Gloria Anzaldúa “a woman who writes has power”

Gloria E. Anzaldúa (1942–2004) was a writer and scholar of feminist, queer, and Chicana cultural theory. Having grown up on the border between Texas and Mexico, her work was informed by her own experience of identity issues connected to language, culture, color, and gender roles and sexuality.

Her semiautobiographical Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987),
a collection of essays and poems, helped establish her authority in Chicana theory. To reflect the multicultural experience, it was written using two variations of English and six of Spanish. She is also known for coediting This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981) and editing Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color (1990), as well as for coediting This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation (2002). The greatest development of her philosophy is expressed in the posthumously published book Light in the Dark (2004), which was drawn from her unfinished dissertation at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She was awarded a doctorate in literature a year after her death.

One of her greatest contributions was introducing the concept of mistizaje to American academic audiences, which expresses a state of being beyond the binary. The “borderlands” that she refers to in her writing extend beyond the geographical to refer to the juxtapositions and contradictions of race, culture, religion, sexuality, and language. Among her many award-winning works, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza was recognized as one of the thirty- eight best books of 1987 by Library Journal and one of the hundred best books of the century by both Hungry Mind Review and the Utne Reader.

A woman who writes has power, and a woman with power is feared.

Gloria E. Anzaldúa

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Rebecca Solnit “Inside the word ‘emergency’ is ‘emerge’ ”

Not only is Rebecca Solnit the author of over twenty books, she is also
a historian and activist. Her books range in subject across the realms of “feminism, Western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster.” They include a trilogy of atlases plus such titles as The Mother of All Questions, Hope in the Dark, Men Explain Things to Me, and The Faraway Nearby, as well as A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster; A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, which received the Guggenheim Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award. She is also a columnist at Harper’s Magazine.

Cause-and-effect assumes history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal, and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

Roxane Gay a “bad feminist” takes on sexism, racism, and body prejudice

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Roxane Gay, born in 1974 in Omaha, Nebraska, to a family of Haitian descent, is an American professor, author, editor, and commentator. She began writing essays as a teenager; her writing was sparked by having survived a sexual assault at age twelve. Her higher education was interrupted by a relationship, but she returned to school and went on to receive a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a PhD in rhetoric and communication from Michigan Technological University. She began her academic career teaching English at Eastern Illinois University; while there, she was a contributing editor for Bluestem magazine, founded Tiny Hardcore Press, and started to produce short stories, essays, and novels. Her fiction and nonfiction explore a variety of issues and challenges relating to race, gender, and sexual identity, and also delve into privilege, body image, and the immigrant experience.

Gay’s fiction works include Ayiti, An Untamed State (2014) and her bestselling novel Difficult Women (2017), as well as two New York Times bestsellers: Bad Feminist (2014) and Hunger: A Memoir of My Body (2017). Her writings have appeared in such publications as Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and American Short Fiction. She is an opinion writer for the New York Times; she is also the author of the Marvel Black Panther spinoff comic series World of Wakanda. She is working on several books as well as a number of television and film projects and is a visiting professor at Yale University.

Some women being empowered does not prove the
patriarchy is dead.
It proves that some of us are lucky.

Roxane Gay

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

JOANNA RUSS “I’m not a girl. I’m a genius.”

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Joanna Russ was a speculative fiction novelist, reviewer, essayist, and creator of many short stories and nonfiction best known for her landmark feminist science fiction novels The Female Man (1975) and We Who Are About To (1977). She was born to two school teachers in the Bronx in 1937 and began writing and illustrating her own works of fiction at an early age. She also evinced talent in the sciences, winning a Westinghouse science prize as a high school senior in 1953 for a biology project on the growth of fungi, but later focused on literature at Cornell, where she studied with noted author Vladimir Nabokov. She graduated with a BA in 1957 and went on to Yale Drama School, where she obtained an MFA in playwriting in 1960. She taught at a number of universities including Cornell before teaching at the University of Washington, where she eventually became a full professor.

