Jennifer Stone 1933-2022

“Jennifer Stone has the mind it takes to mind the media; her essays, armed with wit, irony and informed outrage are battle hymns of survival for both mind and media.”Erik Bauersfeld, KPFA and voice of Captain Ackbar

“Jennifer Stone is what Kelts call a ‘mouthy woman.’” — Keltic Fringe, Spring 1993

“Someone once wrote only the dead tell the truth and then not for some years.” — Jennifer Stone

Jennifer Stone in the 1950s. Credit: J. Abresch
In the 1980s. Credit: Jane Scherr

KPFA broadcaster Jennifer Stone has passed away at the age of 88, just shy of her 89th birthday. She took up the medium of radio, as she told us in her best Mae West impression, “When I lost my looks, honey.” For 40 years Jennifer was on KPFA with her programs, Stone’s Throw and Mind Over Media. Jennifer was an old school monologist of the highest order. She had an epic presence, through the resonance of her voice, her trained actor’s timing, her epic sighs, and apt one-liners. Jennifer used her radio spot to express the zeitgeist of the times and to express herself, with the hard fought wisdom of a woman ahead of her time. She struggled to break free of the constraints that bound many women of her generation to devote her entire life to writing, performing and broadcasting.

Jennifer Stone in the 1990s. Courtesy: KPFA
In 2019. Credit: Laura Prives

Jennifer Stone was born in Tucson Arizona in 1933. Her mother died when she was 13. She writes about it in her novel, Over by the Caves: “Sometime in April, 1947, I attended the funeral of my mother. My mother’s name was Kirsten, my father called her Kiki. After World War II, my mother divorced my father but it was too late, she died anyway. We were both quite young at the time. She was nearly 44 and I was nearly 14.”

Her father sent her to Mills College. She didn’t know what Mills College was but quickly found an intellectual and spiritual home there, graduating with a degree in theater arts in 1955. She studied acting in New York, met a man, got married, returned to the Bay Area and had two sons. She moved back to Berkeley in 1966 after her divorce. “I’d rather be lonely alone.” She describes this time post divorce, trying to be a poet in Berkeley, raising two boys, working as a public school teacher, hanging out at the Mediterraneum cafe, picking up men and surviving sexual assault in her book Telegraph Avenue Then.

“I indulge myself writing notes in a drunken delirium of maudlin self-pity ‘You always told me I enjoyed my suffering. Well, someone should. Men bring out the masochist in me.’ Later I find these notes scattered on my desk, in my purse, pinned to the walls and scribbled across the kitchen cupboards. Thus begins many a female’s literary career.”

She became a film critic for The Berkeley Monthly, a television critic for the women’s newspaper, Plexus, with a column, TV or Not. She was the poetry editor at Shameless Hussy Press and a regular contributor to the Berkeley magazine City Miner and the feminist bookstore newsletter, Mama Bear’s News and Notes. Her fiction also appeared in Mother Jones magazine among many other often underground publications.

Mind Over Media, her essays on film and television, was published in 1988. Stone’s Throw, her selected essays on literature and politics, won the 1989 Before Columbus, American Book Award. 

Her KPFA programs starting in the 1980s gave her voice a wide reach. 

“You always have to work within the zeitgeist, that’s the thing of it. I try to understand what is going on in the wider culture and what is going on next door.” 

She leaves behind a huge volume of monologues from the short, Mind Over Media spots that ran on the on the Morning Show, to her weekly Stone’s Throw show that was on up until just a few years ago when they became monthly as her health started to fail.

In the introduction to Stone’s Throw, Jennifer writes: “As a woman I am anxious to be heard as a serious scholar, yet I want always to be open to what Toni Morrison has called ‘eruptions of funk.’ I have tried to be honest rather than sincere. The sincerity of our age is making us sick. Honesty is the work of a lifetime.”

And Jennifer did indeed do a lifetime of honest work for us all to hear. She truly was the hero in her own story, told to the world in her words and in a style all her own.

Jennifer is survived by her sons, Paul Axelson (and his wife, Erika) and Peter Axelson.

Rest in Peace Jennifer Stone!

Laura Prives is the fund drive manager of KPFA and the station’s former program director.