The Holly Chronicles

by

Hugo Kugiya

WOMAN. For Holly Morris gender is an assignment taken with scrutiny and insoluble energy. As Seal’s editor (editorial director, the Seal Press, Seattle), Morris has produced books by and for women, be they mountain climbers, lesbian mothers, battered wives, middle managers, Web surfers or aerobic instructors. At 31 she helped make Seal one of the country’s largest publishers of feminist literature.

Switch. To television.

Her own documentary show, “Adventure Divas,” will be on television next year. ... One year ago, Morris spoke as part of a panel on alternative forms of media. Her interests already roaming, Morris was asked to predict her future. Morris said: “To cultivate or support girl-driven empires . . . There aren’t enough of them.” The audience bellowed in agreement. ...

Her world has been books. In seven years at Seal, Morris ascended from intern to editor. She is best known for editing two anthologies of fishing stories by women, Uncommon Waters and A Different Angle. Her publisher, Faith Conlon, most values her ability to mentor young writers.

“Writers are drawn to Holly because she’s very nurturing,” said Conlon, assigning a typically female characteristic. “She lets them find their way. She’s a very sensitive person. And that’s an important asset.”

Morris’ own writing appeared in Another Wilderness: New Outdoor Writing by Women, and Home Field: Nine Writers at Bat. A collection of nine essays about baseball, it was released last April.

That month Morris also announced her intention to leave Seal to produce and host Adventure Divas. ... Ironically, she does not subscribe to cable and therefore would not now be able to watch her own program. She grew up watching as much television as most American kids, but it is largely missing from her adult life. It is not because of principle as much as unintentional neglect. As a child she watched the classics, gravitating toward their strong heroines, be they Bri, whom she considered the smartest of “Charlie’s Angels,” or Christy Love, the female supercop.

“The timing is right,” she said of Divas. “There is more sensitivity to the lack of powerful images of women. And it is not too radical an idea for the mainstream.” ...

The immediate comfort Morris has in front of a camera must have come from growing up around her television reporter parents. Her delivery is organic, full of natural pauses and restraint contained in normal speech, more like National Public Radio’s Ira Glass than, say, Diane Sawyer. Morris, on air, is unimposing and earnest, able to pass chunky ideas while leaving no trace of her ego. For example:

“You know, George Clinton defined Funk like this,” Morris said in the “Divas” promo (video), seeming as if the idea was occurring to her on the spot. “He said the . . . funk is the awesome power of a fully operational mothership. And I think that’s part of what a diva is — she knows her funk and she uses it.” ...

Morris has traveled extensively, mostly for pleasure. Now that it’s her work, she questions whether she is indulging herself. The answer, after a little guilt, is yes.

“Fun gets (overlooked) in the politics,” she said. “You don’t have to be a martyr to do good things. ...

“Feminism has been all about reacting,” Morris said of the activism of earlier feminists. “Now it’s time to be proactive.”

As in run for Parliament. Make the laws, rather than protest them. Therein lies her definition of a diva. It is a word boys have not needed. Because they have words like president, astronaut and quarterback. Or wide receiver, as Morris’ father happened to be.

Morris grew up in Palatine, Illinois, the youngest of four children, an even split of boys and girls. Palatine was white America’s America, an exaggeration of average, and hometown of Ted Nugent. Kiss played the prom at Morris’ high school; so did Styx, before it became Styx.

Morris’ parents were locally famous. Her father, Johnny Morris, played for the Chicago Bears. After his playing career, he became a sports broadcaster. His visibility provided an opportunity for his wife, Jeannie Morris, to become one of the country’s first female sportswriters. She eventually wrote a biography of former bear Brian Piccolo and later, like Johnny, became a sports broadcaster. ...

When Holly was 7, Johnny and Jeannie quit their jobs, rented their house and took the family on a one-year voyage across Europe and the former Soviet Union in a Ford Econoline camper. The trip became a book by Jeannie called Adventures in the Blue Beast, which was later turned into an Emmy-winning documentary, in which Holly can be seen grudgingly scrubbing the roof of the van because “I’m the lightest.” She jokingly refers to the scrubbing as her “feminist awakening.” ...

Morris’ mission at Seal was a plurality of thought, which meant publishing books by and for Latino women, black women, Asian women, lesbian women and young women. One of Seal’s best-selling books is Listen Up, essays by women mostly in their 20s about their experiences with race, pregnancy, body image, sports, sexuality, eating disorders and violence, among others. The pieces are deeply personal and are used as classroom text. It often reads like a diary. Listen Up was an idea initiated by Morris.

“The genius of her idea was to identify that gap in literature, “ said the book’s editor, Barbara Findlen, 32, also the executive editor of Ms. magazine. ...

This generation of young women, Morris believes, is hungry for role models of all types. ... Morris’ point is that a single feminist party line no longer exists. That a cause is not as important as having one. That she does not speak for all women but that she wants all women to speak. ...

Morris’ life is generally low on material, high in experience. ... She recently learned to skydive and plans to do it once a year. She prefers that which daunts her. Snowboarding, for example. ...

The last time she snowboarded, she spent the first few hours falling at almost every turn, but more violently when she turned right. About the fifth trip down the run, after joking that she feels more comfortable with the left, Morris began to understand that optimum control is obtained by keeping her weight on the edges of the board. The center seems safe, but really gives her no control. The edge is where she finds her power.

So it is with snowboarding, and life.


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Excerpted from The Seattle Times, Pacific Magazine


"The Holly Chronicles...”

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