The Reconstructionists: A yearlong celebration of amazing women

As 2013 draws to a close, we’re taking some time to pay homage to Idealists who’ve made a commitment to doing good across 365 days. 

Portrait of Maya Angelou by Lisa Congdon

The portrait of Maya Angelou was the hardest.

Illustrator Lisa Congdon says that it was partially her struggle to capture the poet’s essence that made the finished product turn out so well.

“I was able to capture her decently in the end because in the beginning I was ready to rip it up,” she says.

But most of her portraits come out a little easier than that. Lisa paints a different one every week as part of The Reconstructionists, a yearlong collaborative art/writing/history project she started with Brain Pickings founder Maria Popova.

Every Monday in 2013, an inspiring woman has been featured on their website with a hand-painted portrait and a micro-essay about her life and work.

Named for twentieth-century novelist Anaïs Nin’s idea for “woman’s role in the reconstruction of the world,” The Reconstructionists celebrates women who have reconstructed “our understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.”

It’s featured some well-known feminist figures of the past like Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt, but many subjects—like Patty Smith, Diana Nyad, Janette Sadik-Khan, Joan Didion, and (of course) Maya Angelou—are still alive and well (and changing the world) today.

Lisa and Maria decide who they’d like to feature on a week-to-week basis depending on what’s going on in the news or in history or what’s been on their minds. With only 52 weeks in the year, they can’t pay homage to all the women they’d like to, so they focus on picking someone whose story is important to them.

“In that way it’s a personal project for us,” Lisa says.

While this is Lisa’s first time working on a collaborative project, this isn’t her first rodeo when it comes to yearlong projects. In 2010, she shared her collections through A Collection A Day, which is now a book. In 2012, she featured more of her artwork in 365 Days of Hand Lettering.

All of her yearlong art projects have been started through blogs. Lisa says she’s liked sharing The Reconstructionists this way because it’s “educational for people and low-pressure for us.”

“When you do a blog, there’s an expectation that you’re going to post every week,” she says. “It puts a self-imposed deadline and structure on personal work that might not exist otherwise.”

When asked if Lisa has a project in the works for 2014, she’s a little noncommittal.

“There are a few things stewing in my head,” she says, laughing.

What women inspire you?

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What I’m reading this fall to help me change the world

Cozy up with a book this fall (Photo Credit: Madeline Tosh, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Didn’t get the chance to dive into your summer reading list? No problem; it’s already back-to-school season, making now the perfect time to get back into the habit of curling up with a good book. For those who may need a few simple suggestions or inspiration to get started, I’ve gathered a few non-fiction titles that sparked my interest as educational reads.

From tips on how to leverage social media to change the world, to a simple feel good tale mixed with important life lessons, here are a handful of books I plan on checking out:

GirlDrive: Criss-crossing America, Redefining Feminism by Emma Bee Bernstein and Nona Willis Aronowitz

Two women, Emma Bee Bernstein and Nona Willis Aronowitz, hit the road in 2007 with an important question to ask young women: what matters to them the most. The authors describe the book as a focus on “how young women grapple with the concepts of freedom, equality, joy, ambition, sex, and love—whether they call it “feminism” or not.” GirlDrive shares the stories of 127 very diverse women through vivid photos, profiles, and diary entries, who all have more in common than expected.

You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets to Happiness by Julie Klam

Julie was thirty, single, and working part-time as an insurance clerk, wondering if she would ever meet the man of her dreams. Then she met Otto, her Boston Terrier. Even though she has made a few additions in her life — her husband and daughter –  she was surprised and delighted to find that her dogs had more wisdom to convey to her than she had ever dreamed. And caring for them has made her a better person-and completely opened her heart. You Had Me at Woof is a humorous account of how one woman discovered life’s most important lessons from her canine companions.

The Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms by Nicolette Niman

Accepting an offer to head an environmental organizations “hog campaign” took Nicolette on a odyssey into the inner workings of the factory farm industry and helped mold her transformation into a environmental lawyer who takes on the big business farming establishment. The book dives into the an industry gone awry and offers a bit of romance when she’s swept off her feet by a cattle rancher.

Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time by Claire Diaz-Ortiz

In this book, Twitter’s head of corporate innovation and philanthropy, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, shares the same strategies she offers to organizations launching cause-based campaigns through Twitter. Twitter for Good is filled with dynamic examples from initiatives around the world and practical guidelines for harnessing individual activism via Twitter as a force for social change.

Have you read any of these? What other books would you recommend?

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