She had started reading science fiction as a teenager because she was attracted to stories of worlds “where things could be different”; in 1959, she sold her first SF story to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, where she continued as a reviewer off and on for two decades. She was briefly married to a journalist in the mid-sixties but divorced after four years. Her first novel, 1968’s Hugo- nominated Picnic on Paradise, was the first in a series depicting Alyx, a female mercenary who became an exemplar for later strong female SF protagonists; it was also some of the earliest time-travel fiction written by a female author. Russ became a leading voice in the New Wave of American science fiction, integrating the political movements of the time into her writing, particularly feminism; her writing is flavored with anger intermixed with humor and irony. Her novel And Chaos Died (1970) experimented with portraying telepathy, and she also wrote The Female Man in 1970, though it did not see print until 1975, around the time that she began to come out as a lesbian. In 1973, she won a Nebula Award for her short story “When It Changed”; her story “Souls” won both the Hugo and Locus Awards ten years later.

Concurrently, she produced influential literary criticism expressing her political insights, including 1983’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing; 1985’s Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & Perverts; To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction (1995); and her 1998 book What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism. She received retrospective Tiptree Awards in 1995 for “When It Changed” and The Female Man (1975) for exploring sex and gender in speculative fiction. In the mid- 1990s, she retired from teaching at the University of Washington due to worsening health, and in 2011, she died in Tucson after a series of strokes. Following her death, Russ was named a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master and inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. The University of Oregon maintains an archive of her papers.

There are plenty of images of women in science fiction. There are hardly any women.

Joanna Russ

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

TANITH LEE Gothic mistress of fantasy and horror

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The legendary Tanith Lee was the first woman ever to win a British Fantasy Derleth Award, for 1980’s Death’s Master, which tells the tale of Narasen, “the leopard queen of Merh.” She was also the winner of multiple World Fantasy Awards, as well as a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Horror. Her style is rich and poetic even in prose, and her work often features creative reinterpretations of such fantastical material as myths, fairytales, and vampire stories, as well as feminist themes and plots exploring alternative sexuality.

She was born in London in 1947 to two professional dancers. Because of her parents’ work, they moved frequently. Due to undiagnosed mild dyslexia, young Tanith was not functionally literate until she was about eight, when her father personally taught her to read in about a month; after that, she lost no time before starting to write at age nine. Though not well-to-do, the family maintained a large paperback collection, and she read and discussed classic works such as Dracula and Hamlet with her parents as well as taking in a great deal of current fantasy fiction. After high school, she spent a year at art school before realizing she would rather express herself through words than pictures. She worked as an assistant librarian and clerk and waited tables before trying her hand at writing professionally. In 1968, she made her first professional sale: a ninety-word vignette. She continued to work at day jobs while mostly collecting rejection slips for several years. But she went on to publish more than three hundred short stories and ninety novels, beginning with The Dragon’s Hoard (1971), a comic fantasy novel for children.

When The Birthgrave, an adult fantasy epic, was rejected by UK publishers in the mid-1970s, Lee sent it across the pond; with its mass-market publication by Daw Books, she was able to transition to full-time writing. She was prolific, producing F/SF novels for both adult and young adult readers, as well as horror, crime and spy fiction, historical fiction, and even erotica. Under the pseudonym Esther Garber, she created lesbian fiction as well. She was also a screenwriter for television and wrote four radio plays for the BBC. Throughout, her writing tended to capture the Goth sensibility of the pursuit of sensuality and freedom to the very edge.

She met writer and artist John Kaiine in 1987, and despite differences (he was nearly two decades younger and sixteen inches taller), the two of them hit it off in short order. In 1992, they married, and they continued on happily in the south of England until she passed away in his arms in 2015 after battling with cancer. She continued to write until her death, and the pair collaborated on many works, including The Blood of Roses (1990). Kaiine also created cover art for several of her books.

Due to shifts in the publishing industry, her works had a much harder time finding publishers in the 1990s, partly because they defied strict categorization. She shifted to smaller publishers and tried changing genres, and her works continued to garner positive attention from critics, but even so, the business end of publication was difficult for her until the rise of the small press movement and direct sales via the internet. Daw later undertook a reissue of twenty-two of her books. Perhaps Lee described herself best in a 1998 interview with Locus Magazine. “Writers tell stories better, because they’ve had more practice, but everyone has a book in them—yes, that old cliché. If you gave the most interesting life to a great writer, they could turn it into something wonderful. But all lives are important, all people are important, because everyone is a book. Some people just have easier access to it. We need the expressive arts, the ancient scribes, the storytellers, the priests; and that’s where I put myself: as a storyteller; not necessarily a high priestess, but certainly the storyteller.”

To wake, and not to know where, or even who you are, not even to know what you are—whether a thing with legs and arms, or a brain in the hull of a great fish—that is a strange awakening. But after awhile, uncurling in the darkness, I began to uncover myself, and I was a woman.

