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Tanya Selvaratnam (born 1971/1972) is an author, actor, producer, and activist. In January 2014, Prometheus Books published her book, The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock, to critical acclaim. With Laurie Anderson and Laura Michalchyshyn, she is the Co-Founder of The Federation, a coalition of artists, organizations, and allies committed to promoting art as a tool of intercultural communication and tolerance.
Early life and education
Selvaratnam was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka and raised in Long Beach, California. She attended high school at Phillips Academy Andover. She received her B.A. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations and her M.A. in Regional Studies – East Asia from Harvard University. Her master’s thesis on the interplay of law and practice with regard to women’s rights in China was published in the Journal of Law and Politics. Selvaratnam lives in New York City and Portland, Oregon.
Selvaratnam's writing has appeared in Vogue, Artsy, HowlRound, Bust, xoJane, the Huffington Post, Toronto Review, Art Basel Magazine, the Journal of Law and Politics, Women's eNews and CNN, among others.
Selvaratnam has been an Executive Producer/Director for GLAMOUR Women of the Year and Planned Parenthood. Selvaratnam has produced the work of many artists and directors including Gabri Christa, Chiara Clemente, Catherine Gund, Mickalene Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, and Jed Weintrob. Her projects include Mickalene Thomas’s film, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman (HBO broadcast, February 2014); Catherine Gund’s Born to Fly about daredevil choreographer Elizabeth Streb (SXSW premiere, Film Forum run, PBS broadcast); the Rockefeller Foundation-funded MADE HERE (an online and public television documentary series about NYC-based performing artists); a video/photography shoot and series of live events with Carrie Mae Weems; and Beginnings, a short film series directed by Chiara Clemente for the Sundance Channel. Beginnings, which won the Webby Award for Best Online Documentary Series, is composed of short portraits of creative leaders on how they got their start. Subjects have included actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, artist Yoko Ono, chef Dan Barber, bookseller Sylvia Whitman, perfumier Frederic Malle, choreographer/dancer Carmen De Lavallade, and shoe designer Christian Louboutin. Earlier film productions include Catherine Gund’s What’s On Your Plate? (about kids and food politics), which aired on Discovery Channel’s Planet Green; Chiara Clemente’s Our City Dreams (about five decades of women artists: Nancy Spero, Marina Abramovic, Kiki Smith, Ghada Amer and Swoon), which played at Film Forum in New York and aired on the Sundance Channel; and Jed Weintrob’s On_Line (about people who spend too much time in video chat rooms), which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and had a theatrical run and was broadcast on STARZ and The F Word (about freedom of speech in America), which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and aired on the Independent Film Channel. Selvaratnam has also produced live events and performances, including a concert for Artists for Tsunami Relief; a benefit for The Wooster Group; CMW Live at The Guggenheim; the Obie Award-winning show, World of Wires; and galas for Yaddo and Performance Space 122.
Selvaratnam has acted internationally in shows by The Wooster Group, The Builders Association, Andrew Ondrejcak, Sibyl Kempson, Brooke O’Harra, and many others; appeared in photographs, films, and video installations by Carrie Mae Weems, Pedro Reyes, Thomas Dozol, Amber Mahoney, John Malpede, Sharon Hayes, Andrea Geyer, David Michalek, Candice Breitz, and Jennifer Reeves; been a fellow at Yaddo and Blue Mountain Center; and a guest actor at New Dramatists, Soho Rep, Lincoln Center Directors Lab, Portland Center Stage, Voice & Vision Theater, and the Institute on Arts and Civic Dialogue (founded by Anna Deavere Smith). Selvaratnam has performed at prestigious venues around the world, such as New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center; the UK’s Barbican Theatre and Tramway; and the Institute of Contemporary Art and American Repertory Theater in Massachusetts.
Selvaratnam was the Special Projects Coordinator for the Ms. Foundation from 1995-1998. Prior to that, she was on the organizing committee of the NGO Forum on Women in China, where she was the assistant youth coordinator and produced Youth Arts & Culture events.
From 1998 to 2001, Selvaratnam worked for the World Health Organization as a research associate under the direction of Soon-Young Yoon and helped organize the Kobe Conference on Women and Tobacco.
In response to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Selvaratnam joined forces with Syndicate Media Group to produce a benefit titled Artists for Tsunami Relief. The show at Marquee included appearances by Lou Reed, David Byrne, Angela McCluskey, Moby, Vernon Reid, Sussan Deyhim, Colson Whitehead, and Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky. She also organized book drives for Sri Lanka.
Since 2011, Selvaratnam has been an advisor to The DO School, an innovative educational organization offering learning experiences that create global impact. It trains and mentors social entrepreneurs from all over the world and helps them kickstart their own social ventures. She has also served on the board of The Third Wave Foundation, which is dedicated to youth activism and the feminist movement.
In 2016, she was a video producer for Gays Against Guns, formed in response to the Pulse nightclub massacre. She also produced activism-related content with directors Lisa Cortés, Liz Garbus, and Hannah Rosenzweig.
Since 2017, she has been organizing The Federation and produced events for the first-ever Art Action Day on January 20, 2018 with partners including PEN America, BAM, Spotify, TUMBLR, and the Public Theater. She spoke about Art Action Day on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show with Federation artists Nell Breyer, Mara Hoffman, and Shirin Neshat.
From 2016 to 2017, Selvaratnam was in a relationship with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who she first met at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. In May 2018, Selvaratnam and other women came forward alleging abuse by Schneiderman which was reported by The New Yorker. Three hours after publication of the allegations, Schneiderman resigned from his office.
