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Women of the Year: Toast these game changers from throughout the USA

Meet Time Out's Women of the Year, who are making their American cities better, smarter, cooler and more inclusive

Katrina Lenk
Photograph: Guerin Blask Katrina Lenk
By Time Out editors and Time Out contributors |

To celebrate Women's History Month, we’re raising a glass to the Americans we're dubbing the Women of the Year. Get to know the creatives, entrepreneurs, artists, activists and thinkers who are doing right by their cities, including groundbreaking chefs, of-the-moment scribes, Broadway star and many more standouts from throughout the States. 

RECOMMENDED: The most exciting things to do in the USA and places to visit in the USA in 2020  

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American Women of the Year

Naj Austin
Photograph: Guerin Blask

Naj Austin (Brooklyn, NY)

Who she is: The founder of the first social and wellness center designed for people of color describes herself as “a black-ass woman with black-ass intentions.” It’s Austin's clear-eyed vision and ambition that led to the creation of Ethel’s Club, which empowers members to “create, vibe, heal, cry and laugh.” Inside the East Williamsburg haven is a lounge as well as welcoming areas with stadium or window seating, a café, a podcast studio and a wellness room in which practitioners host meditation, reiki and mental health sessions. Ethel’s Club also throws events—think Harlem Renaissance–inspired live music performances, educational workshops on sex work and a new film fellowship (launching in April) that aims to help up-and-coming writers of color to make headway in the entertainment industry.

Why we love her: While NYC often celebrates diversity, a lot of work still needs to be done. “New York City consists of a lot of noise, and we wanted to build a place that cuts through it,” says Austin. “People of color deserve a space where they can show up and not fear being excluded or discriminated against.”

Check it out: Visit to apply for membership.—Jennifer Picht

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Vanessa Ragland
Photograph: Courtesy John Irwin

Vanessa Ragland (Los Angeles, CA)

Who she is: Ragland makes good, weird things happen as the co-artistic director of Dynasty Typewriter, an intimate spot in L.A.’s Westlake neighborhood where satanic horror-comedy and a woke spin on a Japanese game show sit on the same calendar as evenings with Adam Sandler or Hannah Gadsby workshopping their new specials. A few years after staging a benefit show there, Ragland and her creative partner Jamie Flam flipped the space into their dream comedy venue in 2018. At the time, it filled the void left by two then-recently-shuttered alt-comedy theaters. But Ragland’s direction has molded it into something more: as she puts it to us, a room where “every performer and audience member can feel welcomed and safe and able to lose themselves for a little while.”

Why we love her: There’s no other comedy venue that balances consistent quality with unexpected variety quite like Dynasty. “We curate our calendar really carefully,” Ragland says, “and while we aren’t doing math problems of what type of diversity to feature, we love and are actively looking for distinct voices, absurdity, silliness and ambitious shows and performers who tell stories we feel need hearing.” Also, props to her proud commitment to always keeping the bathrooms clean.  

Check it out: Visit the website to keep up with all of the shows, including Dynasty Tonight, for which Ragland and Flam handpick the lineup.—Michael Juliano

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Katie Crutchfield
Photograph: Molly Matalon

Katie Crutchfield (Kansas City, KS)

Who she is: Beloved singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield (a.k.a. Waxahatchee) is based in Kansas City, Kansas, but originally comes from Birmingham, Alabama. In her illustrious decade-plus career, she’s remained a fixture in DIY scenes in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, among other cities, and found herself relocating to the smaller and less buzzy “KCK,” where she lives with fellow prolific indie fave Kevin Morby, in the summer of 2018. Her upcoming fifth album, Saint Cloud, is her first that’s unafraid to completely hone in on an upbringing steeped in country and folk music. “There's something to be said about midwestern songwriters,” she says. “I wrote all over—in Alabama, North Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Kansas City. The midwest really reminds me of home. From a self-care standpoint, it was important to move off the grid, get away from the charged elements of the big cities.”

Why we love her: Crutchfield is a master of finding that sweet spot in songwriting where she offers the listener the bird's eye view without too earnest of a raw emotional overshare. “All my favorite songs that I've ever written are from when I've ridden a wave all the way out and I have a clear perspective on it.”

