First Person

Acing activism

New author Ashley Judd, 42, talks about Harvard and other inspirations.

Ashley Judd (Photograph by Kelly Campbell)
By Sharon Male
April 10, 2011

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For a Hollywood actress, you generally keep a low profile. Why write All That Is Bitter and Sweet, your new memoirs?

I fell asleep last night thinking about a girl I didn’t get to meet at a forcibly displaced persons camp in [the Democratic Republic of Congo. She] reached out and brushed my arm, and it haunts me. Maybe she was too shy, or too hungry, to exert herself. But she is real, her life matters, and her suffering matters. I wrote the book for her.

You seem drawn to work with abused and exploited women.

I grew up in a dysfunctional family severely affected by alcoholism. Some of my experiences were abusive in a way that would be appalling to anyone, and some were more subtle but damaging to me. It helped me empathize.

What are you most proud of?

The willingness to speak my truth – to suit up and show up. Like last month, when I introduced Father Desmond Tutu at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, I had food poisoning; I still had the IV tape on my arm from the ER. I had not been able to print my remarks. I had to tap into sheer guts and stand in front of that highfalutin crowd and speak straight from my heart.

What’s up next?

I’ve just joined the advisory council for the International Center for Research on Women. And I’m shooting a new ABC series, Missing.

But you said you’d never do a TV show because of the time commitment.

I know! But the script is exquisite and it fell in my lap. I’ll still have time for my activism. I’m not about to give that up for anything.

How do you have time for a personal life?

I’m married to an incredible man, Dario Franchitti, a race-car driver who’s Scottish and beautiful – and very supportive.

You graduated from Harvard last spring with a master’s in public administration. What was the highlight of your Boston stint?

My time in class. But it is certainly a special experience to walk into that library and say: “I am going to tap into the intellectual heritage of this extraordinary institution and see what I can do to make the world a better place.”

  • April 10, 2011 cover
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