Zillah Eisenstein

My writings, thoughts, and activism.

Celebratory Statements/Testimonials

Poem–Michelle Berry


I have opened for and written original poetry and song for Howard Zinn, Nikki Giovanni, Father Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Cotton, Maya Angelou and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama…but when asked if I might compose something for Zillah on this auspicious occasion…well, that particular task gave me the most pause.

I began the process by gathering hopes, memories and her many writings from my library…

I first met Zillah when she had a cast on her leg and we both posed in the nude for a local arts charity. Trust me; it’s not as juicy as it sounds.

I thought of Zillah several months ago at a reading I gave, during which a white woman asked me what I more identified with—my gender or my race— and that she was glad that I could ‘overcome’ my race. I tried to explain that they were inseparable…and then another in the room that reminded me that she had more privilege than I did. And I thought, I must make sure Zillah is at all my future readings!

But what does one say about a mind so lightning—quick or eyes that study intently and do not break their gaze—how she sees beyond seeing—how she sends such kind notes with such gorgeous handwriting and exuberance that leaps from the page!

There is only a poem I can offer—that can only scratch but a surface of the sea that is Zillah.

For Zillah


Day marked by clouds no hint of sun your magic conjures, still.
you bring truth to the spaces between us and keep us in motion, ever-vigilant,
our tongues tied

you urge speech,
and warn of the days ahead—
the manmade cancers so abundant, we will no longer give them names they will just be called:
you who have made magic, Zillah, with your great tenderness,
for you are as soft
as you are hard
you are not stone,

but you are fixed
touched as you are by mutations and sexual decoys
touched as you have been by the Great Body of Loss
So many women dismembered By cancers

And more.
So many dead children!
Such dismal grief,
yet still you rose
to breathe fire again
to clutch the hands of women everywhere, still you rose
to love fiercely
even when you yourself were barely alive still you rose
and moved across wind
with silver mind
and blazing hand

and so many urgent writings!
your philosophies
are only complicated and radical
to those who benefit entirely from patriarchy, anointed as they are by privilege.

Yours is a way of seeing
touched by blood
and against the notion of empire
sexual decoys
and globalization.
you teach that gender is relational more than biological

and write how our government seeks
to legislate women’s rights
for other nations
yet our own service women are raped by their colleagues so regularly

it is called normal. You do not mix

love with pity
nor empathy with sentimentality
for the movement has little time for the latter. as the restless sea pounds the shore
you drive us onward
against the tides
and upon the swell of hills
and the tops of mountains
where we will gather
hand in hand
to meet the dawn.
And when the mollusk,
belly-footed and exhausted
carries her last shell home,
because of you
it will leave a shape

like hope behind.

Michelle Courtney Berry

Poet Laureate Emeritus, Tompkins County

From Honoring Zillah Eisenstein, at “Newest Articulations: Anticipating Zillah.” Klinginstein Lounge, September 21, 2012.

Celebratory Statements/Testimonials

Testimonial–Miriam Brody and Isaac Kramnick


For Zillah from Isaac and Miriam


We are very pleased to share our love for a dear friend whom we’ve known for many years

But we have been mindful of the suggestion that we speak in such a way as to embrace the progressive politics of our friend..

And with that we paused, because the only language we have is the oppressor’s tongue, English, the tool of centuries of imperialist dominance.

We have a smattering of French, but that too is obviously colonially corrupted.

We coped with this injunction, therefore, by abandoning English as we know it, reaching back to the language in its infancy before its empire, the innocent uncompromised people’s “middle English” of Geoffrey Chaucer.

 So with hopes of offending no one, except perhaps lovers of literature, we freely steal his rhyme, meter and diction with the following verses describing our precious friendship:

Whan that Zillah with her flowing tresses

In the wilds of Ithaca there professes

to bathe her studentens in swich licour

Of which socialist feminism is the flowr. .


But no, we thought “this isn’t working….’: And besides middle English was contaminated with feudalism, no one’s idea of a good thing,

and so why not embrace something further on and more comprehensible…. ? Maybe Elizabethan.  And so we imagined Zillah, Hamlet-like, soliloquizing 


To be global and universal or

To be glocal and polyversal,

That is the Question


Whether it is hegemonic in the mind of some

To suffer the depredations of the master language

Or to invent syllables in the sea of meanings


And by opposing

End them


But this too we thought, isn’t quite what we want …and besides Shakespeare  wasn’t very good with women, or with race, the “noble Moor” notwithstanding

And so we were left bereft, until another Elizabethan, Sir Philip Sydney, recalled himself to us in a similar moment of writer’s block. He remembered:


Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
”Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.” 

And so we did and do:

Then it seemed so simple to say merely:  We celebrate Zillah on this special day, remembering almost forty years of friendship and we thank her for

Cooking with us

Raising our children with us


Reading what we wrote

Writing what we read

Changing what we think


Being with us in pleasure and in pain, in good times and in bad


And ecstatically and unreservedly we anticipate joyously continuing our journey through life with her and with Richard.




