Review," "Antaeus," "The Nation," "The Hungry Mind Review," "Prairie Schooner," "American Book Review" and many other periodicals and on line magazines." Her feminist novel, The Great American Belly (Doubleday/ Dell, NY, and New English Library, London,1979) was optioned for a screenplay for Warner Bros. by Pulitzer Prize Winning playwright, Michael Christopher. Ms. Gioseffi has long been an activist for nuclear disarmament. Currently her focus has shifted to environmental issues concerning clean water and land conservation.

CK Tower: Traditionally in literature not only from the US, but worldwide, we have seen white, middle to upper-middle class, college-educated men dominate the literary scene. What has been your experience as an Italian-American woman writing in the US. Specifically, what, if any, barriers have you had to over come as a writer working from outside the dominant group?

Daniela Gioseffi: Many barriers had to be overcome. Because I was a pretty blonde, I had to overcome the "dumb blond" syndrome as well as the ethnic Italian name problem. The seventies required that I stand on the front lines of the battle front with other women of my generation. I was part of the Women's Committee Rebellion with Grace Paley and others at the 1986 PEN American Center International Conference in New York City. We waged a battle against president, Norman Mailer, and his failure to invite enough women writers to be panelists. He implied that there weren't any good ones. And this supposedly was a "free speech" organization promoting equality of voice! Susan Sontag was awarded an "honorary penis" by Mailer and hardly any other women were allowed to speak. We staged a huge protest and it made the front page of the New York Times. We had to forge our way in then, and now it sometimes seems that the battle never ends.

Today, there is a real reactionary movement against what was achieved by the civil rights movement and the feminist movement of the 60's and 70's, both in art and society. It's sad to see the struggle going backwards, but there is an old Native American legend about "the walking god" who teaches us we have to take two steps forward and one backward to make our way around the circle of life's experiences. It sure feels like that! Sometimes it feels like one step forward and two backward. J.D. McClatchy and others of the poetry establishment world like him, Richard Howard, Richard Wilbur, etc, are still ignoring the issues of women and ethnics in literature. A few years ago McClatchy, an over rated poet, wrote "White Papers" concerning why American poetry is so "dull," and he totally ignored the women and ethnics and Blacks. No wonder he came to the conclusion that American poetry is dull. He was writing, once again, about establishment males only. Very few women made it to his notice, if any. So, the beat goes on. These are reactionary times when being "P.C."-- meaning "politically correct"--is frowned upon and used as a pejorative term. I feel we had *better* still be attempting to be "politically correct!" We had better still be attempting to include women and Blacks and Jews, and Native Americans, and "multiculturalism" in our panels and committees and books and texts for teaching. It ain't over yet! No way! The battle is still beginning! And these are very reactionary times!

CK Tower: Can you please talk about how you first became involved as an activist in nuclear disarmament and how that led you to editing, Women On War: International Voices For The Nuclear Age, Touchstone: Simon & Schuster: NY?

Daniela Gioseffi: I first became involved in Nuclear Disarmament in the 70's when I marched with the Clam Shell Alliance out on Long Island against the Nuclear Plant installation at Stoneybrook. Also, all through the seventies and eighties, I marched in demonstrations with Grace Paley and Allen Ginsberg. It was a natural progression from my days as a Civil Rights activist in Selma Alabama during the Freedom Rides and Sit-ins with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. I was an intern television journalist in Selma Alabama in 1961 and I was abused by the KKK for appearing on an all Black gospel show. Television in the Deep South was not integrated in those days and I was among the first whites to integrate it. A burning cross appeared on the lawn the next morning and water melons were thrown at me and the station. I was abused by a deputy sheriff of the KKK in an even worse way and run out of town. Anti-nuclear demonstrations and social justice movements are related and attract the same sort of activists. I authored and published Women On War, and it won the 1990 American Book Award. It became something of a women's studies classic as the first multicultural, antiwar book by women poets, activists, fiction writers, scientists, Nobel Peace Prize winners and such. It's time had come and I was the one to do it. There is still no other text quite like it. Soon, it will be reprinted in a new edition. Maybe by the Feminist Press. I've just been awarded a bit of a grant from The Ploughshares Fund to rework the book for reprint. Of course, my involvement in the 70's feminist movement, my early publications in MS. magazine and such, were also a motivating factor to my conception and determination to edit and introduce the texts in Women On War.

