The new book by V – the playwright formerly known as Eve Ensler – is called Reckoning. She says the word slowly, as if it’s falling downstairs, or perhaps, was pushed. During Covid, “I started to really think about what it means to reckon with things. To really face them.” Before the pandemic she’d never had the time – reckoning, she realised, requires a certain stillness. Across the world, she saw people doing the same, as inequities, cruelties, memories, were rising to the surface and forcing uncomfortable confrontations. “And then I thought, what are the things I’ve reckoned with? What are the things I’ve been doing over this lifetime? How do they connect?”
For years, Ensler was an obscure New York poet and playwright, battling addiction and working in a homeless shelter. Her life shifted in 1996, aged 35, when her play The Vagina Monologues became a theatrical phenomenon, now published in over 48 languages and performed in more than 140 countries by people such as Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey. Its success changed her in two ways. First, it gave her a new understanding of violence against women, its terrible universality, the realisation that we’re all in this together. Second, it gave her fame. Using the latter to confront the former, she launched V-Day, a global movement that’s raised millions to try to end violence against women; created a campaign which brings one billion women (the number of women estimated to be beaten or sexually assaulted during their lives) on to the streets each Valentine’s Day to protest against violence; and created City of Joy, a community built around survivors of rape and abuse in the Democratic Republic of Congo. From there, she took her place as an awkward feminist hero, sometimes scoffed at, often revered.