Issue 84, Winter 2001/2002

by Joan E. Bertin

In a profile in the New York Times Magazine last year, Jo List was quoted saying “I just do what matters to me.” NCAC’s work defending free expression was something that really mattered to Jo.

For more than twenty years, Jo was an integral part of NCAC, serving on NCAC’s Board of Directors and as its Co-Chair for the last ten. She brought a rare level of passion and dedication to her work with us, and to everything we did. Her enthusiasm for the subject was contagious, and spread to the board and staff.

Jo became acquainted with NCAC in the late 1970s, when she heard Leanne Katz, NCAC’s founding director, give a talk on censorship at the New School. She and Leanne became fast friends and close colleagues. The files are filled with their correspondence, showing how supportive and involved Jo was with NCAC’s work, and how generous she was with her time and energy, tirelessly promoting and publicizing NCAC and trying to persuade others of the critical importance of its mission. Leanne called her a “silent partner.” After Leanne’s death in 1997, Jo displayed the same enthusiasm and generosity of spirit in welcoming me and assisting in every way to help NCAC thrive and prosper.

Jo was creative in her efforts to promote free expression, and she never missed a chance to help. In response to an aggressive challenge to Terrence McNally’s play, Corpus Christi, Jo called and proposed that NCAC show its support for artistic freedom with a theater benefit. She understood the importance of feminist voices in opposing censorship of pornography, and helped organize NCAC’s Working Group on Women, Censorship and “Pornography,” which featured prominent feminists defending free speech. She solicited artists to contribute work that had been censored, or that was about censorship, and had her own extensive collection of censored books.

Jo’s dedication to the things that mattered to her was inspirational. Freedom of speech was one of those things; NCAC was the happy beneficiary of this passionate commitment. We remember her with deep affection, admiration and gratitude.