V (Formerly Eve Ensler) Processes Her Collected Pain and Horrors Witnessed in New Book Reckoning
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The COVID-19 pandemic may have caused countless businesses and homes to close their doors to the world, but it also inspired V (formerly Eve Ensler) to open a door into her journal, poem and other written work archives.
The writer of The Vagina Monologues, 69, compiled these archives for her latest book, Reckoning. Divided into themes such as "walls," femicide, AIDS and grief, her new book asks the reader to reckon with all the pain that exists in the world — whether it is the current systemic racism prevalent in the U.S. or the country's past treatment of the AIDS epidemic — and come to an understanding of how things came to be this way and what can be changed going forward.
This isn't V's first memoir, however. In 2019, V published The Apology, a painstaking look into her childhood, ravaged by a father who sexually and physically abused her. Written from the perspective of her late father as an apology to his daughter, V tells PEOPLE writing that story "set her free."
RELATED: Eve Ensler's Father Sexually Abused Her and Never Apologized, So She Wrote 'The Apology' for Him
"As a survivor of sexual and physical abuse, I think I've been waiting for 60 years for an apology from my father. So that definitely was underlying it, the need for that reckoning and accountability," V told PEOPLE at the time of the release. "And [the need] to be released from the power that I feel like my life has been framed by for so many years."
V also discusses the abuse in Reckoning, while detailing the horrors she witnessed from women around the world, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Bosnia. Her book aims to inform readers about these atrocities, while also asking them to sit in the pain of the subjects — and then push themselves to make a change.
Through the founding of her various campaigns, most significantly One Billion Rising, which strives to end violence against all women globally, V works to change the staggering statistic that one in three women will be raped or abused in their life. Her activism, life experiences and more are explored in the latest addition to the author's impressive repertoire.
PEOPLE sat down with the Tony-award-winning author to discuss her newly published memoir.
What is your definition of reckoning?
I would say it's an accounting, it's a looking back, and it's confronting, it's acknowledging that something happened and looking into it. In some ways, it's kind of walking through the wound, which is a portal. Reckoning with something, you're coming to terms with it, you're acknowledging it happened, and you're seeing where you're responsible, and what you could have done better, what you didn't do right, what you could do in the future.
You include a lot of different stories in the book from various parts of your life. How did you go about choosing which stories you included?
I think everything really began with this story and with this decision to do this book during COVID, where those of us who were lucky enough not to have frontline jobs got locked into our houses with our thoughts and our memories and ourselves for days on end. And it really did become for me — and I think a lot of people — a kind of reckoning with our past, our childhoods, all those things.
But simultaneously, the world was literally at our fingertips and there was this massive cultural and political reckoning going on in this country, on so many different levels.
It, for me, was just reckoning in every direction. I believed it was going to be the beginning of the reckoning in this country.
In thinking about the book, it was really looking at all the things I've tried to reckon with over the course of my writing life, over these 45 years of writing, but also as an activist, as a woman, as a human being, as a person involved in political movements. And as I was reading and organizing it, the themes became clear, like of "walls." Okay, how many places have I been where there have been walls, and I've been trying to get through or get into? And femicide and AIDS, and just looking at those themes. And also how the personal and the political for me have always been the same, it's never separate. They're always linked together.
What was the message you were trying to get across?
In a country that has been terrified to face its history and own its history, we see that we are doomed to repeat it over and over again. We live in a constant cycle of trauma and more trauma, which has led us to a real crisis in this country.
I really believe that what we don't reckon with controls us and determines us. So I think a big message of the book is, as hard and as painful as reckoning is in the moment, it actually frees you to have a life where you can go on and not be constantly burdened, guilty, overwhelmed, disturbed, undone, by the past.
Sometimes reading the stories you included can make the reader feel so small and so powerless like, "All these horrible things are happening. How can I make change against all these great giants?" So how can the reader change that perspective?
We can make action, and we can make change — and the world is completely and utterly out of our control. Both those things are true.
Don't stay in the global mindset and become overwhelmed — say, "What can I do today? What is the one generous, huge act I can do that can change something today?"
I look at, being part of a movement, I look at what global solidarity is, what sisterhood feels like, what it means to be in a struggle together. And I have courage, and I have hope and I have energy.
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The author performing The Vagina Monologues
You described some of the most painful and gruesome human experiences in this book that you witnessed firsthand by speaking with women who experienced them. So after hearing stories like that, what are some areas in life in which you personally find joy amongst all this grief and pain?
I think one of the things about having the honor and privilege of sitting with people and having their stories shared with you is to know that you're in this community, you're in this communion with people. And you also see those stories, but then you also get to see those people become leaders, and dance, and share joy, and heal people, and create gardens and make magic.
I'll tell you where the most joy comes from: being in solidarity with my sisters and brothers across the planet who are rising, who are fighting back against violence, who are trying to build and create global movements and global possibility of all of us coming to understand that patriarchy is the paradigm that is killing us all. And when we come together to dismantle it, then the possibility of a real future exists.
Reckoning is on sale now.