CK Tower: Are you still involved in activism and if so, in what ways?

Daniela Gioseffi: I'm still involved in causes, but have shifted toward environmental causes since moving to the country from New York City. I'm concerned with conserving open lands and water quality. Of course anti-nuclear issues are important environmental issues, too. Such vital causes and progressive movements are thoroughly related to one another. And, there is still as much vitality to Women On War and the pieces in it as there were when I first published it over a decade ago. The nuclear threat has not dissolved and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is still an issue.

CK Tower: Were there any discoveries you made about women as a whole, through your work on this book?

Daniela Gioseffi: Yes, women tend to be less aggressive or warlike than men. They complain and argue and communicate and work things out in other than violent ways. Even feminist anthropologists and biologists have had to concede that there is a real difference in testosterone and estrogen. Women are less aggressive by their biological natures and since they are the child bearers, they tend to be more interested in peace and nurturance than war and aggression. Of course, there are individuals who belie this generalization about genders difference, but "Women are from Venus (Goddess of Love) and Men Are from Mars (God of War) in *tendency*."

CK Tower: What was your reaction to the US Senate's recent failure to sign the nuclear test ban treaty, and what that could mean for not only the US but the rest of the world?

Daniela Gioseffi: While everyone was looking down Monica Lewinsky's cleavage, or roaring over the World Series, they forgot to notice that the Republicans defeated President Clinton's attempt at ratifying the Test Ban Treaty. Every Democrat and some Republicans voted for that Treaty, but the Hawks on the Hill, like Jesse Helms and Senator Warren, managed to defeat it. It's defeat has weakened the US and made us the nuclear-pig of the world! All the important nations of the globe, but the US, were willing to ratify that treaty. We have wrought much international animosity by its defeat. Unfortunately, an informed perspective and plenty of activism is still tremendously needed on these issues

This was a dangerous and stupid move on the part of those who opposed the Treaty, those whose pockets and campaign finances are puffed up by Pentagon Contractors and war machine economics. Our militarized economies impoverish us all, but especially women and children all around the globe who bear the greatest, overwhelming burden and share of the world's poverty. Nuclear proliferation is a very horrifying problem facing generations of the immediate future. Nuclear testing wastes billions of dollars every year and simply isn't necessary. We have a stockpiled arsenal which could eradicate every man, woman and child on the globe literally hundreds of times over. The US is the world's biggest nuclear power and there are the equivalent of 40 tons of destructive TNT stockpiled for each of us little, vulnerable human beings. To say nothing of dangerously proliferating germ and chemical warfare components! And nuclear waste is spreading and leaking out everywhere into our ground waters. A case in point is the Hanford, Washington facility -- a huge disaster that could effect the entire country. It should be page one news every night! One out of four of us dies of cancers caused by such pollutants. Plutonium and Strontium 90 have a half life of 126 thousand years and they are piling up everywhere. We can educate 300 children in remedial reading for an entire year for the cost of one hour of Star Wars research and the U.S. government has just elected to resume work on that disaster of creating more nuclear missiles to fight nuclear missiles. Also, think of it! The entire Food Stamp Program does not cost the mark-up overhead on one nuclear bomber. These sort of statistical facts come from The Center for Economic Priorities and Betty Lall, one of the foremost world experts on nuclear disarmament whose writings appear in Women On War. Women like Dr. Helen Caldicott, Jane Addams, Doris Lessing, Dorothy Day, Alva Mirdal, Grace Paley, Claribel Alegria, Hannah Arendt, Simon Weil, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer, Petra Kelly, Simone de Beauvoir, Oriana Fallaci, Isabel Allende, these kinds of women activists and writers grace the pages of Women On War and I can't begin to say how inspiring their writings are and how much I've learned from gathering their voices, from around the world, on these most important subjects to our survival as a species and to the survival of all life on earth. These women's voices are essential voices for the nuclear age.

