Ms Ensler left home after graduating high school to attend Middlebury College in Vermont (the first school in the US to grant bachelor degrees to African-Americans). She graduated successfully in 1975, but had already developed addiction problems with drugs and alcohol. Her undergraduate thesis, in suicide as depicted in contemporary poetry, was an attempt to deal with her childhood trauma and the problems which arose through it.
During Ms Ensler’s time at college she met Richard McDermott, a bar owner, and with his support she broke free from her addiction, and the couple married in 1978. Ms Ensler formally adopted Mr McDermott’s two children, one of whom was to become the actor Dylan McDermott. The marriage ended in 1988 but Ms Ensler and Dylan maintained a close relationship; she would encourage his acting ambitions and wrote parts for him in her plays.
Ms Ensler’s early experiences led her to become a vociferous campaigner against violence perpetuated against women. She began writing plays when she married but it was not until she wrote The Vagina Monologues in 1996 that her career took off. The play was designed to celebrate the strength of women and remove the gender-based taboos society places around sexuality and the female body. Since publication it has been translated into over 48 languages and performed worldwide in over 140 countries. In 1997 the play won the Obie Award for best new play and in the same year she herself was awarded the Berilla-Kerr Award in Playwriting. In 1999 Ms Ensler won the Guggenheim Fellowship Award in Playwriting.
Ms Ensler found that women would approach her with their own stories of victimization, of sexual oppression and suffering violence. This inspired her to create ‘V-Day’ on 14th February 1998, intended as a educative and activist organization to campaign against violence against women, providing resources and support to those who have been victimized and to prevent the perpetuation of violence. The Vagina Monologues is performed at worldwide annual benefits concerts in aid of V-Day. The organization has raised over $85million so far, opening and maintaining shelters, projects and educational programmes across the globe.
Ms Ensler is also a supporter of a variety of international organizations; in 2004 she took part in protests aimed at persuading the Mexican government to reopen investigations into the murders of hundreds of women in Cuidad Juarez, on the border. Ms Ensler has organized and supported groups such as RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) and through V-Day has helped fund shelters for women in the Republic of Congo. In 1998 she founded and continues to lead a writing group at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Westchester County, New York.
In 2011 Ms Ensler was awarded the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award, an honor given to those of the artistic industry who have made a substantial contribution to the betterment of society. In the same year she was nominated as one of (USA) Newsweek’s 150 women who changed the world, and (United Kingdom) The Guardian’s 100 most influential people.
In 2012 through V-Day Ms Ensler was instrumental in founding One Billion Rising; held on 14th February this is a day of action held in over 200 countries seeking to end gender-based violence. It is intended to be an annual event, until its aims have been met. Ms Ensler continues to write and to campaign.
· The Depot (1986)
· Cinderella/Cendrillon (1989)
· Floating Rhoda and the Glue Man (1993)
· Lemonade (1995)
· Extraordinary Measures (1995)
· The Vagina Monologues (1996)
· Conviction (1999)
· Necessary Targets (2001)
· The Good Body (2004)
· In Treatment (2006)
· Necessary Targets: Stories of Women and War (2011)
· A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer (2006)
· Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security Obsessed World (2006)
· Vagina Warriors (2005 – in aid of V-Day)
· I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World (2010)
· In the Body of the World: A Memoir (May 2013)
· The Vagina Monologues (2002) – Writer
· Fear No More: Stop Violence Against Women (2002) - Interviewee
· What I Want My Words to Do to You: Voices From Inside a Women's Maximum Security Prison (2003) - Producer
The Columbia Encyclopaedia of Modern Writing
Blog by Tina Price-Johnson