Check it out: Saint Cloud is out on March 27, and Waxahatchee performs throughout the States and Europe this spring and summer.—Eve Barlow

Dominique Crenn
Photograph: Courtesy Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn (San Francisco, CA)

Who she is: Dominique Crenn, the only female chef to earn three Michelin Stars, thinks local and sustainable fish and veggies are more versatile than meat and just as delicious—and she’s willing to put her money where her mouth is. Crenn has eliminated all land-based meats from the menus at her trio of restaurants (Atelier Crenn, Bar Crenn and Petite Crenn) and instead promotes dishes like her not-so-humble potato and leek soup topped with shaved black truffles. “I think diners can be a little surprised at the end when they realize that they've had such a luxurious meal without a bite of meat,” she says. “But I like to think that people are inspired by our choice to go meat-free and that our decision will encourage others to take the same steps. 

Why we love her:  She isn’t stopping at just tackling meat. Crenn’s working with Zero Foodprint, a nonprofit started by fellow SF chef Anthony Myint (Mission Chinese Food), partners with restaurants to fund grants for carbon farming and healthier soil. (Fellow Michelin-starred restaurants Benu, Chez Panisse and State Bird Provisions are also on board.) She’s also taking steps to source alternatives to the yards of plastic wrap and plastic containers used in restaurants. And then there's her crown jewel, Boutique Crenn, a completely waste-free restaurant opening in the Salesforce Tower later this year. “People want to see local ingredients, eat plant-based dishes and drink biodynamic wine,” she adds. “That is the standard of luxury that exists here right now.”

Check it out: Try the meat-free tasting menu at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco.—Sarah Medina 

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Eve L. Ewing
Photograph: Nolis Anderson

Eve L. Ewing (Chicago, IL)

Who she is: A writer, poet and assistant professor at the University of Chicago who also composes thoughtful tweets and pens comic books, Eve L. Ewing doesn’t have any trouble staying occupied. Drawing on her experience growing up in Chicago, much of Ewing’s work confronts the racial disparities of the city’s past and present. Her recent book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard, examines the 2013 closure of 54 public schools in some of Chicago’s most low-income neighborhoods, addressing the impact of the decision as well as the communities that rose up to protest it. “I grew up with a very acute sense of the issues facing the city but also the strengths of the city and the many people who are organizing and educating every day,” Ewing said in an interview with The Cut.

Why we love her: Ewing is a proud nerd with a knack for making complex issues like structural racism and prison abolition understandable to the average Twitter user. Speaking of Twitter, you should follow her (she tweets under the moniker Wikipedia Brown) if you want to read insightful commentary on current events alongside reactions to TV eps and behind-the-scenes looks at her latest comic books.

Check it out: Issue #1 of Marvel’s Outlawed, which Ewing wrote, hits comic shops on March 18.—Zach Long

Discover the best things to do in Chicago

Cariann Bradley
Photograph: Courtesy Cariann Bradley

Cariann Bradley (Nashville, TN)

Who she is: This writer turned her pain into an anonymous online storytelling platform called Midnight Woman, where survivors from all walks of life can publicly air their feelings under the cloak of night. Her sister project, l’Odet, is a series of vulnerable and raw interviews from established and up-and-coming names like Paramore’s Hayley Williams and Insatiable actor Michael Provost. 

Why we love her: After being sexually harassed in college, the 24-year-old wordsmith sought justice by creating a therapeutic space where others can be heard. Although Midnight Woman was born out of the #MeToo movement, its content is manifold and also touches on mental health, trauma and self-reflection. “We have absolutely no topic restrictions,” says Bradley, and while one might assume it's geared toward females, she urges “it's always been a platform for everyone.” It takes a lot of emotional labor to not only read but edit and present such deeply personal narratives, but Bradley sees the light. “I often hear, ‘The work you’re doing is so important.’ I’m very spoiled by our community in that sense. It’s what ultimately keeps me going.” 

Check it out: Keep up with the latest postings from Midnight Woman and l’Odet.—Jennifer Picht 

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Katrina Lenk
Photograph: Guerin Blask

Katrina Lenk (New York, NY)

Who she is: In this feature, we’re honoring women who are stepping into surprising roles across American cities. Actor Katrina Lenk is doing so quite literally, in a gender-switched production of the classic musical Company. When we think of great musical-theater stars, it’s usually women who shine the brightest—from Ethel Merman to Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald—and Lenk is the latest in this pantheon to capture Broadway’s heart. After years in regional theater and replacement roles, she zoomed up the ranks with her Tony-winning performance in 2017’s The Band’s Visit. This spring, she returns to the stage in a revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s groundbreaking 1970 musical, which director Marianne Elliott is giving a major twist: Company’s male central character, Bobby, is now a woman. 

