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All That Is Bitter and Sweet

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All That Is Bitter and Sweet

  Praise for

  All That Is Bitter & Sweet

  “Ashley Judd has written a deeply moving story—amazingly, searingly frank. It is her life story, warts and all. As I read her account of her childhood, I asked ‘How could one so traumatized, so abused in childhood, become the woman we know: so caring, so altruistic, so compassionate, so concerned for others, and so joyful?’ ”


  “Ashley Judd has lived an extraordinary life. She has learned from it and turned it into a blessing and a call to action for others. Her journey is both moving and inspiring, unique and universal. Reading about it makes your own life make more sense.”


  “This lovely woman, this movie star, this determined dreamer will be familiar to you, assuming you have struggled to resolve your childhood, carve out a career, and make greater use of yourself. Ashley Judd’s story reminds us to work harder and on more important tasks, and promises that if we do, contentedness awaits.”

  —KELLY CORRIGAN, author of New York Times bestseller The Middle Place and Lift

  “Ashley Judd has given us magnetic and searingly honest portrayals of diverse women on screen. Now with the same honesty and magnetism, she brings us her true self on the page. From her childhood to her revolutionary empathy with women and girls living very different lives, her path will inspire readers on journeys of their own.”


  “Judd’s hauntingly beautiful memoir reflects upon her life as actress, wife, daughter, sister, woman of faith, and ultimately, as friend of the world’s forgotten. All That Is Bitter & Sweet is engaging as a narrative—I could not put it down—but this is not your typical ‘celebrity memoir.’ All That Is Bitter & Sweet is written with uncommon depth and uncommon love. It has the power to transport you not only into the mind and spirit of a true activist, but into the elusive meaning of our shared humanity, and even into unexpected places in your own soul. Prepare to have your eyes opened and your heart jolted.”


  “Over the last decade I have watched my gifted, brilliant friend grow as an artist, but more important, as a wise, deeply empathetic woman. I have read the diaries that are the heart of this memoir since she began traveling the world, fearing for her safety and sanity, baffled why she chooses these grueling missions. All That Is Bitter & Sweet will be a revelation to readers, exposing Ashley Judd for what I have known for years, that she is an amazing woman doing extraordinary work.”


  “There are certain books that stay with you long after the last page—Ashley Judd’s All That Is Bitter & Sweet is that very type of book. With her sincere honesty, her commitment to servant leadership, and her intense passion for everything that she is involved with, Ashley Judd presents a multilayered portrait of how one person—committed, caring, and conscientious—can truly make a difference. She may be our program’s No. 1 fan, but after reading this, you can count me as one of her top fans.”

  —JOHN CALIPARI, head coach, University of Kentucky

  All That Is Bitter & Sweet is a work of nonfiction. Some names and identifying details have been changed. As of press time, the URLs displayed in this book link or refer to existing websites on the Internet. Random House, Inc., is not responsible for, and should not be deemed to endorse or recommend, any website other than its own or any content available on the Internet (including without limitation at any website, blog page, information page) that is not created by Random House.

  Copyright © 2011 by Ashley Judd

  Foreword copyright © 2011 by Nicholas D. Kristof

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Ballantine Books,

  an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

  BALLANTINE and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and SLL/Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.: Excerpt from “Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward” from To Bedlam and Part Way Back by Anne Sexton, copyright © 1960 by Anne Sexton and copyright renewed © 1988 by Linda G. Sexton. Electronic rights and rights outside of the United States and Canada are administered by SLL/Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and SLL/Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.

  Liveright Publishing Corporation: Four lines from “may my heart always be open to little” from COMPLETE POEMS: 1904–1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage, copyright 1938, © 1966, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Reprinted by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

  Middlemarsh, Inc.: Excerpt from “Always Unsuitable” from Early Grrrl: The Early Poems of Marge Piercy by Marge Piercy, copyright © 1999 by Middlemarsh, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Middlemarsh, Inc.

  Penguin Group UK and Johnson & Alcock Ltd: Four lines from “Colours” from Yevtushenko: Selected Poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi (Penguin Books, 1962), copyright © 1962 by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi. Audio rights are controlled by Johnson & Alcock Ltd. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Group UK and Johnson & Alcock Ltd.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Judd, Ashley.

  All that is bitter & sweet : a memoir / by Ashley Judd with Maryanne Vollers.

  p. cm.

  eISBN: 978-0-345-52482-9

  1. Judd, Ashley. 2. Motion picture actors and actresses—United States—Biography.

  I. Vollers, Maryanne. II. Title.

  PN2287.J83A3 2011


  [B] 2011002939

  Jacket design: Marietta Anastassatos

  Jacket photo: © Kelly Campbell


  For my beloved grandparents

  “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

  The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite and He bends with you His might that

  His arrows may go swift and far.

  Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

  For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

  So he loves also the bow that is stable.”

  —KAHLIL GIBRAN, The Prophet

  Love is a great thing, yea, a great and thorough good; by itself it makes everything that is heavy, light; and it bears evenly all that is uneven. For love carries a burden that is no burden, and makes everything that is bitter sweet and tasteful.

  —THOMAS À KEMPIS, The Imitation of Christ



  Title Page




  FOREWORD by Nicholas D. Kristof







  Chapter 6 OUK SREY LEAK




  Chapter 10 THE RICE TENTS



  Chapter 13 DELIVERANCE

  Chapter 14 SHADES OF HOPE


nbsp; Chapter 16 PROJECT LIFE



  Chapter 19 A HOLY MESS



  Chapter 22 THE CLICK





  About the Author



  The essence of being a famous Hollywood actor is that you have cameras constantly pursuing you. It’s a law as fundamental as gravity: A lens seeks a star. To those in the crosshairs, the paparazzi are as annoying as they are inescapable—like a swarm of mosquitoes by a lake. Some stars simply go into hiding. Instead, Ashley Judd invites the cameras to join her as she tackles AIDS in Madagascar or sex trafficking in India. She uses her fame to focus attention on issues of vital importance to all of us, while giving voice to the voiceless around the world.

  After college, she almost entered the Peace Corps—in which case, she might today be working for, say, Population Services International in Cambodia. These days, what do you know, she is working for PSI in Cambodia—and in Nicaragua, South Africa, and everywhere in between, as a board member and global ambassador. This isn’t just a photo op, but a calling. She advocates for more than a dozen groups, ranging from Equality Now to Defenders of Wildlife, and has spoken out passionately on topics from coal mining to family planning. In 2010, she put her Hollywood career on hold and earned a mid-career degree at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. That’s serious.

  A solid chunk of All That Is Bitter & Sweet is Ashley’s recounting of the stories she has heard from the front lines in the struggle to improve reproductive health and fight poverty and injustice around the world. Those survivors are some of the world’s greatest experts on these issues, and she gives them the microphone.

  Ashley’s cause is a monumental struggle. The central moral challenge of the nineteenth century was slavery, and in the twentieth century it was totalitarianism. In this century, the equivalent moral challenge is to address the oppression that is the lot of so many women and girls around the world—the millions of girls trafficked into brothels, the tens of millions who are kept out of school, the hundreds of thousands of young women who die in childbirth each year, the millions whose genitals are mutilated, and so on. And quite apart from the injustices, addressing these issues is a practical imperative: The best way to bring stability to fractured societies such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the most effective way to fight poverty worldwide, is to educate girls and bring those educated women out of the margins of society and into the formal economy. That’s the work that Ashley bears witness to in this memoir.

  When I opened the book, I expected to encounter descriptions of neglect and sexual abuse in Africa and Asia. What surprised me was that some of the abuse and neglect described is closer to home, swirling around Ashley herself as a young girl. That abuse, including a rape while Ashley was a fifteen-year-old trying to pursue life as a fashion model halfway around the world, left deep emotional scars that she has had to deal with as an adult. So this book intertwines tales of personal abuse with examination of mass abuses—they are not just parallel, but also complementary. After reading her personal story, I think I understand better why Ashley has been so committed to addressing injustices afflicting girls in Guatemala, Cambodia, Kenya: Her own legacy of abuse left her emotionally fragile, yes, but it also left her armed with unusual empathy. Her antennae were always out for other little Ashleys, some in far more dire circumstances.

  There’s a tendency to tune out these kinds of global problems, seeing them as sad but inevitable. Prostitution, after all, is often described as “the world’s oldest profession.” And if babies die of diarrhea or measles in Africa, if women die in childbirth there, that’s seen as tragic but also the bleak reality of the world we live in. Humanitarians may have inadvertently fed this fatalism by focusing relentlessly on the world’s problems and ignoring the successes, for the truth is that there has been huge progress. In 1960, there were about 20 million children dying annually before the age of five. With today’s increased world population, that’s equivalent to 55 million children. Instead, because of new clinics and hospitals, vaccinations and malaria medicines, bed nets and sanitation, the toll has dipped to about 8 million each year. That’s still far too many children dying needlessly, but it also means that more than 40 million children’s lives are being saved annually—a stunning achievement.

