Article About Writing Stones, Published by San Francisco Book Review
by Jeanie Kortum

Kenya, 1984. I first knew the cutting was close when the sun rose and the young girl who had been dancing all night, bleating through a whistle, was dragged across the clearing by an old woman and lowered to the ground. All around her, women fell to the ground, emitting strange cries. The old woman held a piece of glass in her hand. The men sitting around the fire drinking from large calabasas, turned away.

The whistle in the young girl’s mouth was replaced with a stick so that she would not cry out and curse the ceremony.

When the cutting happened it was quick, grubby and gynecologically matter of fact. The old woman turned and dropped the clitoris onto a leaf. The stick had worked. Though the little girl’s legs were shaking and her eyes leaked tears, she hadn’t cried out.

When I went to visit her a little later someone had piled a small hill of maize on her wound. Transfixed, I watched as small tributaries of blood leaked into the white flour.

That morning, as if I too had a stick in my mouth, I withdrew into the comfortable objectivity of North American scrutiny: I too did not cry out. For thirty years I have carried the shame of that moment, whatever I could have done to stop the proceedings, sealed forever in the resin of my silence.

It had begun as a brave dream. I was going to do a series of books about endangered cultures. To research the first, I dogsledded to a village at the top of the world in Greenland and lived with the Inuit. That book easily sped out of me. To research the second I lived with a hunter-gatherer tribe, then went back for a second year with them and witnessed the clitoridectomy. [Read the whole article here]

Ghost Vision
by Jeanie Kortum

Jeanie's first book, Ghost Vision, was a novel narrating an adventure she had with her friend Therese Kristenson. Therese is a Danish marine biologist who studied in Greenland. She and Jeanie traveled by dogsled to the village at the top of the world where they lived with the Inuit. Traveling back they got caught in a terrible storm which broke up the ice they were traveling across, pushing them out to the sea. That experience became the genesis for Ghost Vision. Learn more and order the book at

Crystal: A Memoir
by Jeanie Kortum

Narrative Magazine, Winter 2009

The little girl who would eventually become my daughter was only four years old when I met her, living on one of the meanest streets in San Francisco. Her name should have given me a clue. Crystal. Refracted light. She had a voice that scratched the sky, powder white legs, loved the color pink, and walked the streets as if she owned them, greeting every single drug dealer by name. Her older sister, Charmaine, age five, was more tentative, large doe eyes, given to sudden storms of tears. They lived on the street corner opposite the Kok Pit Bar, mom a prostitute and heroin addict... [MORE]

Stones: A Short Story
by Jeanie Kortum

Narrative, Spring 2008 (Winner of the Million Writers Award)

Face press against the window of my cab. I see a nose, the camouflage pattern of uniforms, the sharp glint of a gun. Soldiers, I think, and curl my hand tightly around the handle of my suitcase. More men move behind the cab. They begin to speak in a jagged language, almost foreign to me after my two years living in America. A soldier shines a flashlight through the window. Its beam snakes across the shabby upholstery, touches my face, then travels on to the back of the taxi driver’s head... [MORE]

At Home With the Horizon
by Jeanie Kortum

Cover Story, SF Chronicle Sunday Magazine, December 11, 2005

Diana is clinging to my neck, squeezing so hard I can barely breathe. “I don’t wanna go,” she cries, inches from my ear. “Don’t let them take me.” The three cops clench and unclench their hands at their sides. They look embarrassed. Diana’s father yells at his kids: “Run!” he tells them. “If they get you I’ll never see you again.” It’s the first time I’ve understood the expression “foaming at the mouth...” [MORE]