“At school, tall and bookish, I failed hopelessly at all that conventional fifties nonsense. My reaction was to go in the other direction, to rebel, for example, by dying my hair bright purple decades before punk rockers adopted the fashion. Our school uniform was bottle-green; I must have looked a treat.”
This is an excerpt from Trouble: Evolution of a Radical, Selected Writings 1970–2010 by Kate Jennings (Black Inc, 2010), a collection of non-fiction to accompany a lifetime of Jennings’s poetry and fiction – the semi-autobiographical Moral Hazard (2002) perhaps being her best known.
Jennings, who died in May at the age of 72, was a woman of singular intellect, a writer who wielded her pen like a sword, and an activist who believed fiercely in human rights and women’s rights. She moved to the US in 1970s, but not before editing Mother I’m Rooted, an anthology of women poets that caused a controversy that is difficult to parse now that many of the changes Jennings and her peers were fighting for have been won.
Jennings’ radicalism evolved with time. She was as capable of skewering the left for its hypocrisies as she was the right, invariably frustrated with criticisms of capitalism that didn’t also offer rational economic improvements.
Jennings was as fearless as she was unpredictable. At an anti-Vietnam War rally at Sydney University in 1970, she spoke with passion about the number of women dying from illegal abortions, making a comparison to the number of men who had died in Vietnam. It was as shocking as it was true, and it is thanks to this unassailable commitment to truth that her legacy lives on.