Part III of Rita Banerjee’s essay “The Female Gaze” debuts in PANK Magazine

Photo still of Zowa and Ariane, a French couple from Burning Down the Louvre (2022), a documentary film about race, tribalism, and intimacy in the United States and in France.

The third and final part of Rita Banerjee’s essay, “The Female Gaze,” an excerpt from her new memoir and manifesto on how young women of color keep their cool against social, sexual, and economic pressure debuts in PANK Magazine today.

In Part 3 of “The Female Gaze,” Banerjee writes:

III. I see you seeing me

In Town Bloody Hall, Germaine Greer engages in a battle of wills and wits with Norman Mailer as he argues that men are merely passive slaves to women, who are the ones who really hold power, in The Prisoner of Sex.

            The debate takes place at NYU in 1971.

            In the film, Mailer introduces Greer as the “lady writer” from “England,” although Greer is clearly exhibiting an Australian accent and despises the term “lady” to qualify anything.

            Her fur stole drags on the floor as she responds to Mailer:

            “I turned to the function of women vis-à-vis art as we know it. And I found that it fell into two parts. That we were either low, sloppy creatures or menials, or we were goddesses, or worse of all, we were meant to be both, which meant that we broke our hearts trying to keep our aprons clean.”

            Mailer doesn’t look up, Greer doesn’t pause:

            “I turned for some information to Freud. Treating Freud’s description of the artist as an ad hoc description of the psyche of the artist in our society, and not in any way as an eternal pronouncement about what art might mean. And what Freud said, of course, has irritated many artists who’ve had the misfortune to see it: He longs to attain to honor, power, riches, fame, and the love of women but he lacks the means of achieving these gratifications.”

            Greer pronounces the words and the camera settles on Mailer’s worried face. The audience chuckles at his unease. She does not stop:

            “As an eccentric little girl who thought it might be worthwhile, after all, to be a poet, coming across these words for the first time, was a severe check. The blandness of Freud’s assumption that the artist was a man sent me back into myself to consider whether or not the proposition was reversible. Could a female artist be driven by the desire for riches, fame, and the love of men?

Read “The Female Gaze” (Part 3) on PANK Magazine here.

Part II of Rita Banerjee’s essay “The Female Gaze” debuts in PANK Magazine

The second part of Rita Banerjee’s essay, “The Female Gaze,” an excerpt from her new memoir and manifesto on how young women of color keep their cool against social, sexual, and economic pressure debuts in PANK Magazine today.

In Part 2 of “The Female Gaze,” Banerjee writes:

II.  Be an Object of the Gaze

In Le deuxième sexe, Simone de Beauvoir throws down the gauntlet: On ne naît pas femme: on le devient.  One is not born a woman: one becomes it.

            Whatever it is or was or could be—female, feminine, feminist, second, subaltern, subordinate, submissive, other sex—Beauvoir asserts that an individual is actively trained, educated, and thus, indoctrinated on how to perform the role of the woman and eventually become it (neutered, masculine category).  La femme est une autre.  La femme est l’Autre.  Je suis l’ Autre.  The woman is an Other.  The woman is the Other.  I am the Other.  What did Rimbaud know?  Je est un Autre.  Godard, too, when he exclaimed, Une femme est une femme?  Is a woman just a woman?  Who makes a woman?  You?  Me?  Society?  A man?”

Read “The Female Gaze” (Part 2) on PANK Magazine here.

Rita Banerjee’s essay “The Female Gaze” debuts in PANK Magazine

Happy Lunar New Year! Today Rita Banerjee’s essay “The Female Gaze” debuts in PANK Magazine. “The Female Gaze,” an essay in three parts, is an excerpt from Rita Banerjee’s new memoir and manifesto on how young women of color keep their cool against social, sexual, and economic pressure.  In her essay exploring the female gaze, female agency, and female cool, Banerjee asks:

What if women, especially women of color, were the progenitors of cool?  That is, did women have to cultivate their own cool—their own sense of style, creative expression, and coldness—in order to survive patriarchy across millennia across cultures? If the male gaze aims subordinate and colonize, what does the female gaze, tempered by cool, desire?  What does the female gaze cherish or hold dear?  If a woman were fully aware of her gaze, would she use it to objectify and colonize, or could her gaze destabilize and decolonize?

Cover Image of Tripti Chakravarty’s memoir, Duur Nikat, Nikat Duur (i.e. Distant: Nearby, Nearby: far-away; Dey’s Publishing, 1995).