  Cynics sometimes say that saving lives just leads to population explosions and more Malthusian tragedies ahead. But in fact when parents see that their children will survive, they have fewer. Family sizes are coming down sharply in poor countries around the world. We’re also getting smarter about what interventions are cost-effective. And microsavings (helping the poor save money effectively) seems to be even more effective than microlending in lifting people out of penury. In short, this war on global poverty is one that we’re winning. It’s not depressing, but encouraging. For the first time in the history of the world, all human beings may have an opportunity to make something of themselves.

  And that’s what this book is: an ultimately encouraging exploration of some grim topics. Ashley plumbs the depths of depression—her own struggles with her mental health, and her painful encounters with global ill health—but it’s also a story of resiliency and triumph. Ashley persevered and worked out her traumas. And she also is spending her life chipping away at injustices and poverty around the world. So beat the drums. Sound the trumpets. This is a tale that is not melancholic but inspiring. It deserves the spotlight that Ashley brings to it—and, yes, the pesky cameras, too.


  If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

  If I am only for myself, what am I?

  If not now, when?



  Forcibly Displaced Persons Camp, Kiwanja, Rutshuru,

  Democratic Republic of the Congo, September 2, 2010.

  A patch of raw earth, carved out of the forest: dried mud ribbed with ditches, tiny dwellings fashioned from plastic, sticks, fabric, some thatching. The residents are mostly women and children, victims of a relentless civil war. Everyone is dead tired and dirty. The scene offers snapshots of the horrors of eastern DRC: displacement, malaria, AIDS, malnutrition, and an epidemic of extreme violence and rape that defies the imagination. A week ago, in the village of Luvungi, rebels fighting for control of the vast mineral wealth in the region attacked a small village and raped 240 women of all ages. UN peacekeepers eleven miles away had been prodigiously warned and did nothing to prevent or intervene in the atrocities. Rape is a weapon of war here.

  This camp is a small oasis of security, if not hope, for a handful of Congolese. I spot a young, sweaty child named Durika, wearing a piece of a black garbage bag. She extends her arms to me, and I scoop her up. She is limp and frail. I rock her and sing to her, pour water in my hand and wipe her face; she is blazing hot. Her mama, Muntuzu Angel, lives in a minuscule, tidy makeshift shelter, the only home she and her seven children have known for the past two years. When I ask where they sleep, she uses her hand to gesture to the bare dirt floor. She tells me she had been gang-raped by soldiers, more than once. She fled to the forest after the first gang rape and then to this camp after her mother, father, and husband were all murdered by militia. While we visit she nurses a toddler named Naomi. I tell her that is a lovely name, also my mother’s name. Muntuzu Angel has a beautiful, soft presence. She tells her story gently. She confides that she doesn’t usually let on that the baby was conceived in rape; she does not want Naomi to be stigmatized. This child is as cherished as her babies conceived in love, she tells me.

  Once again, I am staggered and humbled by the human capacity for suffering, resilience, and compassion that I experience in this hellhole, and all th
e other hellholes I have visited in the past seven years. I thank Muntuzu Angel for our time together. She whispers, while I am still holding her child, that I am a woman just like her, that I am no different. We both cry, something transcendent passing between us. I tell her that I will never forget her, and I will tell her story. It is a promise I have made, and kept, dozens, maybe hundreds, of times in Southeast Asia, Central America, India, Africa. Mere days after meeting Muntuzu Angel, I, with famed human rights activist John Prendergrast, would solemnly carry her narrative directly to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, spending three hours with him strategizing on ways to extinguish militias in eastern DRC.

  As I walk to the next hut, children swarm around my legs. I feel an unseen hand stroke my forearm. And I freeze. This is the moment that kills me, that will haunt my sleep. The unseen child, touching my arm, too shy to be held, perhaps not up for the struggle to reach me through the clamoring throng, but wanting to connect, to touch me.

  Who was she?

  There are other snapshots:

  A boy who looks no more than three but may be older, stunted from malnutrition, lumbering under the weight of a heavy jerrican filled with water and a large bundle of wood lashed to his back. He falters up a steep, loose dirt path in the mountains. I catch his eye. He stares at me with something that looks like rage.

  A smiling girl in her too large, dirty yellow dress; the moment we begin to hold hands, she shines. My heart sings alleluia.

  A miner missing a front tooth who, thrilled to be photographed, throws off his hat with joy, wanting his face to be as close to mine as possible. I love him.

  A Congolese senator, traveling with our group, explaining to me that in his country “we take care of ladies, believe they should be protected.” I decide that this is not a conversation worth pursuing.

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