Program 3 Bios

Program III: Writer Activists

RITU MENON: “You must keep your destiny in your hands. Don’t let anyone else be responsible for your self-realization.” So said Ritu Menon’s grandmother, who lived with her as part of her very extended family in India. Ritu’s grandmother had been married at 12 years old, had never learned to read, and was adamant that Ritu should become a writer and journalist! Guess what – Ritu did become just that. First, she came to the United States and helped to write Kate Millett’s groundbreaking book “Sexual Politics”. Then she went back to India and founded the first feminist publishing house there, Kali for Women. She created Women Unlimited, an activist subsidiary of Kali for Women. And she has written several books herself, editing numerous other anthologies. Ritu is especially focused on the issue of censorship in India, both formal and informal censorship, as it affects women in particular.

MARIA CHRISTINA CABALLERO: At age 16, Maria Christina Caballero was already practicing her profession – as a journalist in Colombia. She wrote in El Tiempo, a Bogota newspaper, about the lack of school books for poor children, and then created a campaign to distribute books to millions of Colombian children.  She went on to become an investigative journalist concentrating on government fraud and corruption. You can imagine she had a lot of work on that topic, and she’s faced death threats and harassment because of her work. She’s also won the Pulitzer prize twice…for that same work. She received the International Press Freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists – for her work on Colombia’s ongoing, brutal drug and civil war. Maria Christina was the only journalist brave enough to journey deep into the Colombian jungle to interview the right wing death squad leader, Carlos Castano. She influenced him to make a peace proposal, which she published.

ASALE ANGEL AJANI:  Writer Asale Angel Ajani sees herself as part of the great worldwide African diaspora, and she began life in Cuba. She has ancestors from Africa, Cuba, the Netherlands, Ireland, and from Native American nations. Her first language was Spanish, and she says she still dreams in Spanish, even though she’s based in New York and writes in English. She got her degrees, including a Ph.d  in Anthropology, and was asked by a good friend to accompany her to the town of Apartado in Colombia, to work with the International Peace Community there. The International Peace Community Movement, a worldwide network that links up with the UN High Commission on Refugees, gives personal, on-the-ground support to civilians caught in armed conflicts. The Peace Community helps civilians to remain neutral, or moves them to safer places. The town of Apartado, and its mixed Afro-Colombian and Mestizo people, cracked open Asale’s heart and her desire to write…she wrote about them in her essay “We Survived”. It was featured on the Women’s World online site. Check it out. Recently Asale published her first book Strange Trade which was preceded by a book she co-wrote,  Engaged Observer, about adventures in anthropology.