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Tanya Selvaratnam (born 1971/1972) is a producer and a writer. 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 cofounder 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 was 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. In her first year of college, she lived in Mower Hall, where one of her roommates was Meredith Salenger. 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 Glamour, Vogue, McSweeney's,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. She has also produced for the Vision and Justice Project, Aubin Pictures, and The Meteor. Selvaratnam has produced the work of many artists and directors including Gabri Christa, Catherine Gund, Tiffany Shlain, Mickalene Thomas, Lucy Walker, 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, Emmy nomination); 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. 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 NYC-based women artists), 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 two projects for the opening season of The Shed ("Art and Civil Disobedience with Boots Riley" and "POWERPLAY"), 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, Suzanne Bocanegra, 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 to 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, and Colson Whitehead. 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. She has also been an advisor and producer for For Freedoms.
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. Selvaratnam recounts her experience in her forthcoming book, Assume Nothing.
- “Where Can Domestic Violence Victims Turn During Covid-19?” New York Times
- “What Real Reparations Could Look Like for the Exonerated Five,” Glamour
- “Kindness and Clarity,” McSweeney’s
- “Postponing Motherhood: When Does It Actually Become Too Late?” Vogue
- "Art Is Essential to Democracy", HowlRound
- On_Line (2002)
- Domino (2003)
- The F Word (2005)
- Our City Dreams (2008)
- What's On Your Plate? (2009)
- MADE HERE (2009–2013)
- Beginnings (2010)
- Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman (2013)
- Born to Fly (2014)
- It's Not Okay (2016)
- Stand Up For Us (2017)
- Prepare to March (2017)
- Chavela (2017)
- UNSTOPPABLE (for Planned Parenthood) (2018)
- GLAMOUR Women of the Year (2017-ongoing)
- AGGIE (2020)
- SURGE (2020)
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- Tanya SJ Selvaratnam, "Backseat Driver: Steering Chinese Women's Voices Through the 1990s", Journal of Law and Politics, vol 12 (1996). http://study.ccln.gov.cn/fenke/zhexue/zxjpwz/zxllx/34956.shtml
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- "My Advice: Don't Plan Your Pregnancy by the Stars". Women's eNews. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
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- "Planned Parenthood Action". facebook.com. Retrieved March 26, 2018.[non-primary source needed]
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- "Meryl Streep, Amy Schumer and Rose McGowan Speak Out in Video Criticizing Trump Tape". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
- "Rosie Perez tells you everything you need to know in 'Let's Get Ready to March' video". Women in the World. January 13, 2017. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
- "A Day of 'Beautiful Artistic Chaos' Will Mark the First Anniversary of Trump's Inauguration". Hyperallergic. January 16, 2018. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
- Artists Rally to Keep Cultural Borders Open, retrieved March 26, 2018
- 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.
- "Catherine Gund's AGGIE, a portrait of Agnes Gund, receives world premiere at Sundance Film Festival". artdaily.com. Retrieved January 14, 2020.