Why we love her: Lenk projects a sly sense of mystery and depth, which should make her a good fit for the cryptic Bobbie, a confirmed bachelorette whose friends are all married. (That one of those pals is played by LuPone adds to the sense of a diva torch being passed.) "I think having it be a female Bobby—dealing with the pressures of being in a committed relationship or having a family versus having a career—is maybe a little bit more relevant than a 35-year-old man who’s a swingin’ single," Lenk says. "I don’t think we worry about that guy so much, but women definitely still feel that pressure." (Read our full interview with Katrina Lenk.)

Check it out: Company opens at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on March 22.—Adam Feldman

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Apsara DiQuinzio
Photograph: Page Bertelsen

Apsara DiQuinzio (Berkeley, CA)

Who she is: In January of 2017, after witnessing the first Women's March in Washington, D.C., Apsara DiQuinzio, like so many of us, was inspired to make a difference. So the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive set up the Feminist Art Coalition (FAC). Through the initiative, more than 70 museums  and non-profits across the country (from the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and LA.'s Museum of Contemporary Art to the Pérez Art Museum Miami) have committed to showcasing exhibits, performances and films about feminism from September 2020 through the end of November. Although clearly pegged to the upcoming Presidential election, DiQuinzio doesn’t see this as a political project, telling us it’s really about “cultural awareness of feminist though, experience and action.” 

Why we love her: She’s thinking far beyond museum shows and performances. “Buy more art by women and artists of all genders who support feminist thoughts,” she says, urging us to also read about the artists’ work, support their causes and strive to promote equality across all industries. 

Check it out: Find scheduled exhibits on FAC’s website.—Anna Ben Yehuda Rahmanan

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Shelly McClone-Carriere and Cris Siqueira
Photograph: Troy Freund

Shelly McClone-Carriere and Cris Siqueira (Milwaukee, WI)

Who they are: Meet the tag team behind Lion’s Tooth Books, an internet and pop-up bastion of small-press works and graphic novels. Siqueira (pictured at left) is a Brazilian-born journalist who owned a bookstore in Sao Paulo, and McClone-Carriere is a founder of the Riverwest Co-op, an adored food co-op and community hub that may largely inspire the company’s future address. Yes, the brick-and-mortar part of the venture remains in utero, yearning for a 2020 birth. But to say that Lion’s Tooth is a bookstore without a home would seem to be missing the point. The irrepressible spirit of the store—named for the stubbornly flourishing dandelion—manifests itself in live local music-soundtracked bar pop-ups, a subscription service and all-age book clubs. Everything harkens to a time when booksellers acted as community tastemakers rather than van-drivers looking to toss product on your doorstep in two days' time. “We take human connection over convenience,” says Siqueria. “And we believe our customers do too.”

Why we love them: A living, breathing amalgam of Amazon resistance, Lion’s Tooth is also hopeful to eventually be much more: “a café serving light fare, beer and wine,” a place to “share ideas and experience art and music” that “includes kids and teens in the equation,” are the kind of aspirant comments tossed around in conversation with the duo. For now, it’s the spot you can let your toddler run amok through story time while you score a Peter Bagge collection and sip a cold one at a local tavern. 

Check it out: Read author interviews, subscribe and find out when the next cacophonous pop-up goes down on LTB's website.—Todd Lazarski 

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Kristen Essig
Photograph: Sara Essex Bradley

Kristen Essig (New Orleans, LA)

Who she is: This NOLA chef is celebrated for more than just her hot spots Coquette and Thalia. She’s also drawing applause for making a vocal stance against sexual harassment in the kitchen (check out her passionate social-media post asking for workers to speak out) and promoting women in the culinary community by cofounding the New Orleans chapter of philanthropic organization Les Dames d’Escoffier International. Mentored by strong female chefs like Chef Anne Kearney, Essig now makes it her mission to create opportunities for the next generation of star, like Ana Castro, the sous chef at Thalia, and Mary Clay Kline, the lead line cook at Coquette. 

Why we love her: She sees the bigger picture, hoping her initiatives might be a gateway to equality for all of the service industry. “All the movements can sound great, especially within the context of fine dining, but you also have to think about the single mothers working in fast-casual restaurants,” she says.

Check it out: Learn more about Les Dames d’Escoffier International and, the next time you’re in New Orleans, snag a table at Coquette or Thalia.—Gemma Lacey 

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