from the May Issue
Madonna leaving a office building in New York (April 25 2011)
US pop icon Madonna has begun her legal defense in a Malawian court as workers at one of the singer’s charity projects attempt to sue for unfair dismissal, a tribunal official said Monday.
Eight staff at the failed $15 million Raising Malawi Academy for Girls (RMAG) lodged the action at the end of March, claiming they were let go without proper procedures.
The star said “there is nothing unfair about the termination of the applicants’ employment given the termination of employment was necessitated by genuine economic reasons,” in documents filed last week by lawyer Davis Njobvu.
Madonna said the decision not to continue funding the academy project was taken by her charity Raising Malawi Inc. “after carefully reviewing its financial commitments and future plans and was made in good faith.”
Led by Anjimile Oponya, the former head of the school, the workers allege they were forced to sign a termination agreement they describe as “unfair and unconstitutional”.
Madonna, who adopted children David Banda and Mercy James from Malawian orphanages, said the charity had proposed to pay them more than they were due on the condition they signed a “confidentiality agreement.”
The pop star also said Raising Malawi, a US-registered foundation providing funds for the school’s construction, was not directly implicated in the affair and it was RMAG that “would be responsible for any matters relating to the applicants’ employment.”
She said RMAG was “ready and willing to pay the applicants their retrenchments and redundancy benefits calculated in accordance with the Employment Act and the laws of Malawi.”
A hearing of the application to strike out Raising Malawi as a party to the action has been set for Wednesday in Blantyre.
Madonna announced in January that she was reviewing the direction of Raising Malawi, which had originally planned to establish an academy offering 500 scholarships to girls from impoverished backgrounds.
In a statement, she said she had realized the academy would not be enough as two-thirds of girls are not educated beyond primary school and she wanted to reach “thousands and not hundreds of girls” by constructing several schools in the area.
Not About Madonna: My Little Pre-Icon Roommate — and Other Memoirs by Whit Hill will be published in September by Heliotrope Books (272 pages, trade paperback 978-0-9832940-0-9 $17.95).
“In the fall of 1977, when I came to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to enter the dance program at the University of Michigan, I thought I knew a thing or two. I had acted professionally in New York City, my hometown. I had posed nude for art classes. … I was a very modern girl. … When I met Madonna Ciccone, my initial assessment, even as I watched her leg soaring into an effortless front extension, was that I had little to learn from any young whippersnapper from Michigan, safety-pinned earlobes or no. I felt no instant flush of warmth and trust the day we met, no recognition of a kindred spirit — in fact all I recall feeling was an almost seismic wariness. But somehow, a few days later, she was my roommate. … I never knew what hit me.”
So begins Whit Hill’s compelling, poignant—and very funny—memoir of her life, as reflected through the lens of her junior year at the University of Michigan—with her roommate Madonna. NOT ABOUT MADONNA it is also the story of the years that followed for Whit, a life of motherhood, dance, music, love, loss, change, and the bizarre experience of unwittingly becoming a semi-professional “Madonna expert.”
As close as sisters (yet at times as distant as constellations), these college roommates shared not just a tiny room but experiences of looming adulthood, sexuality, affections, and hard work for their art. Madonna and Whit learned from each other, influenced each other, loved each other—then parted, taking off on their own individual roads.
Not about Madonna is a book about two very different women who lived alongside each other for nine months, about women artists in America, about mothers and daughters, about giving birth — to hot, squirming babies, and to huge, ionospheric pop careers. It is about loss and poverty and hope and happiness and remembrance. And it is, heartbreakingly, about all the ways you can lose your mom.
The book includes a never-before-published, seven-page handwritten letter Madonna wrote Whit during Christmas break, 1977. Intensely personal and beautifully written, the letter is a glimpse inside the mind of a young woman on the brink of something extraordinary.
When asked how the book came about, Whit says, “I’ve been working on Not About Madonna on and off for the last twenty years or so—sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes half-heartedly, sometimes with hope, other times with bewilderment. I’ll admit it: I started the project to try and support myself and my kids while trying to be an artist. But then I decided I needed to write something I could be proud of. I just wanted to take the celebrity ‘I-Knew-Her-When’ schlock and make something beautiful out of it. Like finding a piece of plastic on the beach and incorporating it into a mosaic. I hope I’ve succeeded.”
Madonna at the Kabbalah centre in New York (April 16 2011)