In Part 1 of “The Female Gaze,” Banerjee writes:

In 2016, at a master class at the Toronto International Film Festival, Jill Soloway, the director and producer of Transparent who recently comes out as transgender, tackles Laura Mulvey’s famous and electrifying essay, “Visual Cinema and Narrative Pleasure.”  In 1975, Mulvey introduces the term “male gaze” and describes how scopophilia fetishizes the female body on screen and transforms a woman into an object of pleasure, voyeurism, and eroticism for the male viewer. 

            Soloway wonders if the female gaze is simply the opposite of the male gaze.  That is, is the female gaze simply “visual arts and literature depicting the world and men from a feminine point of view, presenting men as objects of female pleasure?”

            Soloway digs further.  The female gaze might actually have an identity of its own.  An independence, an agency.  “The female gaze might be…

I. A way of feeling and seeing, which tries to get inside the protagonist especially when the protagonist is not cis-male.  A subjective camera.  Reclaiming the body and using it as a tool of the self with intention to communicating a feeling-seeing.
II. Demonstrate how it feels to be the object of the gaze.
III. Return the gaze.  Daring to say, ‘I see you seeing me.’”

Read “The Female Gaze” (Part 1) on PANK Magazine here.

Rita Banerjee and Shanta Lee Gander Discuss Creativity & Writing in New Podcast

Visual artist and poet Shanta Lee Gander and multi-genre author Rita Banerjee sit down to talk about creativity, writing across genres, knitting, music & jamming, and what sparks joy during the pandemic in Shanta Lee Gander’s new podcast from her new series “YET…Conversations About Bringing Art Into the World.”

This premiere podcast from the latest issue of “YET…Conversations About Bringing Art Into the World,” a monthly newsletter that offers a behind-the-scenes of creating as we talk with creatives around the world. The January issue features Rita Banerjee who is a writer across many different genres including her work on an upcoming documentary, Burning Down the Louvre. In our first audio interview, Shanta Lee talks with Rita about the things that take hold of us and call us to create, some details about what it has been like to branch out into documentary filmmaking, how to continue to keep the fire going when one creates across so many different areas, and more. To learn more about the newsletter or sign up, visit: Shantaleegander.com.

About the authors:

Shanta Lee Gander is a visual artist, poet, and prose writer based in Vermont. She is co-author with her husband MacLean C. Gander of Ghosts of Cuba: An Interracial Couple’s Exploration of Cuba in the Age of Trump—Told in Images & Words (forthcoming). She has an MBA from the University of Hartford and an undergraduate degree in Women, Gender and Sexuality from Trinity College, and is completing her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction and Poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her exhibition Dark Goddess combines  cultural anthropology, photography, and an individual’s personal vision as it relates to unearthing deeper aspects of the goddess. The Dark Goddess exhibition was featured at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, VT as a solo show from August 7 – September 26, 2021  and will be at the Fleming Museum of Art, February – May 2022.

Rita Banerjee is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Co-Director of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing program at LIU Brooklyn. She is the author of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, Echo in Four Beats, the novella “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps, and Cracklers at Night. Her work appears in Hunger Mountain, Isele, Nat. Brut., Poets & Writers, Academy of American Poets, Los Angeles Review of Books, Vermont Public Radio, and elsewhere. She is a co-writer of Burning Down the Louvre (2022), a documentary film about race, intimacy, and tribalism in the United States and in France. She received a 2021-2022 Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council for her new memoir and manifesto on female cool, and one of the opening chapters of this new memoir, “Birth of Cool” was a Notable Essay in the 2020 Best American Essays. You can follow her work at ritabanerjee.com or on Twitter @Rita_Banerjee!

The Vermont Arts Council awards Rita Banerjee a Creation Grant for her new memoir and manifesto on female cool

The Vermont Art Council announces that Rita Banerjee is among the 23 outstanding writers and artists who received a Creation Grant, one of its most sought-after award this year. The grant is funded in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, state, and private donors. Banerjee received a Creation Grant to support the creation of her memoir and manifesto of how female “cool” subverts social, sexual, and economic pressure. Recently, one of the opening chapters of Banerjee’s book “Birth of Cool” was named a Notable Essay in the Best American Essays 2020. Here is more information about her memoir-in-progress:

In Rita Banerjee’s new memoir and manifesto, she demonstrates that for women, and especially young women of color, keeping one’s cool is a psychic shield against social trauma.  Cultivating female cool is what allows women to subvert social, sexual, and economic pressure.  The memoir follows Banerjee as she keeps her cool through 9/11, the 2008 and 2020 stock market crashes, #MeToo, Trumpism, and the pandemic, and in doing so, finds her own agency and self-expression.

Among this year’s Creation Grant winning proposals are works that span visual arts, literary arts, dance, music, film, and multidisciplinary fields, including a music video exploring unjust land ownership for African Americans; a nonfiction book tracing five generations beginning in Iran and ending in Vermont; a tintype photography series capturing Vermont women and aging; and several works exploring social justice themes.

