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FEATURE | Summer 2015

Michele Kort,19502015

As senior editor of Ms., she shared feminist thought and action through powerful storytelling


THE  TEXT FROM MICHELE KORT’S  SISTER, Melissa,  on  the  last  Friday  in  June  read simply: “She’s gone.”

Ovarian cancer had finally succeeded in taking my friend of 40 years from me, you, her family, her circle, the world. But Michele, senior editor of Ms. for the past 13 years, lived too full and rich a life for anyone to believe she was truly gone.

For one thing, we can always read her. Michele worked with words. A gifted editor, writer and interviewer, she authored  untold  articles and essays. (I made her read every- thing  I wrote  to the point  where my first thought after being asked to compose this tribute was, How can I write it, if Michele won’t be able to edit it?) She edited books, including Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage with Audrey Bilger, and wrote an acclaimed biography  of singer-songwriter Laura  Nyro,  Soul Picnic, which she promoted around  the  country  with readings that morphed into sing-alongs of Nyro tunes.

She also lives in those who knew her because of the kind of communicator she was. She wanted you to know what she knew. She wanted  you to know feminism,  politics, popular  culture,  sports  of any stripe,  fine art (she’d interned at the Whitney Museum in the early ’70s and graduated from UCLA with a BA in art history and an MBA in arts management). And she had one of those remarkable memories  that could summon up something she read in a newspaper, book or magazine from two decades ago.

She joined  Ms. as senior  editor  back in 2003, editing nearly ever feature article you have read in the magazine since then. “Whether it was features, investigative reporting, national or global news or tributes,  what a difference Michele made for Ms.,” reflects Eleanor  Smeal, publisher during Michele’s years at Ms. “She always got it done—no matter  what the challenge an article presented—and she got it done beautifully. Her keen appreciation for the power of storytelling produced  innumerable lasting clicks or connections, creating true involvement and understanding for readers of endlessly diverse backgrounds. She rescued many a draft and assuaged the fears of many a writer. Her wit and insight created just the right headlines. I can still hear her chuckle as she produced  them,” adds Smeal.

In 2010, she added the Ms. Blog to her roster,  which has reached more than 11 million readers since its inception, mentoring young writers, helping academic contributors impact a large, general readership  and becoming  a blogger’s most enthusiastic  cheerleader when a post went viral (which  they  often  did).  As Ms. cofounder  Gloria Steinem put it: “Michele was—and is still—a connector, a kind and devoted intelligence  that connects the many different  parts  of a movement  into  an effective whole. By writing,  by editing,  by organizing  and by sharing  ideas, she wove the strands of action and thought into the whole cloth of a capacious and warming movement. God may be in the  details,  but  the  Goddess  is in connections—and Michele created them.”

Then there  were the many things  she loved that  she didn’t write about. She loved an empty space in a crowded parking lot, reading  the sports section of the newspaper cover to cover and the sighting  of (sometimes  quite obscure) celebrities. She loved throwing  huge get-togethers, where in the name of making sure no one felt alone she took her legendary party-thrower Aunt Miriam’s cue and brought strangers  together with introductions that both inflated your importance (“I’d like you to meet one of the top writers in the country”) and might also include alarmingly personal details (“She had a really horrible  boyfriend once but now she’s happy”). She loved the Ms. internship program  and mentored dozens of young women over the years. She loved making guest appearances  at university journalism  classes and starting  out every session with “If you’re a feminist, raise your hand.” She loved to say, “Being a feminist is not how other  people treat you, it’s how you treat other  people.” She loved private jokes, and she had at least one with almost everyone she knew.

And she knew many. A memorial  was held for her on June 28 at the Santa Monica Synagogue. Melissa pointed out  Michele’s knack  for  discovering  musicians  before everyone else. Her  beloved nephew,  Isaac Kort-Meade, recalled how she willed a dream of hers—sitting with him on a bench at his college campus—into reality. A throng of young  relations  agreed  she was their  coolest  cousin. Miriam Cutler,  her partner of almost 25 years, reminded us of the meaning of soulmate.

So many were in attendance that  those  who couldn’t find chairs lined the walls. It was a full house.  Michele would have loved that, too.

Margy Rochlin is an award-winning writer living in Los Angeles. She received the PEN Center USA West Literary Award in journalism and is a regular contributor to The New York Times.

Reprinted from the Summer issue of Ms. To have this issue delivered straight to your door, Apple, or Android device, join the Ms. Community.

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