Tanith Lee, from The Birthgrave (1975)

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY Mists of Avalon wordsmith

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Marion Zimmer Bradley (1930–1999) was a pioneering author of fantasy, science fiction, and science fantasy. She was most famous for her goddess- centered retelling of the Arthurian legend from a female point of view in her novel Mists of Avalon, which spent four months on the New York Times bestsellers list; she was also known for her Darkover science fiction/fantasy series, the saga of a planet where human colonists develop ESP powers. Enthusiastic readers saw in her work what essayist Nancy Jesser called “one of the early manifestations of proto-feminist science fiction.” Perhaps driven by parenthood’s demands on her own life, her fiction often examined women’s attempts to find balance between a woman’s duty to herself and her obligations to others. She worked in many genres, including Gothic novels, historical fantasy, children’s books, teleplays, and lesbian novels, addressing through the characters and worlds she created such issues as gender, androgyny, sexism, homophobia, technology, alienation, and the evolution of cultures and how humans relate. Besides her Darkover and Avalon series, over four decades, she published dozens of stand-alone novels of various kinds. Paradoxically, she often denied possessing any particular talent for writing and said she’d rather edit or teach.

Born Marion Eleanor Zimmer, she grew up on a farm in Albany, New York. She had an early interest in writing and dictated poetry to her mother, historian Evelyn Parkhurst Conklin, before she learned to write; at eleven, when she found her school newspaper not to her taste, she started an alternative school paper, The Columbia Journal. In the late 1940s, she did not believe a young woman could make a living out of writing, so in a streak of practicality, she attended the state teachers’ college in Albany for a couple of years. But in 1949, she married a railroad man, Robert Alden Bradley, and left college behind. That same year, at age nineteen, she made her first sale via an amateur fiction contest, to Fantastic/Amazing Stories. The Bradleys’ son was born in 1950; meanwhile, she continued to both write short stories and try her hand at longer works. When she sold another story in 1952, this time to Vortex Science Fiction, it kicked off what she saw as her “professional” writing career; she juggled writing with the parenting and homemaking duties expected of women in the 1950s. The young family moved to Abilene, Texas, in 1959, where Marion went back to school, financing her tuition by writing romances and confessional novels.

 

In 1961, she was at last able to publish her first novel, The Door Through Space, an expansion of her 1957 short SF story “Bird of Prey.” 1962 was a banner year for Bradley, one in which she published five different books: three under her own name, including The Planet Savers, and two more under various noms de plume. The Planet Savers, which had been serialized in Amazing Science Fiction Stories in 1959, kicked off her Darkover series, which came to encompass seventeen novels under her sole authorship as well as a couple of collaboratively written works, notably including Rediscovery, written with Mercedes Lackey, and a dozen short story anthologies edited by Bradley. The Darkover saga took up much of her time through the sixties and seventies, though she also published a collection of her other short science fiction works, 1964’s The Dark Intruder and Other Stories, and several volumes of literary criticism.

1964 was the year Bradley finally finished college: She graduated from Texas’ Hardin-Simmons University with a triple bachelor’s degree in English, Spanish, and psychology; she also gained her teaching credential. But, by that time, her writing was selling sufficiently well that she ended up never using it. The Bradleys divorced; Marion wed again, this time to Walter Breen, an authority on rare coins. They had two children, moving to California in 1965, where she undertook graduate studies at UC Berkeley. She was also an early member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a historical recreation group focused on the medieval period—in fact, she came up with the name! Fellow F/SF writers Diana Paxson and Poul Anderson were also cofounders of the SCA, which is now a nonprofit with tens of thousands of members in several countries.

In the early 1950s, Bradley began to explore Western esoteric traditions, joining the Rosicrucian Order. In the late 1970s, she was active for a few years in Darkmoon Circle, a women’s goddess spirituality group that used to meet in a renovated carriage house at her Berkeley home; it has been described as “part coven, part women’s consciousness-raising [group], and part sewing circle.” But she left not long after Mists of Avalon was published, finding herself beset by people wanting her to give talks on female consciousness and asking her how much of Mists had been “channeled”—which was none of it, according to Bradley. Some members also proposed opening the group to men; she was not keen on that, as she was there in the interest of learning how to better relate to women. She and Breen separated in 1979, the year Mists of Avalon was released, but lived on the same street and continued to have business dealings until a decade later, when her former husband was charged with molesting a boy and Bradley obtained an official divorce.