Celebratory Statements/Testimonials

Public Letter from Ros Petchesky:
Letter to Zillah’s Friends/Colleagues at Ithaca College on the Occasion of Her So-Called Retirement, or How to Cope Without the Queen of Counter-Fashion

Ros Petchesky

September 21, 2012

Dear Friends in Ithaca – and especially Tom, whom I want to thank for including me in this day’s festivities:


I’m sitting here in New York City trying to imagine how best to console you for what might seem, on superficial glance, to be a huge loss—for the Politics Department, Ithaca College, and many of you personally—in Zillah’s decision to retire from teaching and move on to a different kind of life.  After all, hasn’t she been the utmost exemplar among you in all things intellectual, political, ethical, culinary, athletic, medical, and, not least, fashion-related?  How will you go on?  How will you know what to think, how to interpret the elections, how to organize against racist and sexist and classist assaults, what to cook for your dinner party, and most of all, what to wear?


Well, as a close friend who has known our Zillah for probably as long or even longer than most of you, I feel it is my responsibility to guide you toward a more realistic and actually optimistic perspective in this new situation.  To start, consider the fact that Zillah has the worst sense of direction of anyone on the planet.  Now you may believe this applies only to logistics or geography, but I want to suggest Zillah’s waywardness reaches further.  First, let’s talk about intellectual directions.  When political theorists were mainly interested in familiar old boys (Rousseau, Locke, Hegel, Marx, and all that gang), Zillah had to take us through a dozen frustrating detours, through patriarchy and gender and power relations and women’s labor and so much else.  When feminist political theorists thought they had all that figured out, well of course Zillah had to go zig-zagging away to pluralize feminisms and hopelessly complicate gender with race, colonialism, global capitalism, militarism, cyberspace, sexualities, hatreds (more popularly known as “affect” these days), and Hillary.  When post-modern theorists were comfortable with their trinity of Foucault, Deleuze and Derrida, Zillah went wandering off again, confusing “real” theory with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, scientific racism, women soldiers, Chinese workers, Caster Semenya, Barack, Michelle, and Hillary again.  So I say to younger scholars who want to keep up with intellectual fashions, or who seek a secure place in your discipline and in today’s academic job market, Zillah’s example might not be your guide to success.


Or let’s take a look at politics.  Now, I realize that everyone assembled here is likely to agree that activism and engagement in the events of our world are necessary assets for political scientists and good citizens.  But how many political issues does one really have to be on top of?  And what if we crave to be in a single, easily identified political camp?  Here again, Zillah leads us in a thousand directions at once, and just when we think we’ve gotten our bearings, we’re veering off down another track.  We can be feminists who sincerely believe in gender equality and women’s empowerment, but we’d better make sure that includes women who wear hijab and recognizes “women’s bodies” as including all sizes, shapes, colors, and genitals.  We can adopt staunch anti-racist politics, but an uncompromising defense of reproductive rights for all and opposition to all kinds of gender-based violence had better be front and center in our anti-racism.  We can go door to door for Obama in Pennsylvania or Ohio, but don’t for a minute let him off the hook when it comes to drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen or forced deportations or not shutting down Guantánamo and Bagram—rather, stand up in opposition.  Actually, when Zillah is around one is ill-advised to identify with “left” or “right” or “West” or “East” or “black” or “white,” because you’ll find all these categories coming apart before your eyes (and don’t even try to call that “post-modern” or think you know what that means).  So my point here is, shouldn’t you all be breathing a sigh of relief?  Think of the endless political confusion and disorientation you’re being spared thanks to Zillah’s decision to wander off into the sun.


Finally, on the topic I know everyone thinks is where Zillah reigns supreme, clothes, let me respectfully suggest that here too fashion does have its standards.  I mean, come on, what’s with the green and purple and orange all mixed together, the alternating gigantic and teeny-tiny bags, the flounces over tights and hip-hop sneakers, or the miles of chains and beads and rings and earrings to the shoulders?  Is this polyversal, polychromatic Eisenstein-sense-of-style any kind of example to set for I.C.’s students?  How will they go out and be successful in the corporate world, where everyone knows the mandatory color scheme must never depart from various tones of beige, grey, white or black?  Isn’t there some benefit to having the paragon of counter-fashion a little less visible, a little less able to divert young bodies down dangerous and deviating paths?


Yet we can always hope that freedom from the confines of academia will change Zillah’s wanton, misguided ways.  Why, who knows? We might even find her one of these days studying religious mysticism, advocating for free T.V. dinners for all, wearing neutral-toned pants suits, or (don’t kill me on this one, Zillah) playing golf.  One never can predict with Zillah.  So take heart, Ithaca people, you might be able to reap a double advantage from Zillah’s hasty decision to flee the coop.  On the one hand, you get to unburden yourselves of the influence of dubious behaviors and ideas that will get you into trouble every time.  On the other, you can follow vicariously as Zillah leads you toward new territories and fashions neither you nor she ever dreamed you’d discover.  So don’t say good-by, say hello to Zillah anew, and in that spirit, sing with me:


HELLO ZILLAH (to the tune of “Hello, Dolly”)


Hello Zillah, well hello Zillah – we can’t wait to see your next amazing run!

Where will you stray, Zillah?  We can’t say, Zillah, but we hope you’ll take us with you

for the thrills and fun.

So keep on traveling places, invading cyberspaces, writing books and blogs that keep

our minds aglow.

We know the world needs you, hope that Obama reads you,

You’re the counter-fashion queen, health food, yoga, hot cuisine,

Zillah, we’re just saying, go girl go!

Photos of Celebration

Event at Ithaca College celebrating Zillah’s tenure.

This gallery contains 5 photos