I was a cub reporter in Minneapolis — the city where she’d cut her journalistic teeth a couple of decades earlier — when I first met Molly Ivins. It was one of those damp blue Midwestern early summer days, and we sat outside the clubhouse where she’d just given a reading, on wrought-iron chairs that she made look like doll furniture. She was tall, and incredibly red-headed, and the biggest personality I’d ever met; also gentle, and funny, and patient as I fumbled with my microphone and asked starstruck questions about her life, her politics, and the town we’d both covered. We compared notes about how remarkably venal and corrupt a city run by supposedly squeaky-clean Democrats could be when given half a chance, which having come of age in the Reagan years I’d somehow been too naive to expect. Mostly, though, I didn’t say anything: I just drank up what it was like to see a woman be sharply political and yet uproariously funny, unapologetic and uncompromising, completely confident with the good old boys and completely capable of beating them at their own game, and all this without even seeming to try very hard at all. There were not many women writing like that in the 80s, which is why I dreamed of being Molly Ivins when I grew up; there still aren’t many like her today, and magazines like Mother Jones are run and written overwhelmingly by men. Why? I don’t know exactly: Because most women are not trained, as many men have been, to presume that the world is dying to hear what we have to say? Because having an outsized personality and convictions to match makes you lonely, as a woman more so than a man? Because so many of us, anxious to get along, learn to lace our opinions, even inadvertently, with qualifiers and fudges, with “I think”s and “I could be wrong, but”s? Molly didn’t fudge, but neither did she lecture: She just told you what she thought, and often it wasn’t what you might have expected at a time when the left had grown timid and self-referential and obsessed with PC nuance. She went for the roundhouse punch when everyone else was busy wringing their hands, and she liked those — Democrats, Republicans, men and women, good old boys and bad new girls — willing to do the same. She made us laugh, and she made us smarter, and she cut through a lot of B.S. Now it’s time to thank her for it: As she wrote, in her very last column just a couple of weeks ago: “Raise hell.” And have fun.
Molly was a contributor to Mother Jones for many years, and in the coming days, you’ll hear more from the people who worked with her; we’ll also have an archive of her stories for this magazine. For a quick sketch of her life, see Josh Harkinson’s story here.