Today in Literary History – May 25, 1953 – “Vagina Monologues” author Eve Ensler is born

Eve Ensler, the playwright, author, performer, and feminist activist, was born in New York City on May, 25, 1953.

Ensler is best known for her groundbreaking play The Vagina Monologues. Ensler constructed the play from over 200 interviews that she conducted with women about sexual pleasure, reproductive rights, sex work, sexual violence, body image, and body awareness.

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The play generated the expected outrage of right-wing critics but it also drew criticism from other feminists who found the play’s focus on sexual violence disempowering for women.

Ensler, though, is unapologetic, saying that the reality is that women grow up in “a violent society.” She has said that, “I’m obsessed with women being violated and raped, and with incest. All of these things are deeply connected to our vaginas.”

Eve Ensler in The Vagina Monologues
Eve Ensler in The Vagina Monologues, 1996

Ensler performed the monologues herself in the original off-Broadway production that debuted on October 3, 1996.

Later, groups of famous women actors and celebrities starred in limited runs of the play. Oprah Winfrey, Glenn Close, Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Winona Ryder, Jane Fonda, Kate Winslet, and dozens of others have appeared in the play over the years.

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Jane Fonda in The Vagina Monologues

Ensler grew up in Scarsdale, a predominently Jewish middle class suburb of New York. Her father was Jewish and her mother Catholic. Ensler is now a practicing Buddhist.

From the age of five, she was sexually and physically abused by her father. Ensler’s most recent book The Apology (2019) is written in the first person voice of her father, representing what she calls “the apology I never got.”

After high school she lived in downtown Manhattan, had a series of abusive relationships and became dependent on drugs and alcohol. She then married an older man, Richard McDermott, a Greenwich Village bar owner who convinced her to go into rehab.

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Ensler and her son, actor Dylan McDermott, 2014

At the age of 23 she adopted McDermott‘s 16 year old son, Dylan McDermott, now a Golden Globe Award-winning actor to whom Ensler is  very close. She and her husband divorced in 1988.

In 2010 Ensler was diagnosed with uterine cancer and underwent a course of chemotherapy, which she wrote about in her 2013 memoir In the Body of the World, which she also adapted as a one person play in 2018.

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Ensler, 2010

Ensler has also been active over the last twenty years in V-Day, a charity which raises money and awareness for women’s issues around the world through donating money from performances of The Vagina Monologues. V-Day has raised over $100 million thus far and has opened women’s shelters and safe-houses in D. R. Congo, Haiti, Kenya, Egypt and Iraq.

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