Mills Alum Ariel Gore is best known for her writing and activism. Her “zine,” or self-published magazine, Hip Mama, is returning this spring after a five-year hiatus, almost exactly twenty years after the first issue was released. She’s also the author of many books, including “The Hip Mama’s Guide” and “How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead,” and she’s releasing another memoir, “The End of Eve,” due out this spring.
Her writing is political but rooted in her personal experiences; and her quick rise to the public eye after her zine Hip Mama gained a sizable readership had news outlets like the Chicago Tribune describing her as “conservative America’s worst nightmare.” Gore takes pride in this label, but needling right-wing pundits was never the point.
Her goal was to create a community of alternative families, and to give voice to her own experience – that of a single mother on welfare and without the trappings of a “traditional nuclear family.” She hoped that her experience would resonate with others, and that she might build another concept of family, based on inclusiveness and real experiences.
That’s exactly what she did, starting with her senior thesis at Mills College – a project which has bloomed into an unusual and varied career path as a writer, activist, journalist, zine publisher, and author of books which have been reviewed in publications as various as the New York Times Book Review and Cunt. She has been credited with having started the maternal feminist movement in Utne and the Baltimore City Reader.
Her experience as a mother at Mills was part of the catalyst that spurred Hip Mama. She found the childcare situation for students at Mills to be unaffordable and extremely competitive for the few slots available. It seemed to her that although Mills described itself as a women’s college concerned with women’s issues, there weren’t realistic child care options available for low-income students with children.
“At Mills, having these child care questions is so ridiculous,” Gore said. “It’s a women’s college, not a college where women happen to be. If that’s what you are, then you need to be at the forefront of these issues.”
Although there is a children’s school on campus, the number of slots available is extremely limited, and tuition can top $18,000 a year for one child. Gore fought hard for a drop-in childcare center to be formed, and she was disappointed to discover that a state school like UC Berkeley (where she attended Journalism school) was able to provide much more assistance to students with children than Mills did.
Despite the high price tag, Gore eventually enrolled her daughter in the on-campus Children’s School, which she ruefully explained as something she’s still paying off – 20 years later.
Gore’s views found a voice and a considerable following in her writing, starting with her zine and continuing to this day.
“Unlike many people who come to writing through a love of reading,” Gore said, “I came to a love of writing through a desire to express myself. I had a lot of trouble talking, and so writing was a way for me to do that, despite being so shy that I couldn’t get a sentence out.”
Her advice for aspiring writers is to trust what they’re already doing. She said that when she started submitting articles about her experiences to magazines, she was often rejected for not fitting into one genre.
“Parenting magazines would reject my articles because they weren’t just about parenting,” she said, emphasizing that many publications will deny strong pieces that simply don’t fit neatly into a single genre, perhaps spanning several at once or being outside the conventions of the moment for a given written tradition.
“If the genre doesn’t exist, then create it,” Gore said. “Creating a forum where there wasn’t one before turned out to be something really powerful. Twenty years later, I’m still living out my life’s work, which began as the first issue of a zine for my senior thesis.”
Despite challenges, the career that began as a senior thesis is still continuing 20 years later. Unfortunately, the problems that galvanized her to action about child care at Mills College continue unabated as well.