Artistic excellence is the most important criteria in evaluating an application for this highly competitive award. A record 202 applications were received for the FY2022 program, collectively requesting a total of $808,000.

The Council typically has funding to support approximately 12-15% of requests for the annual grant. But thanks to the Vermont Community Foundation’s Arts Endowment Fund, along with generous contributions from Vermont Performance Lab and individual donors, the Council was able to provide eight additional Creation Grants this year.

Recipients were selected by two independent panels comprised of 28 practicing Vermont artists and arts professionals. Applicants could submit audio or video files for their proposals in place of written applications.

“The range of artistic talent in Vermont takes my breath away,” said Vermont Arts Council Executive Director Karen Mittelman. “We are pleased that new partnerships and generous private donations — so vital in this pandemic year — have enabled us to support the creative endeavors of twenty-three outstanding artists.”

For more information about the Creation Grant program, visit https://www.vermontartscouncil.org/grants/artists/creation

Rita Banerjee’s “Birth of Cool” about 9/11 named Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2020

Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool,” which appeared in the Silence & Power issue of Hunger Mountain, was recently named a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2020 edited by André Aciman.

“Birth of Cool” is a braided essay about 9/11, love, coolness, and the death of her grandfather, her first icon of “cool.” In “Birth of Cool,” Rita Banerjee examines her growing infatuation with everything styled and aestheticized. She investigates how 9/11 signaled the death of irony, but not of cool, which she imparts from her idols, from Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix to MTV and Jon Stewart. In “Birth of Cool,” Banerjee explains why she chose a life of aesthetics, style, and emotional distance over that of politics, righteousness, and explicit social engagement.  In this essay, she confronts her own agency and observes how her own sense of cool is birthed as a coping mechanism against social trauma.

You can read “Birth of Cool” online on Hunger Mountain here:
https://hungermtn.org/birth-of-cool-rita-banerjee/

You can read the print version of “Birth of Cool” by order Hunger Mountain, Issue 23: Silence & Power here: https://hungermtn.submittable.com/submit/68385/purchase-back-issue

Rita Banerjee joins the South Asian Avant-Garde as an Editor-at-Large

Rita Banerjee joins the South Asian Avant-Garde, an international collective of South Asian artists, writers, designers, filmmakers, and activists, as an Editor-at-Large. The SAAG Collective is currently producing the South Asian Avant-Garde: A Dissident Literary Anthology, a forthcoming anthology that features dissident fiction, essays, journalism, plays, poetry, and hybrid, multimedia work. It reclaims radical traditions that have long been excised from South Asian histories, and forges new communities and reinforces necessary solidarities. The digital platform allows work to travel everywhere South Asians live and practice.

In terms of its mission, SAAG states:

“Transgression, experimentation, and true radicalism are rare and expensive in a world structured around majoritarian consensus, conformity, and party-line loyalism. This is especially true for minority voices, who are routinely devalued. We must value creative labor, no excuses. Your support will go directly to the multitude of writers and artists who will be contributing to this project. In our shared commitment to respect creative labor, we’re happy to be partnering with the Asian American Writer’s Workshop, whilst reaching South Asians everywhere.”

To support the South Asian Avant-Garde, please consider donating to the SAAG Collective, or supporting the organization, its artists, writers, and activists through the artwork, books, and other items they have created on the SAAG Perks page here.

Every donation brings us closer to amplifying South Asian voices that are imagining and building better and freer futures for us all.

Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool” will be featured on Goddard’s “Bon Mot” Radio Program on 91.1 / 91.7 FM Vermont – February 28, 2021, 5-6:30 pm EST

Rita Banerjee will be be featured on Goddard College’s “Bon Mot” radio program from 5-6:30 pm EST on Sunday, February 28, 2021.  The radio program will air on 91.1 and 91.7 FM Vermont. The show is hosted by Rick Argan, and Banerjee will be be reading from her poetry collection Echo in Four Beats and her essay “Birth of Cool” from her new nonfiction manuscript on race, sex, politics, and cool.  The show can be live-streamed here: http://www.wgdr.org/ or listened to via podcast archive here: http://archive.wgdr.org/

Check our her essay “Birth of Cool” from her new nonfiction book on Hunger Mountain here: https://hungermtn.org/birth-of-cool-rita-banerjee/

Iterant 2 feat. Rita Banerjee’s Poetry & Flash Essay Launches


The Ruth Stone Foundation just launched its second issue of Iterant,  an interactive multi-media poetry and prose journal.  The October 2020 issue of Iterant, “But We Keep Fighting” features the poetry, prose, audio recordings, and art of Anne Carson,  Matthew Zapruder, Timothy Liu, Sharon Olds, Dara Weir, Charles Mason III, and Rita Banerjee among other poets and artists.