 

Bradley had long considered telling the tale of Morgan Le Fay, the enchantress sister of King Arthur. When editors Judy and Lester Del Rey asked if she would write an Arthurian novel about Sir Lancelot, she said she would prefer to write about Arthur’s sister, whose name she changed to Morgaine. After they agreed to her proposal, Bradley rented a flat in London and visited a number of Arthurian sites in England in preparation for writing Mists of Avalon. In Mists, the protagonist, a priestess of an ancient Earth-centered religion, is unable to forestall the inexorable expansion of Christianity despite her mystical powers; she watches as women, previously respected in ancient tradition, become oppressed and seen as the source of original sin in patriarchal Christian teachings. In the 1990s, Bradley cowrote two prequels to Mists with author Diana Paxson; after Marion’s demise, Paxson completed the story with four more prequel volumes.

In her later years, Bradley turned more to fantasy, as in 1980’s The House Between the Worlds. She’d once trained as a singer and was a self-described “opera nut,” so she made use of operatic plotlines in Night’s Daughter (1985), a retelling of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and The Forest House (1993), based on Bellini’s Norma. Besides writing, Bradley edited magazines, including her own Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, launched in 1988, as well as seventeen years of the annual anthology Sword and Sorceress. In these, as well as by licensing anthologies of fan-created stories set in her Darkover universe, Marion encouraged numbers of new writers in the F/SF field, especially women. Her writing output became more sparse due to declining health, though she did still create some new works, like her Gothic parapsychological novels Ghostlight, Witchlight, Gravelight, and Heartlight, in the 1990s. She died in Berkeley in 1999, and her ashes were scattered at Glastonbury Tor in Cornwall. Several works by other authors continued the Darkover epic posthumously.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

MARY BAKER EDDY true believer

Mary Baker Eddy was a farm girl from Bow, New Hampshire. Born in 1821, she came from humble circumstances, belying the will and passion that would make her the author of one of the most widely read books in the world, Christian Healing, and the founder of Christian Science. She spent the first part of her life in poverty, and details about her life are obscured by carefully edited authorized biographies. We do know that she was keenly interested in spiritualism and wandered from one boarding house to another, seeking out those run by spiritualists. In the mythology propounded by Christian Science historians, these wanderings are likened to those of Christ. One difference worth noting, however, is that Mary Baker was receiving channeled information from the dead, while the Bible makes no mention that Jesus heard such ghostly voices.

She got married along the way and served as a medium on many occasions, holding active seances where long-dead loved ones appeared and her voice would change to sound like other voices. An affidavit by one Mrs. Richard Hazeltine described Mrs. Eddy’s trances: “These communications [came] through her as a medium, from the spirit of one of the Apostles or of Jesus Christ.” Mrs. Eddy soon began to practice healing and eventually went on to deny that she had ever had anything to do with spiritualism.

Her life story is a confusing series of illnesses and cures of herself and everyone in her acquaintance, seemingly. Her dedication to her beliefs was mightily compelling to others, and her theories include such ideas as the Copernican reversal of the roles of mind and matter, man being “the image and likeness of God” and therefore “not matter.” Mrs. Eddy had, along with her other talents of mediumship, the ability to convince people and to lead them. She was nothing if not charismatic. She and her book have influenced, and perhaps even healed, many hundreds of people.

Change the mind, and the quality changes. Destroy the belief and tranquility disappears.

Mary Baker Eddy

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT feminist firecracker

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Though her life was troubled and turbulent, Mary has gone down in history as a major contributor to feminist literature. Her works, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787) and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1793), are lucid and forward-thinking and are touchstones in gender studies. Born in 1759, Wollstonecraft worked for a London publisher, James Johnson, which bolstered her independence, but she left for Paris in order to see the French Revolution for herself. As a cover, she passed herself off as the daughter of American captain Gilbert Imlay, with whom she became involved, producing a daughter, Fanny. The affair broke up, and a brokenhearted Mary tried unsuccessfully to kill herself; ironically, her daughter Fanny would later succeed at suicide. She went back to London and her old publishing job in 1795. James Johnson had become involved with an extremist political group comprised of Thomas Paine, William Wordsworth, William Godwin, Thomas Holcraft, and William Blake. Mary and Godwin fell in love, and she became pregnant with her daughter Mary, who later attained enduring fame under her married name, Mary Shelley.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

BETTY FRIEDAN mother of modern feminism

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In 1956, young housewife Betty Friedan submitted her article about the frustrations women experience in their traditional roles as housewives and mothers. She received rejections from McCalls, The Ladies’ Home Journal, and every other publication she approached. The editors, all men in that day and age, were disapproving, going so far as to say any woman would have to be “sick” to not be completely satisfied in her rightful role!

