New York City, New York United States
Shalit was born in 1955 in New York City, New York, to film and book critic Gene Shalit and Nancy Shalit (née Lewis). Her name comes from American author Willa Cather. She was born the second of six children. Shalit was raised in Leonia, New Jersey. Her father shielded the family from the public eye. Her brother, Dr. Peter Shalit is an internal medicine physician and the author of Living Well: The Gay Man's Essential Health Guide. Her uncle was Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Anthony Lewis; her aunt, and Lewis' widow, is retired Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall.
She graduated from Saint Ann's School (New York City) in 1974. In 1978, she graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in Classics. After graduating, she moved to Martha's Vineyard and partnered with artist Richard Lee to create masks.
Throughout the 1980s, Shalit created "lifecast" sculptures made from molds formed directly upon human faces and bodies. Her casts of five former United States presidents are in the collections of their respective presidential libraries, and other work is on display at the United States Olympic Committee's training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Fogelson Library at the College of Santa Fe (now Santa Fe University of Art and Design) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Jewish Guild for the Blind in New York City. She also created life casts for Muhammad Ali, Bill Gates, Clint Eastwood, Sting, civil rights leader Rosa Parks, choreographer Alvin Ailey, Isaac Stern, sculptor Louise Nevelson, prima ballerina Natalia Makarova and 14th Dalai Lama.
In 1985, Shalit produced James Lecesne's play One Man Band off-Broadway.
Shalit was the producer of the first anti-violence benefit performance of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues with Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Calista Flockhart, Lily Tomlin and others. She also produced a 1997 reading of Eve Ensler's Necessary Targets at the Helen Hayes Theater Broadway starring Meryl Streep, Anjelica Huston, and Cherry Jones and the landmark V-Day 2001 performance in Madison Square Garden featuring Oprah Winfrey, Queen Latifah, Glenn Close, Claire Danes and many others. Shalit continued to produce the play in February 1998 in New York City, and during a second reading of the play at Kennedy Center for then First Lady Hillary Clinton starring Natalie Portman and Jena Malone. From 1999 to 2003 Shalit produced the play during the off-Broadway run at New York City's Westside Theater and later served as executive producer of the 2002 HBO film of the show. She was an executive producer of Until the Violence Stops, a documentary film about V-Day's 2002 activities.
She co-produced the 2002 Off-Broadway run of Ensler's Necessary Targets, produced Carol Kaplan's play Jocasta Rising at the Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town, South Africa in 2004, and was an associate producer of the 2004 Broadway revival of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
Shalit's photos of Afghanistan, Rwanda and Israel have been published in the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, Parade magazine, Marie Claire magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, and distributed by the Associated Press wire service.
Author and editor
To bring economic advancement to women in post-trauma zones, Shalit has worked to create markets in the United States for products manufactured jointly by Palestinian and Israeli women, and by women survivors of the Rwandan genocide.
Shalit's company, Fair Winds Trading, has become a leading importer of handmade goods from Rwanda; it has partnered with Macy's for the Rwanda Path to Peace project to market handwoven Rwandan baskets in the United States, and produced hand-beaded gemstone and glass bracelets in partnership with O, The Oprah Magazine.
In 2010, Fair Winds Trading launched the Heart of Haiti line working with Macy's and the Clinton Foundation. The line includes handcrafted products made by Haitian artists and is part of an effort to help rebuild from the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Shalit's Touch Foundation created an exhibit of touchable lifecasts of the faces of celebrities and other notable individuals, for the purpose of making those faces accessible to the blind and visually impaired, which toured American museums from 1990 to 2000, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee.
She co-founded V-Day with Ensler and served as its first executive director. V-day is a non-profit organization that distributes funds to grassroots, national, and international organizations and programs that work to stop violence against women and girls. Shalit served as a Special Advisor to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). In 2007, Shalit joined the Board of Directors of the Hadassah Foundation.
Women's eNews named Shalit one of "21 Leaders for the 21st Century" in 2006.The Holmes Report, a magazine for public relations professionals, gave a 2006 Superior Achievement in Branding and Reputation Award to Shalit's Rwanda Path to Peace project, which was also "highly commended" by the judges of the International Chamber of Commerce's 2006 World Business Awards in support of the United Nations Development Programme's Millennium Development Goals.
- More Editors (June 8, 2012). "Willa Shalit's Rwanda". USA: More Magazine. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
- "Woman proves shopping can transform lives". CNN. 2008-09-17. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Social Entrepreneur Gives Rwandan Women a Boost". More. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Kahn, Toby. "Gene Shalit's Daughter Willa Has Casts of Characters Ranging from Brooke Shields to President Reagan", People (magazine), February 10, 1986. Accessed May 16, 2016. "Even as a young girl growing up in Leonia, N.J., Willa was fascinated with faces."
- "Peter Shalit, MD, PhD". Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "The Growing Shelf: Selections from alumni, faculty and former faculty publications". Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Susan King (November 21, 1992). "Not Masking It: Willa Shalit Loves to Make Celebrity Life Cast Sculptures". USA: Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
- "Facing the Famous Willa Shalit Makes Plaster "Life Casts" Of Presidents, Entertainers, Athletes". Philadelphia Enquirer. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Hanson, Cynthia (1992-11-29). "Impressions From 'The Inside Out'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Willa Shalit IMDB". IMDB. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Necessary Targets". HighBeam Business. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
- "V-Day: A Global Movement to End Violence Against Women and Girls Worldwide.". Retrieved 2012-07-13.
- "V-Day: Until Violence Stops". The New York Times.
- "Showcase – The Gaslight".
- "Variety Reviews- Necessary Reviews-Off Broadway".
- "Willa Shalit – Broadway Theatre Credits".
- "Fair Winds Trading: Helping Rwandans Build Their Lives".
- "Willa Shalits Second Acts Rwanda". Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Ladies Home Journal: Fair Winds Trading: Helping Rwandans Build Their Lives". Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Rwandans Weave Baskets of Hope". The New York Times. 2007-10-11.
- "Rebuilding Haiti One Sale at a Time". Retrieved July 13, 2012.
- "V-Day Partners With Vosges Haut-Chocolat to Stop Violence Against Women and Girls Around the World". Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Rwanda Baskets - The Story 2006".
- "Hadassah Foundation Meets". Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Social Entrepreneur Gives Rwandan Women Boost". Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Women's eNews 21 Leaders for 21st Century 2006" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Rwanda Path to Peace web-site
- Fair Winds Trading web-site
- Macy's web-site
- "Willa: Behind The Mask" (television documentary)
- "One Man Band" New York Times review
- "The Vagina Monologues" (1999-2003 Off-Broadway production) at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- "Until the Violence Stops" at the Internet Movie Database
- "Necessary Targets" (2002 Off-Broadway production) at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- "Jocasta Rising" at the Artcape Theatre Centre, Cape Town, South Africa
- "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (2004 Broadway revival) at the Internet Broadway Database
- Women's eNews web-site
- The Holmes Report Superior Achievement in Branding and Reputation Awards
- The Hadassah Foundation Board of Directors
- International Chamber of Commerce 2006 World Business Awards