Meet the Writers, Episode #1: Donna Kaz gets Un-Masked in Her Memoir

Donna Kaz’ debut book, UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour  is the surprising 25-year journey of a young, New York City actress swept off her feet by a rising star who carries her to Malibu and back for a three-plus year love affair that is both fantastical and physically dangerous. When writersNicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman are murdered in Brentwood she hears a bell go off, awakening her angry, activist spirit. Always an outsider, she takes one step further into invisibility and becomes a Guerrilla Girl, a feminist activist who never appears in public without wearing a rubber gorilla mask and who uses the name of a dead woman artist instead of her own. Donna offers her compelling firsthand account—illuminated by more than thirty behind-the-scenes photographs, stickers and posters —of her transition from a silent observer to an unapologetic activist.

MB: Is this the book you thought you’d write for your first?

DK: When I joined the Guerrilla Girls and took a pseudonym, I never thought I would write about that experience. It was secret; it was subversive; it was daring. As a Guerrilla Girl, I promised never to reveal the identity of any other Guerrilla Girl, and I will always honor that promise. When the original Guerrilla Girls’ archives went into the Getty Museum in LA we all had to sign a form whereby we either revealed our real names or kept our real names a secret. I was told that most of the Girls chose to reveal who they were in the archives. I chose not to because at the time the archives were placed, around 2006 or so, I was still actively working as a Guerrilla Girl On Tour.

When we began informally gathering statistics in 1997, we found that less than 17% of all plays produced in the US were written by women. Now it has risen to about 20%. Change is happening but very, very slowly. So I decided that perhaps if I “unmasked” and shared the story of how a small group of women got together and used humor to fight discrimination, it might help the next generation of feminists.

But as I began to write the book, I discovered I had to go back to think about how I came to identify as a feminist. This brought up all sorts of other narratives from my life, namely how I am a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence and how those experiences had a great deal to do with the fact that when I was offered the opportunity to become a Guerrilla Girl, I jumped at the chance.

 

MB: Why tell this story? What makes the timing right?

DK: Violence against women and sexism is, unfortunately, a very big problem in our society. Women and their experiences are not believed. Read my essay “The Process of Disclosure” for more on this: http://msmagazine.com/blog/2016/12/01/the-process-of-disclosure/

For four years, my mother was battling cancer and, perhaps, that made me consider my own life and the secrets I was holding inside. I had been involved in theatre, but I felt that my story was not a play, it was a memoir. I enrolled in an MFA program and began to write. The first year everything I wrote was terrible. By the time I graduated, however, I began to understand what I was writing about – how all of the experiences in my past led me to eventually be a funny feminist artist activist. I almost stopped writing. I took out a memo pad and wrote down all the advantages I could think of to telling my story. I filled a few pages with what good might happen if I released all the secrets I held inside. After that I thought about the advantages of not telling my story. Would there any benefits of not sharing what had happened to me throughout my life? I came up with nothing. So here I am four years later with this book.

 

MB: Who should read this and why?

DK: I hope that anyone who has grappled with the question of identity and who they really are, reads it. Anyone who has experienced the feeling of being on the outside, looking in. Survivors of violence. Anyone who identifies, even if only some of the time, as an artist. I believe the urge to create is a human urge and we are all artists in some way. My story is one of growing up a woman artist, getting sidetracked by naïveté and a bad relationship, and eventually having those experiences thrust me into feminism.

 

MB: What parts if any did you struggle with … you have some difficult issues you tackle … talk about your mindset/challenges.

DK: Who to name and who to change the names of. As a Guerrilla Girl, one of our tactics was naming names. Museums, galleries and theatres that excluded work by women and artists of color were the focus of our posters. My aim with “UN/MASKED” was to always to be a truthful as possible and to write down the events of my life as best I could remember them. This meant I was going to name names. But if the person I was writing about was not integral to the truth of my experience, or if I thought naming them would not benefit my story but serve to distract from it, I changed names. I struggled with this. When I was writing the book, I tried to find as many people from my past as I could. As I researched and found people, I discovered some were no longer living, some were ill, and some I could not find. I took these factors into account when deciding whether to put real names or change names in the book. Another real challenge was to write about the most difficult and painful events from my past. I ended up writing about events I originally thought I would not touch, because they were too difficult.

 

BONUS:

MB: You’re a New Yorker, so how did you pick the Mets?

 DK:

One of the best ballparks outside and in. Great food, and who doesn’t love the Home Run Apple?

  • Consistent great pitching. Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman (my all time fav player) paved the way for Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, R.A Dickey and Matt Harvey.
  • Met. What a mascot!
  • New York has two ball clubs. You have to chose one. You are either a fan of the evil empire, aka The Yankees, or you go for the underdogs – the METS. It is a no brainer for me. My dad got me to watch the METS in 1969 when they won the World Series. The games were on at 4pm, so I would come home from school and watch with him. After the Mets won, I told my father I wanted to be a baseball player when I grew up.
  • Because watching baseball is about getting your heart yanked from your chest – and no one does that better than the METS.

 

DONNA KAZ is a multigenre writer and the author of Performing Tribute 9/11; The Wanderer; Waiting; Food, the Musical; and JOAN, voted Best Production of 2000 by the Scranton Times. Her alter ego, Aphra Behn, is a performer, a playwright, a producer, and the artistic director of Guerrilla Girls On Tour! They both live in New York City.

PUBLISHERS LINK http://skyhorsepublishing.com/titles/11543-9781510709430-un-masked