- "Art Is Essential to Democracy", HowlRound
- "The Big Lie", Prometheus
- "Artists Who Want to Change the World Should Innovate, Not Just Resist”, Artsy
- On_Line, dir. Jed Weintrob (2002)
- Domino, dir. Gabri Christa (2003)
- The F Word, dir. Jed Weintrob (2005)
- Our City Dreams, dir. Chiara Clemente (2008)
- What’s On Your Plate?, dir. Catherine Gund (2009)
- MADE HERE, dir. Chiara Clemente (2009-2013)
- Beginnings, Season 1, dir. Chiara Clemente (2010)
- Beginnings, Season 2, dir. Chiara Clemente (2012)
- Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, dir. Mickalene Thomas (2013)
- "Ada & Alex", dir. Chiara Clemente (2014)
- Born to Fly, dir. Catherine Gund (2014)
- It’s Not Okay, dir. Liz Garbus (2016)
- Girl, Just Vote, dir. Lisa Cortés (2016)
- Stand Up For Us, dir. Liz Garbus (2017)
- Prepare to March, dir. Hannah Rosenzweig (2017)
- Chavela, dir. Catherine Gund (2017)
- Unstoppable (for Planned Parenthood), dir. Sarah Lash and Tanya Selvaratnam (2018)
- Untitled Gund Project, dir. Catherine Gund (in development)
- SURGE, dir. Hannah Rosenzweig (in development)
- Welch, Liz (January 14, 2014). "The Big Lie About Your Fertility".
- "Modern Hero". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- "Boarding School Life". The New York Times. 13 September 1997.
- Tanya SJ Selvaratnam, "Backseat Driver: Steering Chinese Women's Voices Through the 1990's", Journal of Law and Politics, vol 12 (1996). http://study.ccln.gov.cn/fenke/zhexue/zxjpwz/zxllx/34956.shtml
- Andrew, G.G. "Writers Who Read: Tanya Selvaratnam". Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "Postponing Motherhood: When Does It Actually Become Too Late?". Vogue. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- Selvaratnam, Tanya (2018-01-18). "Artists Who Want to Change the World Should Innovate, Not Just Resist". Artsy. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- "Art is Essential to Democracy". HowlRound. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- Selvaratnam, Tanya (Fall 2000). "The Men We Love". Bust. 15.
- "Could Meditation Make Us All At Least 10 Percent Happier?". xoJane: Women's Lifestyle & Community Site - xoJane. 2014-03-16. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- Selvaratnam, Tanya (2014-01-07). "Finding More Moments of Balance in 2014". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- Selvaratnam, Tanya (Winter 1997). "Three Poems". The Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad. 15: (2).
- Selvaratnam, Tanya (December 2013). "Art for a Digital Age". Art Basel Magazine: 186–189.
- S.J Selvaratnam, Tanya (Winter 1996). "Backseat Driver: Steering Chinese Women's Voices Through the 1990's". Journal of Law and Politics. 12: (1).
- "My Advice: Don't Plan Your Pregnancy by the Stars". Women's eNews. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- CNN, By Tanya Selvaratnam, Special to. "Opinion: Women don't need any more Big Lies - CNN". CNN. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- "Planned Parenthood Action". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- Rosenberg, Karen. "Mickalene Thomas Rediscovers Her Mother — and Her Muse". New York Times. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- Catsoulis, Jeannette (9 September 2014). "A Pursuit That Leaps, Crashes and Swings". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- Simon, Lizzie (9 December 2013). "Performing Artists Give Their Advice". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "Video: Sylvia Whitman of Shakespeare and Company". The New Yorker. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- Scheib, Ronnie (5 November 2008). "Review: 'Our City Dreams'". Variety. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "The F Word". Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- Murphy, Tim (2014-05-13). "After Hours | A Ribald Downtown Auction on Behalf of Creative Freedom". T Magazine. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- "YouTube". www.youtube.com. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- "The Builders Association". www.thebuildersassociation.org. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- "ELIJAH GREEN". ANDREW ONDREJCAK. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- "Let Us Now Praise Susan Sontag • 7 Daughters of Eve Theater & Performance Co". www.7daughtersofeve.com. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- "The NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY". Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "Gender, Women, and the Tobacco Epidemic". World Health Organization. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- Callahan, Maureen (13 January 2005). "Chip-In Crowd: Drink For Dollars At Velvet-Rope Tsunami Parties (If You Can Get In)". New York Post.
- "The Third Wave Foundation". Retrieved 29 September 2014.
- "Meryl Streep, Amy Schumer and Rose McGowan Speak Out in Video Criticizing Trump Tape". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- "Rosie Perez tells you everything you need to know in 'Let's Get Ready to March' video". Women in the World. 2017-01-13. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- "A Day of "Beautiful Artistic Chaos" Will Mark the First Anniversary of Trump's Inauguration". Hyperallergic. 2018-01-16. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
- Artists Rally to Keep Cultural Borders Open, retrieved 2018-03-26
- Mayer, Jane; Farrow, Ronan (May 7, 2018). "Four Women Accuse New York's Attorney General of Physical Abuse". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
- Official website (http://www.tanyaturnsup.com)
- Official Federation website (https://wearethefederation.org)
- The Big Lie official website (http://www.thebigliebook.com)
- The Big Lie on Random House (http://www.randomhouse.com/book/231664/the-big-lie-by-tanya-selvaratnam)
- Official Twitter site (https://www.twitter.com/tselvar)
- MADE HERE, the performing arts documentary series (http://www.madehereproject.org)
- Beginnings on the Sundance Channel (http://www.sundancechannel.com/beginnings)