V, formerly Eve Ensler, on book Reckoning, writing and activism

V, formerly Eve Ensler, on book Reckoning, writing and activism

A candid conversation on writing, survival, and empathy

by Suswati Basu
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V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, is a renowned playwright, activist, and author known for her groundbreaking work, “The Vagina Monologues.” In a recent conversation with comedian and presenter Sandi Toksvig at The Trouble Club, V opened up about her life’s work and her new book, “Reckoning: Writing into Existence.” The discussion touched on her writing as a form of survival, empathy, and her experiences as in Palestine and Israel.

Trigger warning: This article contains themes of sexual violence.

V, formerly known as Eve Ensler in conversation with Sandi Toksvig at The Trouble Club.

Why does Eve Ensler go by V?

According to her website, following the publication of her book "The Apology" in 2019, in which she courageously detailed the sexual and physical abuse inflicted upon her by her late father, the author made a significant decision. V chose to distance herself from the surname Ensler associated with her father and expressed her preference to be referred to solely as V.

V's revolutionary production, "The Vagina Monologues," premiered in New York in 1996, garnering an Obie award in 1997. Since its debut, the show has achieved extraordinary acclaim, transcending borders by being translated into 35 languages and captivating audiences through performances across the globe.

Writing as survival

V revealed that writing has been her lifeline since childhood, a way to cope with the traumas she endured. She explained, “I think when I was younger, so many terrible things were happening around me and to me that I didn’t know how to survive. I really didn’t know how to keep my brain together and my heart together.” Writing allowed her to create another world and give voice to her experiences.

“I think writing very early on became a way of creating almost an alternative persona where I could begin to express and try to understand and trying to give voice to what was happening to me. And somehow, if I could do that, I could live.”

V, “Reckoning” Author

Her 2019 book “The Apology” was written by V from her father’s point of view in the words she longed to hear, in a bid to transform the abuse she suffered with unflinching truthfulness, compassion and an expansive vision for the future.

More from The Trouble Club: The List by Yomi Adegoke explores justice in the digital age

Toksvig asked V if writing allowed her to adopt an outsider’s perspective on her traumatic experiences. V affirmed this, saying, “I think I used to do this thing when my father would be very drunk… I would give myself instructions, and in a way, that’s kind of what happened in writing. It was the place my father couldn’t touch. He couldn’t get near it.”

Finding truth in writing

V shared her belief that every feeling that enters the body is political, emphasising that there is no hierarchy of suffering. She discussed her experiences listening to women’s stories in Bosnian refugee camps, highlighting the importance of connecting and empathising with their experiences. “Inside every trauma is the story of every trauma, inside every abuse is a story of all abuses,” she said.

“So, for me, sitting in, a Bosnian camp of women who have just been returned […] I know what it is to be raped by people who once loved you, who were your community, who have now turned against you. I know what it is to feel abandoned and bereft and no one’s coming for you.”

V, “Reckoning” Author

With these experiences, she also stressed the significance of truly seeing and hearing people, recounting her experiences working in a shelter for homeless women. She believes that anyone could face homelessness, and that it’s essential to recognise the shared humanity in their stories.

Addressing global issues

V expressed deep appreciation for being asked to write the play titled “Here,” a powerful narrative that delves into the complexities of a couple living in a house when another couple claims ownership, paralleling the contentious situation in Palestine and Israel where settlers displace people from their homes.

Read: Hiba Kamal Abu Nada: Palestinian poet killed in Gaza

“We don’t pay attention. And things come to these explosive, explosive moments. And all I know, and I just can say this, and I have to say this out loud, I cannot tolerate. I will not tolerate bombs dropping on children and women and blowing them up in rubble.”

V, “Reckoning” Author

Having visited Palestine and Israel on multiple occasions, V acknowledged the difficulty of discussing the conflict without stirring emotions. Her profound sorrow stemmed from the collective failure to pay attention to ongoing suffering until it reaches a breaking point. She highlighted the dire conditions faced by Palestinians, from confinement in Gaza’s open-air prisons to limited voting rights, job opportunities, and freedom of movement, living under the shadow of apartheid. her passionate plea reiterated the urgency of recognising and addressing these issues, vehemently rejecting the violence inflicted upon innocent children and women as bombs turn homes into rubble.

The power of nature

V reflected on her transition from a city-dweller to embracing the countryside, a transformative experience that she described as profoundly shamanic. Having spent over four decades in New York, she initially harboured a disdain for trees, even swearing off them after leaving college in Vermont. However, her perspective shifted dramatically when she faced a severe illness, enduring nine months of physical and emotional challenges. During her hospital stay, she found solace in a tree outside her window, an unexpected connection that altered her life’s course. As she observed the tree’s daily changes, from bark to branches to blossoming white flowers, she realised that her disconnect from nature and the earth had contributed to her struggles. It was akin to waking up next to a once-beloved partner and suddenly finding them intolerable. This awakening prompted her to divorce New York and embrace a life in the countryside.

V’s relocation to the rural environment offered her a profound connection to the earth, where she now woke, touched, and lay upon the land. She thought about how our separation from nature contributes to various forms of illness, both physical and spiritual. She spoke of the therapeutic value of allowing one’s emotions to mingle with the earth, turning them into compost for growth and renewal. V expressed deep gratitude to cancer, as it served as the catalyst that reconnected her with the magnificent creation of the Earth.

In this candid conversation, V’s words serve as a reminder of the power of storytelling and genuine connection in fostering understanding and change in a deeply divided world.

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