Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
The writings of Ellen Jane Willis trace the history of some of the leading social and political questions from the 1960’s through the 1990’s: popular music and culture, social and political revolution, feminism, and civil liberties. A continuing theme in her writing is the tension between individual freedom and the liberation of oppressed groups, with an attempt to maximize both wherever possible. This approach placed her squarely on the anticensorship side of the feminist debate over whether pornography or censorship is the greater problem, and she is probably best known for her writings on this question.
Willis was born in 1941. She often mentioned in her essays how unusual she felt, growing up as the daughter of a liberal Jewish police officer. After graduation from Barnard College in 1962 and two years of graduate study at Berkeley, she began writing rock criticism.
Her early writings view rock and roll as a liberating, sexually energizing force, with such figures as Bob Dylan and The Who as heroes. But by the late 1960’s, she had become more aware of the sexism and commercialism behind the music, and her writing, as in “Cultural Revolution Saved from Drowning,” an account of the Woodstock festival, reflects an effort to include this awareness without losing sight of the liberating power of the music.
In general her writing became more political, and specifically feminist, in the late 1960’s. With Shulamith...
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