Eve Ensler exposes the naked truth in her new book "In the Body of the World."

The activist/playwright first came to fame with her 1996 blockbuster "The Vagina Monologues," a play that launched a global movement to fight violence against women. Based on interviews with women about their most intimate body part, that landmark project has now been staged in more than 130 countries. In "Necessary Targets," she exposed the suffering of innocents during the war in Bosnia. In "Emotional Creatures," which made its world premiere at Berkeley Rep, she explored the obstacles facing girls in our body-obsessed culture.

Brigitte Lacombe photoPlaywright/author/activist Eve Ensler will speak at Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto on Sunday, May 19, 2013.
Brigitte Lacombe photo Playwright/author/activist Eve Ensler will speak at Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto on Sunday, May 19, 2013. (Brigitte Lacombe)

Now, in her candid new memoir, she reveals the lessons she learned during her harrowing battle with cancer and her struggle to empower women all over the world. Ever warm and witty, the Tony winner recently chatted with us about her most revealing work yet.

Q You have always been vulnerable and honest in your work, but I wonder if writing about your own illness was particularly difficult?

A I feel like the book kind of wrote me. It was like a fever that passed through me. It took about eight months, and it was a very intense process. In some ways for me, it was actually part of the healing process. It was part of the journey of connecting with my body again. It was a very therapeutic experience for me.

Q You of all people have always seemed so comfortable in your own skin. What happened?

A I think a lot of women live in a state of dissociation with their bodies as well as with each other and the state of the world and the state of the planet. But what I learned is that all of those things are connected. What happened to me was quite amazing. It's as if the cancer brought me back into my body, and it brought me back into the world. And I wanted to communicate that to other people.

Q In some ways, this memoir is also a cautionary tale about health care. What did you want people to come away with?

A The reality is I was incredibly lucky. How many people could get the kind of care I got? Very few people. And why is that? Why are we all putting up with that state of affairs? And why don't we value nurses? Why don't we value the people who take care of us? These are the people who are literally keeping us alive. That's something that became clear to me during my sickness.

Q How did these epiphanies impact your work?

A I am living very differently now. My modus operandi has changed. I don't feel driven; I don't feel like I have to prove myself. I work because I want to, because I want to do something useful, to stand in solidarity with all the women who are struggling all over the world.

Q How did having cancer shift your perspective on life?

A When you are told you have cancer, it's ground zero. You know you are on borrowed time. Everything that comes after that is like a gift. This moment right now is a gift.

Q And are you optimistic that we can all learn to use that gift better, in terms of how we treat each other and how we treat the environment?

A That's the question I wake up with every day. Can we learn how to connect to each other? Can we learn how to connect to nature? Can we make the change in time, or will we destroy the planet? I hope so. Hopefully, this book can be a wake-up call to get people to look at their relationship to their own body and their relationship to the world.

Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza, follow her at Twitter.com/karendsouza4 and like her at Facebook.com/Dsouzatheaterpage.

  • 7:30 p.m., May 20, a Pegasus Books event at First Congregational Church, 2501 Harrison St., Oakland; $35 advance; http://bit.ly/143Ms85

  • 7 p.m., May 21, a Books Inc. event at Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St., San Francisco; $25; www.booksinc.net/event/eve-ensler-grace-cathedral

  • 7 p.m., May 22, a Book Passage event at Dominican University, Angelico Hall, 50 Acacia Ave., San Rafael; $30; www.bookpassage.com/ensler
    For more info: www.eveensler.org/about-eve

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