Rita Banerjee’s poems “String Theory” and “Sunlight over Reyjkavík” and her essay “Of Delight” are featured in the new issue of Iterant. Check out her writing here, and check out the audio recordings of her poems and prose here.

Here’s is a short excerpt from the poem “String Theory”:

… but like a child learning to speak
or a visitor in a foreign language, I blended the sounds
of their names together. Each hue was a mirage—

a trick of light, a fascination. Each fired
an unpredictable rhythm of cones and cylinders
in the eye. If color was biological, automatic,
mechanical, what sense could the eye hold?

Read more here.

Many thanks to Walter and Bianca Stone for their incredible editorial support and curation of this new issue of Iterant.

Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool” on 9/11 and a generation coming of age and keeping its cool debuts in Hunger Mountain

18 years and 12 hours ago, Rita Banerjee was in the middle of a generation coming of age and witnessing 9/11. Her essay “Birth of Cool” captures how a generation of young people watched 9/11 and kept their cool.

An excerpt from “Birth of Cool,” which debuts in Hunger Mountain (Issue 23: Silence & Power) follows below:

Lauren played her Gibson on the phone for me. Voodoo Child. Learning Hendrix one blistered finger at a time. Stairway to Heaven. A poster of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant hung on her bedroom wall. Plant made love to the microphone in his too-tight jeans and denim jacket. His threads hadn’t been washed in decades. Neither had he. His hair was a total mess: wastrel, lion, drunken boat. His stance suggested everything hot and sticky and full of sweat. Plant sang as if his life depended on it. As if Page were a living siren: all dark curls and velvet. Soft everywhere. And cool where it mattered. Who was the devil and who the angel here? Their hair, their dishabille, their guitar riffs, their primal screams. What were Plant and Page selling to us, neo-nostalgic teens of the ’90s? Was it sex or something else? A taste of barely contained passion or total apathy? Whatever it was, it became the object of our attraction, our envy. Could a woman ever be so decadent? So illustrious? So free?

Lauren bent over her guitar and strummed, as if she were searching for an answer, as if the metallic edge of her Gibson could vibrate to the right pitch of cool. Her mom had immigrated from Hong Kong and her dad came from nowhere Zen, New Jersey. They spoke Cantonese on the phone together when they wanted to keep their secrets secret. But Lauren, always listening when she shouldn’t have, found out that her mother was pregnant anyway. Her father played in garage bands. He was born with an electric guitar. And so was she. When our history teacher went around the class and asked what kind of music do you listen to? I said, “Garbage,” and Lauren, “Hendrix.”

At her sweet sixteen, we sang “Landslide,” in an improvised, acoustic harmony. Her living room, surrounded by turn-of-the-century Qing chests and miniature lacquered paintings, felt like a recording studio that afternoon. Red cushions, low lights, and dark walnut furniture. A makeshift cabaret for a bunch of girls, barely legal. Gillian with her dark hair and half-smile, belting out the lyrics louder than anyone else. As if she were Stevie Nicks, herself, and knew the truth about pain. Her parents had divorced. Ours just seemed to fight all the time. So Gillian held the honor of being part mystic, part witch in our tribe.

At another sweet sixteen, Maddy sang, “I Will Survive,” and we girls danced primitive, like women, as if our lives depended on it. What heartaches had we experienced? What did we know about life at sixteen? Most of us hadn’t seriously been in love yet. With a man or a woman. We were just beginning to learn what it meant to come of age. To gaze into the future. To gaze back, an old crone, towards all the mistakes and milestones of our life. And what we saw, at sixteen, frightened us. We were experienced. We sang Fleetwood Mac, Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin together in Lauren’s living room, as if classic rock could keep the future at bay. As if these staged rebels in their infinite costumes, postures, and expressions of cool could save us. Save us from becoming adults. Save us from becoming women. Save us from a million taboos and stigmas and haunting forms of socialization.

“Darling go make it happen,” Lauren’s voice picked up tempo on the phone, “take the world in a love embrace.” Her guitar kept up the song’s dirty rhythm and twanged just when it mattered. I tried to impress her by playing back Joplin, Brubeck, Bach, Beethoven, Yann Tiersen, different time signatures, and chord progressions on the piano. In the ’90s, we spent so many afternoons like that. On the second line just for us: chatterboxes, klutzes, not yet agents of our lives. Girls. Our songs fused and interrogated one another. They hardly made sense. But that’s how we were. She and me. Latchkey kids. Part-time musicians. Like a true nature’s child. Our jams short-circuited every style in history.

To read the full essay, order a copy of Hunger Mountain or visit their website here.