Ensler has a long-standing relationship with Ashé. In 2008, she worked with 16 local women to create the play "Swimming Upstream" as part of V to the Tenth, the 10-year anniversary of V-Day, the activist organization founded by Ensler to fight violence against women and girls. NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune reporter Chris Waddington characterized the Katrina narrative "Swimming Upstream" as a "quilt of songs, poetry, prayers, testimony and rants." For more than a year, the creators of "Swimming Upstream," including Ensler, met monthly at Ashé to develop the play.
Ensler's star rose in the mid-90s with the debut of her groundbreaking play "The Vagina Monologues." She culled material from interviews with other women, and the resulting play reveled in the culturally taboo: menstruation, feminine hygiene, a celebration of one epithet for the female sex organ, and rape. Its frank treatment of the female anatomy and experience, from a woman's changing belief that her genitalia is ugly, to the miraculous transformation of birth, earned Ensler notoriety and her fair share of criticism.
Ensler addresses the genesis of "The Vagina Monologues" in her new memoir: "I began to ask other women about their bodies, in particular their vaginas (as I sensed vaginas were important)." The birth of "The Vagina Monologues," so to speak, was in Ensler's feeling disconnected from her own body. "In the Body of the World" tracks Ensler's sense of disembodiment, from her mother's alienation and the repeated sexual assaults by her father, to her travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo (dubbed the "rape capital of the world" in 2010), and her recent fight against uterine cancer.
Much like "Swimming Upstream" was a quilt, "In the Body of the World" is a collection of what Ensler calls scans: "This book is like a CAT scan—a roving examination—capturing images, experiences, ideas, and memories, all of which began in my body ... Being cut open, catheterized, chemofied, drugged, pricked, punctured, probed, and ported made a traditional narrative impossible."
Ensler recently concluded a 19-city North American book tour, and local fans can credit the playwright's friendship and longstanding collaboration with Ashé Executive Director Carol Bebelle for the last-minute visit.