What do Buddhist artist Agnes Martin, Hollywood inventor Hedy Lamarr, and French-Cuban author Anaïs Nin have in common? Their names may not conjure popular recognition, and yet, for Lisa Congdon and Maria Popova, these women represent a particular breed of cultural trailblazer: female, under-appreciated, badass. They are “Reconstructionists,” as the writer-illustrator duo call them — and for the next year, they’ll be celebrated on a blog of the same name. Every Monday for 12 months, The Reconstructionists will debut a hand-painted illustration and short essay highlighting a woman from fields such as art, science, and literature. The subject needn’t be famous, but she will, as Popova, the creator of Brain Pickings, puts it, “have changed the way we define ourselves as a culture.” We spoke with Popova, and illustrator Congdon, about the inspiration behind their project.
How’d you come up with the name ‘Reconstructionist’?
Maria Popova: It’s very challenging to celebrate women without pigeonholing the project into some stereotypical and alienating feminist corner, the most dangerous part of which is the preaching-to-the-choir quality that many such projects tend to have. So when it was time to come up with a title for the project, it couldn’t be something too literal or too obvious. After sifting through hundreds of letters, diaries, autobiographies, and other writing, I suddenly remembered something Anaïs Nin had written in a 1944 diary entry — about “woman’s role in the reconstruction of the world.” It was perfect. It was the only common denominator between those women – they aren’t all artists, or all writers, or all to be expected in the pages of a tenth-grade history book. They are simply all reconstructionists.
“I’m going to sue them. I’m going to sue them for David’s livelihood. I’m going to sue them for the restaurant. I’m gonna sue them for poisoning my kids. I’m gonna sue them for poisoning me and my husband. I’m going to sue them for displacing my family. I’m going to sue them for anything and everything that we can sue them for. Bottom line: I don’t care if I don’t ever get a penny. They’re gonna have to deal with me for the rest of my life.”
“BP hasn’t made people whole. I’m not saying I’m so much worried about me, because financially, I’m okay. I’m the oldest one in the business, just about. But the youngest guys are starving to death. People are losing their homes, losing their boats, and there’s BP advertising that they’re spending millions of dollars. They’re not. They’re not making anyone whole.”
“We are not divided. It’s them that’s dividing us up, and making us feel like we’re against this other group, that the oil workers are against the green movement and the green movement are against the oil workers. They are not—they are against the oil companies. That’s a big difference. The oil companies don’t care about the oil workers.”