Hosting their sixth annual Georgetown Writes event, the Georgetown Library presented a panel on Oct. 11, highlighting “Women in Writing” both in the Georgetown community and around the world.
The event, co-sponsored by the English department, the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, and the Georgetown Women’s Center, featured Debora Spar (SFS ’84) and Rachel Vail (COL ’88), who have both had successful writing careers. Their discussion was moderated by John Glavin, professor in the English Department, who taught both women during their time on the Hilltop.
Glavin opened the panel with a question about the start of their respective careers and their ventures into writing books.
Vail, an award-winning author and novelist, revealed that she came to Georgetown originally intending to be a spy, but quickly realized that this was not for her. After shifting her focus to writing, she said she, “never tried her hardest.” No longer fearing rejection, Vail realized that she had to fully commit to writing.
“I thought, well, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to have to do it,” Vail said. As a result, she quit her job, taking a big risk to write her first of now over thirty books.
Spar, currently a Baker Foundation Scholar at the Harvard School of Business, said that she also began her time at Georgetown aspiring to be a spy, but had always had an underlying love of writing, even though she never committed to writing as her full-time career. “I write on Fridays, and I have written my entire life on Fridays,” Spar said.
Spar explained that writing has always remained something she simply loved to do. “My story is strange as a writer. When someone asks me at the airport what I do I can’t say writer” she said. “But, I think in my heart of hearts I would find myself to be a writer.”
Both writers disagreed with the notion that writers are “starving artists.” Instead, Spar said she prefers “content creators.” Vail agreed. “Being someone who creates something where there was nothing before is a pretty powerful thing,” Vail said.
Shifting to women on a global scale, Glavin mentioned the movie A Star is Born, and the “myth of the sacrificial woman,” as Spar described it, that arises in the film.
Spar explained that the myths told about women in fairy tales and traditional stories are problematic. “It’s not just that women are digesting these myths that the patriarchy is throwing at us, we are also participating in and recreating those myths” Spar said, calling it a trend she believes ought to change.
Following this, Glavin asked for advice on how society as a whole can best aid women in using their creative ambition effectively and often.
“It is really important, particularly for things like fellowships, that one breaks out of the ‘Old Boys’ Club,’” Spar said. She added that it is important to be constantly “looking for people who aren’t the most obvious suspects.” Additionally, she spoke on the challenges for women and people of color in the world, who Spar said receive “less tough criticism.” Spar attributes her own success to criticism, and thus portrayed the withholding of criticism as harmful to those students.
Similarly, Vail emphasized that “taking people who look different from us, whether it’s because they’re differently abled, or differently gendered, or different races, or religions or heritage or size, taking them seriously from where they are, what they’re saying, what they’re putting out there is a really important way to empower people to be creative, and honest, and to think through their thoughts. Listening, I think, is a really underrated quality in adults and in people in general, but in teachers specifically.”
According to statistical evidence presented by Glavin, girls dominate in high school, but are seen to pull back from leadership and dominance once they reach college. “We’re still seeing girls pull back. We’re still seeing that resilience start to taper off,” Spar said. This is a reality she hopes to see change in the future.
Vail also addressed the role of girls in leadership.
“We don’t realize how much more we need girls,” Vail claimed. “I think we need to remake the world in a way that not just the cream rises because so many have had a head start, generations of head start.”