Ellen Willis Memorial Brings Diverse, Laughing Crowd

There was a memorial service Sunday afternoon for Ellen Willis, the freewheeling essayist, rock critic, and radical feminist who died Thursday, and it filled Riverside Memorial Chapel on the Upper West Side with 500 mourners — from bearded hipsters and bohemian, black-clad women to old men in yarmulkes to fresh-faced students from NYU, where Willis was a journalism professor and founder of its Cultural Reporting and Criticism program. Willis’s husband, Stanley Aronowitz, a CUNY professor and the Green Party’s candidate for governor of New York in 2002, spoke, as did her 22-year-old daughter, Nona Willis-Aronowitz, and several others — all bringing loud bursts of laughter on the somber occasion.

Aronowitz described his wife as painfully shy but fearless and “unflinchingly honest” on the printed page — and in her blunt assessments of his writing. She valued personal freedom above of all else, he said, and considered herself something of a “pariah on the left … and a pariah to some in the women’s movement” because she was “sex-positive.” Karen Durbin, a film critic for Elle magazine who had met Willis at The New Yorker, where Willis was the first rock critic, read from a tribute she was preparing for The Village Voice. Willis’s reaction to Hillary Clinton’s landslide reelection would have been “complicated,” Durbin said just after the service. She recalled Willis’s provocative essay on Bill Clinton, “‘Tis a Pity He’s a Whore.”

Meanwhile, Willis’s young political heirs in an offshoot of Redstockings, a radical feminist group she co- founded in the late sixties, said a week before her death that they would picket Senator Clinton’s Third Avenue office a second time to demand that she introduce universal-health-care legislation. That might be the most fitting tribute.

Mary Reinholz

Earlier: Ellen Willis, 1941–2006

Ellen Willis Memorial Brings Diverse, Laughing Crowd