CK Tower: Moving on to another of your books, a collection of stories and Novella, In Bed With The Exotic Enemy (1997) several of the pieces deal with the problems of immigrants assimilating to the U.S. How did your own ethnicity, as well as ethnic influences from your family, play a role in the crafting of these particular stories and characters?

Daniela Gioseffi: As a child, I heard my father tell stories of the prejudice he experienced as an Italian immigrant who came through Ellis Island (The Island of Tears as it was called) to America aboard the USS Independent in 1913. Most people are aware of the discrimination suffered by Blacks or Jews here, but many forget how other ethnic groups suffered stereotyping and prejudice. My father was also handicapped and because of his lame leg he was called "guinea gimp" and other ethnic slurs like "wop" "dago", and such. No matter that he worked his way through school selling newspapers and shining shoes to achieve Phi Beta Kappa from the alpha chapter of that academic honor society--and that he was among the first Italian American immigrants to do so! People forget how Sacco and Vanzetti were fried just like the Rosenbergs were to be executed later to keep "ethnics" in their place and teach them a lesson. Sacco and Vanzetti were labor organizers who were railroaded by Judge Thayer of Massachusetts who called them "dirty dagos." That's why Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote Justice Denied In Massachusetts and marched with other intellectuals of her day like Dorothy Parker, Edmund Wilson and Eugene O'Neil, against their execution. These ethnic slurs are the "word wounds" I write of in my 1995 book of poetry titled Word Wounds and Water Flowers. And, the title In Bed With The Exotic Enemy refers to the prejudice which is suffered by many differing kinds of people from unique cultures who are actually "all in the same boat together," so to speak. The stories are about racism, sexism, ethnocentricity, xenophobia, homophobia, prejudices and stereotyping of all kinds against many differing peoples, Blacks, Jews, Italians, Poles, Irish, etc. My mother was a war orphan, possible Jewish-Polish-Russian and my father an Italian immigrant. When they fought, they called each other by ethnic slurs. As a child I was acutely aware of ethnic hatreds, and as I grew into a woman I became aware that I had one of the very few long Italian female names to publish in the mainstream of American poetry since the late 60's. When I started publishing poetry and fiction, "Diane DiPrima" and "Daniela Gioseffi" were the only Italian women's names in any of the feminist anthologies or collections of women's poetry of the day. Most Americans are unaware that there were blue laws on the books of many municipalities which forbade intermarriage with Italians, just as with Jews or Blacks. Most are unaware that one of the largest mass lynching in US history was of Italian immigrants in New Orleans in 1981. I guess that is why I worked in the Rosa Parks' Freedom Rider movement: my background and experience led me to writing the stories from various cultural persona in In Bed With The Exotic Enemy.

One story is from the point of view of a young African American man who is a hospital worker prejudiced against by his white patient. Another is about an inter-racial relationship, another about a women valued only for her looks, another from the point of view of a Pakistani student learning American English in New York, who is beaten up by a Black gang, and so on, prejudice from every persona possible. But, some of the stories verge on magic realism and some are naturalistic.

CK Tower: Are issues of ethnicity, race, class and gender continued influences in your writing? How was it that you became attuned to these issues?

Daniela Gioseffi: Well, my collection which won a World Peace Prize from the Ploughshares Fund,On Prejudice: A Global Perspective, embodies and continues my interest in such issues of gender and class, racism and sexism. Published by Anchor/ Doubleday in 1993, its the world's first multicultural text, from many differing voices on xenophobia. Many of my poems are about such issues, in Word Wounds And Water Flowers, like the first poem in the collection, titled "Unfinished Autobiography," which begins, "I was born in 1941./ The sky was falling./ The chairs of state were arranging themselves in isms of death."