But Betty knew that she and the millions of women like her were not sick, just stifled. Betty had put aside her dream of being a psychologist for fear of becoming a spinster, instead choosing to marry and work for a small newspaper. She was fired from her job when she got pregnant for the second time and began, like most middle-class women of her day and age, to devote herself full- time to the work of running a home and family, what she called “the dream life, supposedly, of American women at that time.”

But, after a decade of such devotion, she still wasn’t happy and theorized that she wasn’t alone. A graduate of Smith College, she decided to poll her fellow alumnae. Most of her classmates who had given up promising careers to devote themselves to their families felt incomplete; many were deeply depressed. They felt guilty for not being completely content sacrificing their individual dreams for their families, each woman certain that her dissatisfaction was a personal failing. Betty called this “the problem that has no name,” and she gave it one, “the feminine mystique.”

Over the next five years, her rejected article evolved into a book as she interviewed hundreds of women around the country. The Feminine Mystique explored the issue of women’s lives in depth, criticizing American advertisers’ exclusively domestic portrayal of women and issuing a call to action for women to say no to the housewife role and adopt “a new life plan” in which they could have both families and careers. With its publication in 1963, The Feminine Mystique hit America like a thunderbolt; publisher W.W. Norton had printed only two thousand copies, never anticipating the sale of three million hardcover copies alone.

Unintentionally, Betty had started a revolution. She was flooded with letters from women saying her book had given them the courage to change their lives and advocate for equal access to employment opportunities and other equality issues. Ultimately, the response to Betty’s challenge created the momentum that led to the formalization of the second wave of the US women’s movement in 1966 with the formation of NOW, the National Organization for Women.

Betty was NOW’s first president and took her role as a leader in the women’s movement seriously, traveling to give lectures and take part in campaigns for change, engendering many of the freedoms women now enjoy. She pushed for equal pay for equal work, equal job opportunities, and access to birth control and legalized abortion. In 1970, she quit NOW to fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, and in 1975, was named Humanist of the Year. Of her, author Barbara Seaman wrote, “Betty Friedan is to the women’s movement what Martin Luther King was to blacks.”

In 1981, responding to critics who claimed feminism ignored the importance of relationships and families to most women, she penned The Second Stage, in which she called on men and women to work together to make the home and the workplace havens for both genders. Betty made another revolution with her 2006 book, The Fountain of Age, raising consciousness about society’s stereotypes about aging decades after she had, as futurist Alvin Toffler so aptly put it, “pulled the trigger of history” with The Feminine Mystique. And she didn’t stop there, but went on to advocate for better balance between work and family life with her book Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family, as well as finding time to pen a memoir, Life So Far. Betty passed away at home in 2006 due to a heart attack on her eighty-fifth birthday, but her life continues to inspire women the world over.

It’s been a lot of fun making the revolution.

Betty Friedan

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

LADY MARY CHUDLEIGH

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A contemporary of Aphra Behn, Lady Mary Chudleigh wrote a verse response to British minister John Sprint, who in 1700 wrote The Bride-Woman’s Counselor, which instructed women to love, honor, and obey in no uncertain terms. Chudleigh wrote, in verse, a series including The Female Advocate; or A Plea for Just Liberty of the Tender Sex and notably Married Women and the Ladies Defense; or the Bride-Woman’s Counselor Answered. John Sprint was indeed resoundingly answered with Chudleigh’s beautifully wrought feminist rhetoric scorning the tacit rules that kept women “Debarred from knowledge, banished from the schools, And with the utmost industry bred fools,” entrapped in the “mean, low, trivial cares of life.” She exhorted women to “read and think, and think and read again.” Sadly, we know very little of her life except that she married Sir George Chudleigh and lost her children at very young ages. Her poems were crafted skillfully and with a keen intelligence and courageous idealism. Writing in 1700 and 1701, Lady Mary was well ahead of her time.

“Wife and servant are the same, But only differ in the name.”

Lady Mary Chudleigh, To the Ladies

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.