|DANIELA GIOSEFFI - BIRTH-DANCING ACTIVIST,
AMERICAN BOOK AWARD WINNING AUTHOR
PIONEER FEMINIST OF THE MONTH
Daniela Gioseffi's feminist awakening began in 1961. As a civil rights intern-journalist in Selma, Alabama at WSLA-TV,
she appeared on an all black Gospel television show announcing freedom rides and sit-ins, was arrested, taken to
a jailhouse by a deputy sheriff of Montgomery County,and raped. The rapist, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, threatened
her with death for her civil rights activism. In 1966, at age 24, she had a second awakening. She almost died in
childbirth when her doctor refused to respond to her complaints about a high fever, deciding she had a urinary
tract infection. The fever was septicemia, or childbed fever.
Born in 1941 in Orange, New Jersey, Daniela grew up in Newark. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Montclair
University, and an MFA on scholarship from The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, C.U.A., Washington, D.C.,
then toured as an actress in classical dramas with The National Repertory Company out of Washington. She later
moved to New York City with her husband and daughter, where she taught Communication Arts and Creative Writing
at various institutions in the metropolitan area and gave readings and talks on her feminist poems during the late
60's and early 70's, often with other feminist poets like Audrey Lorde, Alicia Ostriker, and Marge Piercy.
Her writing began appearing in feminist poetry anthologies and in the earliest issues of MS. magazine She joined
New Feminist Talent (a feminist speakers bureau founded by Jacqui Ceballos, Jane Field and Dell Williams), and
lectured and performed on college campuses and in theatres, around the country, giving many readings to women who
identified with the themes in her poems.
She presented a one-woman show titled: The
Birth Dance of Earth: A Celebration of Women and the Earth in Poetry, Music, and Dance, wrote a treatise on The Birth Dance, otherwise known as
the belly dance, to explain that the dance of birth and fertility in ancient cultures was an ancient form of Lamaze exercise for preparation of the body for
birthing, as well as a dance of life in celebration of the female's magical ability to bring life forth from her
womb. The belly rolls of the ancient Mid-Eastern dance represented birth contractions. The so called¯ "belly
dance"¯ had become a form of burlesque women were forced to perform for sexist society. The quintessential
female dance of life was originally the female counterpoint to the typical male dance of the hunt and war, but
it had been degraded.
In 1980, Daniela's book, Earth Dancing,
Mother Nature's Oldest Rite was
published, illustrated with many ancient artifacts to demonstrate how women's rituals had been co-opted by sexist
society and turned into burlesque spectacle. Daniela toured the country giving feminist performances in which women
would join her in their ancient Dance of Life, which was featured as The New Dance of Liberation in a centerfold
of MS. magazine, 1976.
Her book of poetry, Eggs in the Lake, which celebrated women's freedom and erotic power, won
a grant from the New York State Council for the Arts. Her drama The Sea Hag in the Cave of Sleep, an homage to the crone figure of feminine wisdom, was produced at the Cubiculo Theatre
in Manhattan and won a multimedia grant award from The New York State Council for the Arts. In 1979, her satiric,
feminist novel, The Great American
Belly, was published by Doubleday
in New York and the New English Library in London, as well as in Serbo-Croation in Zagreb. It told the story of
a woman who survives divorce by birth dancing across the country while raising a child alone. Though fiction, it
is roughly based on the author's life. In 1979, Daniela toured England speaking on BBC stations from London to
Oxford to Brighton on her feminist theories of dance and ancient culture. She later joined a group of feminists
in Brooklyn Heights who worship the Goddess principle using dance as ritual.
Published in 1980, Earth Dancing,
Mother Nature's Oldest Rite, was
illustrated with many ancient artifacts to demonstrate how women's rituals had been co-opted by sexist society
and turned into burlesque spectacles. She authored Women
on War in1988, which became a women's
studies antiwar classic and won an American Book Award in 1990. Reissued in 2003 by The Feminist Press, it expounds
on the devastation of women's lives by war and a militarized economy. It has been translated into German, published
in Vienna by a feminist press and been in print for over 25 years.
In 1993, Daniela edited On Prejudice:
A Global Perspective with an introduction
on the dynamics of prejudice from sexism to racism to xenophobia. It won a World Peace Award from the Ploughshares
Fund and was presented at the United Nations by The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. "It
was translated into Japanese and published in Tokyo."
Recently she was given the $1,000 John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry; a Lifetime Achievement
Award from The Association of American Educators, and the a N.Y. State Literary Award. Her recent book of poetry
is Blood Autumn, and she just completed a biographical novel on the life
of Emily Dickinson. Titled Wild Night,
Wild Nights after Dickinson's poem,
it dispels myth that has surrounded the iconic American poet, bringing her to light as a full-bodied woman of strong
and rebellious intellect.
In 2002, Gioseffi's verse was chosen to be etched in marble on a wall of Penn Station's 7th Ave. Concourse with
that of Walt Whitman. She is currently working on a memoir of her life as a feminist activist.
(left: close-up of Penn Station Wall)
E-mail her: firstname.lastname@example.org
PEN AMERICAN CENTER: www.pen.org
PODCAST: The Poet and the Poem, Library of Congress Radio Show
Comments to Jacqui Ceballos: email@example.com
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