Of course, I'm referring to fascism, nationalism, communism, capitalism, as well as sexism, all the "isms" that cause war and death and World War I and II. "History is a bloodbath from which we are attempting to awaken," just as Freud said and others have written. My poems are imbued with the real life of history of which I've read a great deal, and some of which I've experienced right here as a child of the 40's to 60's in the USA. And on through the 90's into 2000 where ethnic cleansings, police brutalities and sexist crimes continue. I've worked as a teacher of intercultural communication as well as creative writing, as I am now, at The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan where I teach a course, based on my book On Prejudice, titled "Multiculturalism." Tolerance teaching through literary art is my specialty. Equal opportunity laws must be upheld. The struggle is in progress as some states, like Jed Bush's Florida, where Equal Opportunity laws were recently overturned.

CK Tower: Specifically on gender and particularly about women, as a teacher, as a writer, and as a reader, how do you assess the state of contemporary literature, by, for and about women. Is this a concern of yours when you set down to write your own poems and stories?

Daniela Gioseffi: Human experience is my main concern when I sit down to write. Usually my poems or stories come from feelings about real life experiences or happenings or observations. I don't care for work which is merely abstract. But, I can't help being aware of man's inhumanity to man, and woman, wherever I see it. I'm inspired to speak out, to portray suffering, to work toward a hoped for future in which there is less misery and hatred and suffering. As for women, their experiences, their writings, I've been sensitive to their plight since the late 60's and the dawning of the 70's feminist movement. My earliest publications were in MS. magazine. My first published story, "Mrs. Prism's First Death," which is included in In Bed With The Exotic Enemy, is about a repressed Victorian woman's first orgasm, one she has *after* nearly dying in childbirth and raising a child. Many of us were writing to free women and tell herstory during the 70's. Things are better and easier for younger women and women writers today than they were when I started out. I do feel that my generation paved the way for the one which came after, but some of the poetry of the baby boomer generation, just after mine, is disappointing to me. Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley, Denise Levertov, Muriel Rukeyser, Doris Lessing, such women of the generation just before mine, were not attempting to write for a "me" generation, but for a generation of social activists. I consider myself among the writers of social conscience and not of the "language school" or the "New York School" of Ashbery and Koch. I feel more akin to the school of Whitman's "Democratic Vistas" and Allen Ginsberg's "Plutonium Ode." Akin to the school of Claribel Alegria, Isabelle Allende, Carolyn Forche, June Jordan, Toni Morrision, Maya Angelou. These are the kinds of writers I admire.

CK Tower: Who were among your early influences as a writer? Have they changed?

Daniela Gioseffi: My earliest influences were Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Walt Whitman. Also, Nathanial Hawthorne, the greatest of our early WASP male writers. Later, I came to love Grace Paley and the other women I mention above. I feel my tastes haven't greatly changed. Millay is a consummate craftswoman. Grace Paley is "the Chekov of New York." Sontag is correct to call her that. I love the work of Tillie Olson. Read her work and see if you can top the feelings that run through you as you do. "Tell Me a Riddle," is a masterpiece of short fiction that is absolutely stunning in its humanity. But of course, earlier still were the lessons I learned from Shakespeare, Rabalais, Racine, Cervantes. And, women like Kate Chopin, whose novel The Awakening I read in full on WBAI-Pacifica radio at the height of the women's movement of the 70's in New York. Grazie Deledda, an Italian woman, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928! Gwendolyn Brooks, first Black woman to win the Pulitzer prize in poetry in America. There are so many great women, and men, too, to look to for literary art that weathers all judgments for all times.

CK Tower: What additional works/authors would you suggest to readers who were looking to explore women in literature, specifically?

Daniela Gioseffi: The ones I speak of in the above lists are among my favorites and all the ones I collected in Women On War. For non-fiction and the truth of our time, I'd add Helen Caldicott, Betty Lall, Rita Kistiakowsky, Jane Addams, Sojourner Truth, Eleanor Roosevelt, Petra Kelly, so many great voices of truth!

CK Tower: In the poem "The Sign of the Cross," for Gertrude Stein, from your 1995 collection of poetry Word Wounds and Water Flowers, you write

    "for all the women who were buried in their living bodies, hiding sexual hysteria from doctors who performed surreptitious clitorectomies, or sewed their lips over the tiny bud of ecstasy so men might go on supreme through thrusting centuries..."

How has feminism played a role in your life as a writer, conversely how has being a writer played a role in your life as a feminist? Does being a feminist demand certain things of you as a writer?

Daniela Gioseffi: Oh, yes, of course. The feminist movement of the 1970's was such a time of awakening! What we called, "The Discovery of the Clitoris," was no joke when you consider the clitorectomies still being suffered around the world by women, en masse, at this very time in many African and Middle Eastern cultures. Look at the hideous plight of Pakistani women still! Slave trade and mass prostitution still abound. Women are still held down and in struggle everywhere. I feel that being a feminist of the seventies allowed a new kind of sexual freedom--a new kind of erotic realization and fulfillment to women of my generation. My comic feminist novel about "Goddess Worship" preceded Fear of Flying. Titled The Great American Belly it appeared both in New York and London and Zagreb and was billed as the first feminist novel with a sense of humor about feminism. It's still available in libraries. It was a paean to female sexuality and self realization. It was my first book from a major publisher, Doubleday 1976 and New English Library 1979, and its success launched me into my freedom to write. "What would happen if one woman told the truth of her story? The world would split open." said Muriel Rukeyser, and she was right! The 70's were like that! We all started telling the truth of our stories and we haven't stopped. Hopefully, we gave future generations that freedom to speak and write fully into self realization, too!

CK Tower: We've entered a new age of E-tech, where some writers have given up their pens and paper journals for keyboards and pixels. The World Wide Web and Electronic Mail are bringing together communities of writers not possible before, as well as making it easier to access all varieties of knowledge databases. How has all of this played a role in your life as a writer?

Daniela Gioseffi: I feel, as I head for sixty in 2001, that I am trying to keep up with the younger women so active on the Internet. I taught myself html and web page building and founded "Wise Women's Web: A Literary Magazine for Mature Women," and "Skylands Writers" in 1997, with a grant from the Thanks Be To Grandmother Winifred Foundation. I felt I'd be "dead in the water" if I didn't learn to "surf" and swim the Internet. So much is happening there and now there are so many e-zines and hardcopy mags. All have web sites, too. Where would we be without Amazon.com? Many women of my generation are still afraid of the Internet and electronic media, but I wish I had time to keep up with it all. I find that my life in the hardcopy world suffers. Since I went online with my web sites, papers and books pile up in my study more than ever and I'm always behind in putting the new work I accept online. I feel I'm always racing to keep up with both the hardcopy and electronic worlds and I am working harder and more backlogged than ever. I feel overwhelmed with work all of the time. It's all very exciting and also too much for an ole lady to bear! But, I won't give up. I'll keep a foot in both world's as best I can! My entire out-of-print first book of poems, Eggs In The Lake a feminist collection of poetry, is now available in total online at Connecticut College's Contemporary American Poetry Archive: CAPA. If you type my name, making sure to give me one "l" in "Daniela Gioseffi" into major search engines like YAHOO or ALTA VISTA, many sites come up on which my work can be sampled through this electronic medium--and I'm very happy that "Conspire" which you edit, CK, and "Riding The Meridian" which Jennifer Ley edits, come up. I'm meeting many wonderfully active, self-actualizing, literary women on the Internet. I'm thrilled and pleased to know them via this marvelous new medium and grateful for their interest in my work. I'm finding a whole new batch of literary colleagues via the Internet.

CK Tower: Do you think the Internet helps to overcome gender and racial inequities, or that it may actually be reinforcing them?

Daniela Gioseffi: I feel the internet can help to overcome gender issues by empowering women to publish feminist works and to communicate their concerns -- adding strength in numbers with interactivity and community. On the other hand, as with all print media, one can find sexist websites and bigoted opinions on the internet, too. It's an open medium. Just as hardcopy media, it can be misused and abused for evil purposes, but censorship is not the answer, anymore than with the hardcopy world of print.

CK Tower: How would you assess the quality of writing that has and is appearing online in literary journals and magazines?

Daniela Gioseffi: Well, there's plenty of freedom and there is plenty that's good and plenty that mediocre and bad and some that's great! Just as in the small press and large press world! No difference. One still has to sift the wheat from the chaff! It's no different than the age of the small press boon! It's exciting--the international possibilities--the freedom to communicate and create, if only we can keep the governments of the world from censoring the people's rights to the Internet. That's the big issue of our time. But, there is too much to sift through, too much to taste, it's a feast of information, it's mind boggling. Who can read it all and keep up with it all and the hardcopy world, too? There is plenty of bad poetry and poet tasting going on on the Internet and there's also plenty that's good, even miraculous! I wish I knew more about hypertext and how to create it. Stephanie Strickland, an advisory editor to my web site, is a woman pioneer there, and Jennifer Ley, too, and I plan to learn some day, but for now I have too much to keep up with. I was interested in Jennifer Ley's piece on PIF about hypertext and I have a poem about to come online at that site, too. So much is happening online!

CK Tower: What things are coming up for you in your literary life?

Daniela Gioseffi: Well, I'm moving back to New York City and taking my web sites with me. In fall of 2000 I'll get domain name addresses in New York and blend my web sites into one literary magazine which includes men, but still has an emphasis on women and multiculturalism. Wise Women's Web will become a section of a larger project.

Also, I have a new collection of poems coming out: Going On from Via Folios/ Purdue University, IN. (C) 2000, and I'm refurbishing Women On War,, because as I said earlier, the nuclear threat is deepening and not over at all! There's plenty of work to do. I'm hoping for a new edition of On Prejudice too, and on and on. I've three unfinished novels nearing completion. I'll be active on the New York scene again, after ten years up here in the woods of Northwest Jersey, I'll be returning to the Big Apple. I've loved this respite amidst wildlife and nature but I've missed the excitement of the city where I lived for thirty years. Though I was born in Jersey in 1941, New York City really feels like home, too. I've a nature writing anthology in the works and one concerning writing of conscience. Too much to do, but keeping busy is the answer to not worrying about aging. I'm never bored. There is always too much to do. I love singing and writing poem songs and I'm making a C.D. of my poems set to music. I love to work as a performance poet and that has been a big thrust of my work, too. I spent a great deal of time as a performance, multi-media poet, too--dancing choreopoems and singing poems and reciting poems dramatically. So, I'm keep on keeping on with that, too. I've a couple of readings coming up, one at St. Mark's Poetry Project in the Bowery, Lower Manhattan, for Will Work For Peace, edited by Brett Axel, in which my poem, "Visiting the Torture Museum" appears--on March 25th, at 10:30 p.m. at St. Mark's-- and one at Poets' Playground The Common Ground Theatre in Mid-town, with Yictove as M.C. on April 30th. Sunday at noon. I hope to see some of our readers there, as there is an open afterward. Come and read with me! Check the New York poetry calendar! And thanks for your interest, C.K. in doing this interview. Your questions got me going and remembering the 70's, and reminiscing over my life, too. As Gloria Steinem said, "many of us women are becoming the "men" we wanted to marry!" Ha! That is to say, we have self-actualized and become assertive and accomplished -- what we'd hoped for, at least in some good measure.

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